The Independent has learned that a federal grand jury has indicted former president Donald Trump on charges stemming from his alleged unlawful retention of national defence information, adding another criminal case to the legal pressure against the twice-impeached former president as he seeks to win his party’s nomination in next year’s Republican presidential primary.
Mr Trump himself first revealed his newfound status as a federal criminal defendant in a series of posts on his Truth Social platform, just one day after The Independent reported that federal prosecutors had planned to ask a grand jury to return an indictment against him on Thursday.
“The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” he wrote, using the phrase he has frequently used to describe the long-running probe.
The ex-president followed the bombshell claim with a series of allegations against his successor in the White House, President Joe Biden, stemming from the discovery of documents bearing classification markings at several locations linked to the sitting president.
In a subsequent post, Mr Trump said he had been summoned to appear at a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, 13 June, at 3pm ET.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting President in the History of our Country, and is currently leading, by far, all Candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in Polls of the 2024 Presidential Election,” he said, adding that he is “an innocent man”.
“This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a Country in serious and rapid Decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!” he added.
The indictment against Mr Trump is understood to include seven separate counts, including one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one count of making false statements, and at least one count of unlawful retention of national defence information.
One of Mr Trump’s attorneys, James Trusty, said on CNN that one count of the indictment involves a violation of Section 1512 of the US criminal code, the portion of US law which lays out the offence of witness tampering.
A conviction under the federal conspiracy statute carries a maximum 20 year sentence, as does a conviction for witness tampering. If Mr Trump is convicted for violating the Espionage Act, those charges could carry a 10-year prison sentence.
The charges come just days after a last-ditch attempt by his legal team to convince Department of Justice officials not to seek charges against him in the classified documents probe, which began early last year after National Archives and Records Administration officials discovered more than 100 documents bearing classification markings while inventorying a group of 15 boxes that were retrieved from Mr Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida residence.
That discovery led National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) officials to notify the Department of Justice, which kicked off an investigation into how the documents ended up at Mr Trump’s property.
Throughout the investigation, prosecutors and investigators harboured concerns that the ex-president was not being truthful about whether he had returned any and all classified documents in his possession to government custody as required under the Presidential Records Act, a post-Watergate-era law which states that all records of a presidential administration are the property of the government and must be turned over to Nara when a president leaves office.
But the classified nature of the records at issue added another wrinkle to the dispute between Mr Trump and the government he led from January 2017 to January 2021.
At times, the ex-president has claimed that he had used the sweeping classification and declassification authority afforded to the American chief executive to declassify any record he took with him to his Palm Beach home at Mar-a-Lago, the 1920s-era mansion he purchased in the 1990s and subsequently turned into a private social club.
No evidence has emerged that any such order was ever issued, and in audio recordings obtained by prosecutors, Mr Trump is said to have acknowledged that he did not declassify certain records that were in his possession long after his authority to possess them expired.
Moreover, the statutes under which the ex-president is facing charges aren’t impacted by any declassification order, real or otherwise. Instead, the laws as written speak to the wilful retention of information relating to the national defence.
They essentially say that a person has committed a crime by possessing such information and not returning it to the government upon request.
For Mr Trump, such a request came last year when he was served with a grand jury subpoena compelling him to produce any classified documents in his possession and turn them over to the Department of Justice.
In response, one of his attorneys, Evan Corcoran, claimed to have conducted a search for documents in a storage area at Mar-a-Lago where Mr Trump’s aides said all the records taken from the White House at the end of his presidency had been stored.
That search turned up 38 classified records, which Mr Corcoran and another Trump attorney, Christina Bob, turned over to investigators when they visited Mar-a-Lago in June 2022.
Following that meeting, the FBI began to develop evidence showing that Mr Trump or his aides had taken actions to obstruct their investigation, including by moving records out of the storage room prior to Mr Corcoran’s search.
That evidence, including surveillance footage showing Mr Trump’s personal aide, Walt Nauta, moving boxes after the receipt of the grand jury subpoena, was used to obtain a search warrant for the ex-president’s Palm Beach property, during which FBI agents found more than 100 more classified documents, including some in Mr Trump’s office.
Mr Nauta, a former Navy Chief Petty Officer who served as Mr Trump’s White House valet and followed him to Florida at the end of his presidency, was questioned by investigators about the footage, but he ceased communication with the Justice Department after prosecutors suggested he could be charged with a crime as a result of his work for Mr Trump.
Prosecutors have also questioned Mar-a-Lago and Trump Organization employees about the capabilities of the surveillance system at Mr Trump’s property, and about conversations between Mr Nauta and Trump Organization security director Matthew Calamari Sr which they believe pertained to the footage.
According to multiple reports, there has been concern among investigators about alleged gaps in the footage, as well as what prosecutors believe may have been an attempt by a Mar-a-Lago employee to damage the surveillance system by flooding a room where computer servers were kept on the property.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly expressed outrage that the government he once led would seek to reclaim documents he considers his own property. He has also suggested that he should be paid for returning the documents, citing a multimillion-dollar settlement the government once reached with former president Richard Nixon over records from his administration.
Yet the documents at issue are not his own. In the case of Mr Nixon, who resigned in disgrace in 1974 and died two decades later, the monetary settlement was compensation paid to him because the government seized all records from his administration under the first version of the Presidential Records Act, which was enacted after he sought to destroy records from his time in office.
Prior to that 1978 law, a president’s records were considered his own property even though most former presidents opted to donate them to presidential libraries or other institutions.
But since that law came into force, no president has had a right to keep records from his administration for his own use.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies