June 12, 2023
Former president Donald Trump disclosed on Thursday night, June 8, that he had been charged by the Justice Department in connection with the discovery that hundreds of classified documents were shipped to his Mar-a-Lago home after he left the White House—a seismic event in the nation’s political and legal history, reports The Washington Post.
The call from the Justice Department came to his attorneys in the early evening, around 7 p.m., and the former president wanted to announce the indictment himself, two of people familiar with the matter said.
A seven-count indictment has been filed in federal court naming the former president as a criminal defendant, according to confidential informants, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a case that has yet to be unsealed.
The willful retention charge is a violation of a section of the broad Espionage Act, although spying is not among the charges against the former president. It is the second time he has been criminally charged since March, when he was indicted in state court in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments from 2016. Trump, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases, is the only former president ever charged with a crime.
“I have been indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Trump wrote on the 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!”
A spokesperson for Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has been running the classified-documents investigation, declined to comment.
Trump learned of his indictment while at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, huddled with advisers, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not been publicly released.
His team had expected his indictment and staff already had fundraising pitches, statements and videos ready, according to advisers. He dictated his own Truth Social post within an hour after getting the news. Surrogates also were lined up, advisers said, and a satellite truck was at Bedminster for the legal team to appear.
“Nobody is disappointed that the venue is Miami,” one person said of the legal team’s thinking.
Trump lawyer Jim Trusty—whom Reuters reports resigned the morning after the news broke, on Friday, June 9, along with John Rowley, Trump’s other lawyer—took to CNN on Thursday night to defend his client as innocent, while also confirming the charges against the former president. In addition to willful retention, obstruction, and conspiracy, he said Trump was charged with false statements. Trusty said he was not sure when Trump’s legal team would receive the indictment, and was not aware of whether any other individuals connected with the case had also been charged.
The charges cap a high-stakes investigation that began in early 2022 and slowly built steam over the summer, until FBI agents conducted a court-ordered search of Trump’s home and private club in early August that turned up more than 100 classified documents. Trump’s advisers had told the Justice Department in June that they had conducted a diligent search for such papers in response to a subpoena and had handed over all they could find.
In the months since that search, investigators have been gathering evidence to determine whether the former president set out to obstruct law-enforcement efforts to recover the top-secret material that was stashed at Mar-a-Lago.
While the charges will likely test Trump’s staying power as the leader of an increasingly crowded Republican field, the case will also put new strains on the Justice Department and FBI, which must bring to trial a tycoon-turned-politician who has publicly demonized federal law enforcement for years. In preempting any official announcement of the charges, Trump sought to gain the upper hand and blame the Biden Administration.
The White House declined to comment on the indictment Thursday night and referred inquiries to the Justice Department. But earlier Thursday, before Trump announced he had been charged, President Biden was asked by a reporter what he could say to Americans to “convince them” that they “should trust the independence and fairness of the Justice Department.”
Biden replied that he has “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost