ABOVE: Former United States President Donald Trump arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 04, 2023 in New York City. With the indictment, Trump becomes the first former United States president in history to be charged with a criminal offense. (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Donald J. Trump has been indicted by a grand jury for mishandling of classified documents. The indictment, filed in a Florida federal court, makes Trump the first former president ever to face federal charges.
Trump announced the indictment last Thursday night in a post on his network, Truth Social. He said his lawyers had been informed of the charges. In an online video statement, Trump claimed that the case is politically motivated and that he will prove his innocence. “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” he wrote.
But federal prosecutors paint a very different picture. When the indictment was unsealed Friday morning, it revealed 38 charges; Trump faces 37 counts, including 31 for retaining documents in violation of the Espionage Act. (Passed in 1917, the Espionage Act prohibits obtaining or disclosing information related to national defense if it could harm the United States.) Trump’s personal aide, Waltine Nauta faces six counts as Trump’s “co-conspirator.”
When he left the White House in January 2021, Donald Trump had “scores of boxes” transported to Mar-a-Lago, his home in Florida. These boxes contained classified material (meaning that the information is sensitive. The government restricts who can see it and where, due to national security concerns). Waltine Nauta, a former Navy veteran who was Trump’s valet in the White House, packed up some of the items in the boxes. From January to March of 2021, those boxes were stored in the White and Gold Ballroom at Mar-a-Lago.
In April, some boxes were moved to a bathroom and shower in the “Lake Room” at Mar-a-Lago.
In May, Trump had a storage room cleaned out in order to store the boxes (the same month he had some moved to another residence). On June 24, 2021, boxes in the Lake Room were moved to the storage room on the ground floor. (The hallway leading to that room was accessible through multiple paths, including a doorway that was often kept open.) After the move, more than 80 boxes were stored there, according to the indictment.
During that time, Trump also had some boxes moved to Bedminster Club in New Jersey (an unauthorized location). While at the club in July 2021, Trump met with a writer and interviewer who were helping former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows write his autobiography. Trump discussed a report that outlined a plan to attack Iran. Last week, prosecutors obtained a bombshell recording of Trump discussing the document, which he knew was classified. CNN has since obtained a transcript of the recording, on which Trump discusses a document he said was written by a military official. Trump wanted to dispute media reports that the official was concerned Trump would declare an attack on Iran. “This totally wins my case,” Trump said in 2021. “Except it is like, highly confidential […] Secret. This is secret information.”
“See, as president I could’ve declassified it,” Trump said. “Now, I can’t, you know. But this is still a secret.” (This admission undercuts his later claim that he had declassified everything.)
None of the people Trump discussed this recording with had the necessary clearance to see or discuss it. And neither did the PAC representative Trump met with several weeks later. In August or September 2021, Trump showed the rep (from his political action committee) a classified map of a foreign country, discussing a military operation involving that country. The rep did not have the required security clearance or a “need to know” that information.
Trump keeps saying that he had the right to retain the documents, that he had declassified them, that he could declassify them with his mind. None of that is true. The Presidential Records Act, passed in 1978, says that presidential records are the property of the U.S. Government, not the president. It makes it a crime to conceal or intentionally destroy government property — punishable by up to three years in prison.
And it’s not like he didn’t know what was in these boxes. Per the indictment: “Between November 2021 and January 2022, NAUTA and Trump Employee 2 at TRUMP’s direction brought boxes from the Storage Room to TRUMP’s residence for TRUMP to review.” During that time, it became clear that the data wasn’t being stored securely. On Dec. 7, 2021, Nauta found several boxes had fallen in the Mar-a-Lago storage room, with their contents spilled out onto the floor.
Nauta took a photo and sent it to another employee, saying: “I opened the door and found this…” The employee responded, “Oh, no. Oh no.” (Indeed: one of the documents was marked “SECRET,” meaning that if disclosed it would pose a danger to national security.)
The National Records and Archives Administration (NARA) learned the truth about the documents in January 2022. According to the New York Times, “The National Archives discovered in January that at the end of his term, former President Donald J. Trump had taken to his home at the Mar-a-Lago resort 15 boxes from the White House that contained government documents, mementos, gifts and letters. The boxes included material subject to the Presidential Records Act, which requires that all documents and records pertaining to official business be turned over to the archives.”
In January, Nauta and another employee gathered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago, loaded the boxes into a car, and took them to a commercial truck that would deliver them to NARA. On Feb. 18, in a letter to Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), U.S. Archivist David S. Ferriero revealed: “NARA has identified items marked as classified national security information within the boxes.”
As a result, NARA referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
On March 30, 2022, the FBI opened a criminal investigation. A federal grand jury got involved a month later. On May 11, 2022, the grand jury issued a subpoena requesting the return of all classified documents.
Meanwhile, the FBI was searching the material. According to a search warrant issued later: “From May 16-18, 2022, FBI agents conducted a preliminary review of the FIFTEEN BOXES provided to NARA and identified documents with classification markings in fourteen of the FIFTEEN BOXES. A preliminary triage of the documents revealed the following approximate numbers: 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET.”
(If disclosure of certain information could “reasonably result” in damage to national security, the information may be marked as “CONFIDENTIAL.” When serious damage to national security is possible, the info is labeled “SECRET.” If info poses an “exceptionally grave” damage to national security, it is marked “TOP SECRET.”) So Trump had material that could gravely damage national security and held on to it even after he was asked to give it up.
In case it’s not clear enough from the details: someone could’ve been killed as a result of these secrets being revealed. “The classified documents TRUMP stored in his boxes included 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 attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources,” the indictment reads.
On May 23, Trump met with two attorneys. They told Trump they needed to search for the requested documents and provide a certification saying that they’d complied with the subpoena. The indictment says that “Attorney 1” (aka Evan Corcoran) recorded Trump’s response.
“I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes,” Trump said, per Corcoran. Trump even suggested stonewalling the feds: “Well…what happens if we just don’t respond at all?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” Corcoran made it clear that he would return to Mar-a-Lago and conduct a search on June 2. Trump changed his summer plans so that he’d be there.
Between May 23 and June 2, 2022, Nauta moved 64 boxes out of the storage room. After speaking with Trump on the phone on June 2, Nauta and another employee brought only 30 of those boxes to the storage room. (Federal law bans moving classified documents to unauthorized locations.) That day, Corcoran came to Mar-a-Lago and did a search. He found 38 classified documents, which he put in a Redweld envelope.
That evening, he contacted another attorney (Christina Bobb) and asked her to come to Mar-a-Lago the next morning and act as a custodian of records. Despite having not searched the boxes or the Redweld envelope, she agreed.
Three FBI agents and a DOJ attorney visited Mar-a-Lago on June 3. In addition to counsel (lawyers for the former president), Bobb was also present. She signed a letter that reads, in part: “I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following:
- A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida;
- This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena;
- Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification.”
That wasn’t true. All the documents weren’t turned over, and, according to MSNBC, the Iran document is STILL missing. Trump’s lawyer signed a document that made a false statement to the authorities. It said that all the White House documents were in the storage room at Mar-a-Lago and “that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched.” Agents weren’t allowed to open or look inside boxes from that storage room. (Months later, it emerged that Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran was waved off when he asked to search other rooms at Mar-a-Lago.)
Shortly after the certification, two of Trump’s lawyers (including Corcoran) handed over the Redweld envelope, which had been secured with duct tape. That same day, “NAUTA and others loaded several of TRUMP’s boxes along with other items on aircraft that flew TRUMP and his family north for the summer,” according to the indictment. (Federal law bars moving classified material to unauthorized locations.)
This is the last of five separate actions the feds say Trump took to conceal the documents and obstruct the investigation:
The Envelope (and Search)
The Redweld envelope contained 38 classified documents, including five marked CONFIDENTIAL, 16 marked SECRET, and 17 marked TOP SECRET, according to the filing. But the government soon discovered evidence that classified documents remained at the premises — and that a search of the Storage Room wouldn’t have produced all of them. “The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.” In response, the federal government sought and obtained a search warrant on Aug. 5. Judge Reinhart found probable cause for all three crimes alleged and authorized the warrant. So the agents went down to Florida, where they performed a search.
When the FBI searched Trump’s home on Aug. 8, they seized 33 items of evidence, mostly boxes. (Three classified documents were found not in boxes, but in office desks!) Of the seized evidence, 13 boxes or containers had classified documents, yielding a total of “over 100 unique documents with classification markings.” Some of the documents had colored cover sheets.
On November 18, Garland announced that he had turned the investigation over to special counsel Jack Smith, who ultimately filed the indictment. Now, after seven months of investigation, Smith has filed federal charges against Trump — further worsening an already bad legal situation for him.
Trump is already under indictment in New York for charges related to hush money that he paid adult actress Stormy Daniels. And last month he was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in a civil case filed by writer E. Jean Carroll. This dramatic new indictment comes just 10 months after FBI agents searched Trump’s home last summer.
The indictment charges Trump with 31 counts of retaining classified documents in violations of the Espionage Act. Trump and Nauta together are charged in counts 32-36, which include conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document, corruptly concealing a document, and conspiring to conceal (and then concealing) classified documents. Trump and Nauta are each individually charged with making false statements to authorities.
Trump relentlessly hammered former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 for having classified information on a private email server while she was secretary. He even said that she should be imprisoned. Yet Trump himself has now been indicted for mishandling classified information — and lying about it. He was arraigned in federal court on Tuesday, June 13.