The former president faces charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, as well as willful retention of national defense secrets, a violation of the Espionage Act, which could mean years in prison if he is found guilty.
Former president Donald Trump was indicted by the Justice Department on Thursday over his mishandling of classified documents that he kept after leaving office.
The charges come in connection with the discovery of more than 300 classified documents that were found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida more than a year after he left the White House.
The indictment was made public Friday and alleges that Trump illegally left the White House with classified information “regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attacks; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.”
Trump has been charged with 31 counts of violating the Espionage Act due to his “willful retention” of classified records, as well as several other counts related to his alleged effort to obstruct the investigation.
The indictment also says Trump tried to obstruct the investigation in several ways, including suggesting that his attorney hide or destroy documents requested by the grand jury in the investigation. It also reveals that Trump stored the classified documents in “a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.”
Trump—who is running for president again in 2024 and is the front-runner for the Republican nomination—faces the potential of years in prison if found guilty. The indictment from a grand jury in Federal District Court in Miami represents the first time a former president has faced federal charges, and the second indictment against Trump in three months.
The former president is set to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, just one day before his 77th birthday.
“I have been indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social. He claimed he was being treated unfairly.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States,” he said in a lengthy post that ended: “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”
Trump has publicly insisted he declassified all the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, but his declaration of innocence is complicated by the fact that he admitted on tape in 2021 that he had kept “secret” military information that he had not declassified.
CNN obtained a transcript of the audio recording, in which Trump can be heard saying: “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t.”
The transcript comes from part of a meeting where Trump is discussing a classified Pentagon document about attacking Iran.
“Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” Trump said, according to the transcript. “This was done by the military and given to me.”
Trump went on to describe the documents as “highly confidential.”
“All sorts of stuff – pages long, look. Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know,” he said, according to the transcript. “Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.”
Despite appearing to admit to what he’s accused of on tape, most Republican leaders and even Trump’s fellow opponents in the presidential primary have rallied to his defense.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida—Trump’s main rival for the nomination who created his own election police force that has arrested certain Floridians for voting—said the indictment reflected “the weaponization of federal law enforcement” and “represents a mortal threat to a free society.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, a wealthy entrepreneur also running for the nomination, even committed to pardoning Trump, if elected.
One of the few Republican presidential candidates to criticize Trump was Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, who called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race.
While Trump retains popularity among Republican voters, most Americans hold negative views on him, and two in 3 believe he’s committed a crime, according to a recent Navigator survey.
Trump also faces significant legal troubles elsewhere across the country, including an investigation in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Department of Justice inquiries into his role in the Jan. 6 attack, and another case in New York, where he was recently indicted on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over allegations that he made hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges in those cases, as well.