The federal indictment of former president Donald Trump was unsealed Friday afternoon. Trump faces 37 counts related to his retention of and failure to return classified documents when the federal government demanded them. An aide who helped him move and allegedly conceal the boxes of documents, Walt Nauta, was also indicted.
The indictment comes on top of charges against Trump in Manhattan for an alleged hush-money scheme. It presents what might be the former president’s biggest legal problem as he seeks a return to the White House in 2024. Trump has denied wrongdoing and repeatedly accused prosecutors of carrying out a political vendetta. An attorney for Nauta declined to comment.
Below are some key takeaways from the details of the 49-page indictment.
1. Trump’s knowledge, and two crucial scenes
The indictment describes multiple pieces of evidence suggesting this wasn’t merely a mistake and that Trump was aware of the boxes of documents. It describes Trump acknowledging in real time that he shouldn’t be showing such documents to unauthorized people and that he hadn’t actually declassified them (as he later claimed). And it also lists multiple instances from years prior in which he emphasized how sacrosanct classified information is.
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Ongoing investigations involving Donald Trump
Donald Trump has been charged in the classified documents case, the second time he’s been indicted since March. Get live updates.
Donald Trump is facing historic legal scrutiny for a former president, under investigation by the Justice Department, district attorneys in Manhattan and Fulton County, Ga., and a state attorney general. He denies wrongdoing. Here is a list of the key investigations and where they stand.
Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation
FBI agents found more than 100 classified documents during a search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information. On June 8, Trump was indicted in the case. The indictment has been unsealed — read the full text here.
Justice Department criminal probe of Jan. 6
The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 riot and whether Trump or his aides may have conspired to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of the election result or committed fraud to block the peaceful transfer of power. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to oversee both this and the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
Georgia election results investigation
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) is investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia. A Georgia judge on Feb. 15 released parts of a report produced by a special-purpose grand jury, and authorities who are privy to the report will decide whether to ask a new grand jury to vote on criminal charges.
Manhattan district attorney’s investigation
District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) convened a grand jury to evaluate business-related matters involving Trump, including his alleged role in hush-money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. On March 30, the grand jury voted to indict Trump, making him the first ex-president to be charged with a crime. Here’s what happens next.
Lawsuit over Trump business practices in New York
Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit Sept. 21 against Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of flagrantly manipulating the valuations of their properties to get better terms on loans and insurance policies, and to get tax breaks. The litigation is pending.
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Some of the biggest revelations are embedded in the two instances in which he is alleged to have shown the documents to people who were not authorized to see them. In both cases, Trump acknowledges that fact.
In one, from July 2021, he calls the document “highly confidential” and “secret” and seems to ask a staffer whether he can show it to a writer. He and the staffer decide that it would need to be declassified, which Trump concedes he hasn’t done — despite his many public comments since then claiming he had declassified them.
“See, as president I could have declassified it,” Trump says. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
In the other, from August or September 2021, Trump allegedly shows a representative of his political action committee a classified map of a country engaged in a conflict. (The indictment doesn’t specify which one.) He says he should not be showing it to the representative and, in the indictment’s words, “to not get too close.”
As these instances demonstrate, it’s not clear how close a look the unauthorized people got of the documents. But they suggest he knew that his behavior was problematic.
Trump is also described to have been significantly interested in the documents and involved in the back and forth over them:
- The indictment says Trump oversaw the packing of the boxes upon leaving the White House in January 2021.
- In January 2022, Nauta texted a fellow employee saying Trump was “tracking the boxes” and wanted new covers for them.
- After the subpoena in May 2022, “Trump attorney 1” — identified as Evan Corcoran by a person familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information not made public in the indictment — took notes indicating that Trump told him, “I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes.” Trump then referred a second time to “my boxes.”
- Nauta texted an unidentified member of Trump’s family in late May that he thought Trump “wanted to pick from” the boxes and that Trump was going to discuss the boxes with the family member.
- Trump also allegedly changed his summer plans so he could be at Mar-a-Lago when the attorney reviewed the boxes in early June.
Lastly are the several instances listed from 2016 and 2018 of Trump talking publicly about the importance of safeguarding classified information. Most are listed early in the document, but one is isolated at a particularly conspicuous time.
After discussing the instances of Trump allegedly showing the documents to unauthorized people, it points to one Trump 2017 quote it suggests was particularly pertinent: “The first thing I thought of when I heard about it is, how does the press get information that’s classified? How do they do it? You know why? Because it’s an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves. Really ashamed.”
2. Trump’s Evan Corcoran problem, and a plucking motion
Related to the above are some particularly important revelations about the role of Corcoran, who was forced to testify because of evidence of his knowledge of a crime.
The indictment repeatedly alludes to the idea that Trump suggested documents not be turned over or even that they be deliberately withheld after the subpoena — both key elements of potential obstruction.
According to Corcoran’s notes, Trump in late May appears to have spoken suggestively about a Hillary Clinton aide who deleted emails from Clinton’s email server.
“And he was great,” Trump said, according to Corcoran’s notes. “And he, so she didn’t get in any trouble because he said that he was the one who deleted them.”
That same day, Trump allegedly told Corcoran (again per Corcoran’s notes), “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” And, “Well, look, isn’t it better if there are no documents?”
By early June, Corcoran made this note about an exchange with Trump, after Corcoran had searched the boxes:
He made a funny motion as though — well okay why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out. And that was the motion that he made.(Video) Without Naming Trump, His Republican Rival Desantis Condemns His Indictment | Trump Indictment News
Corcoran specified that Trump “didn’t say that.” But the message from Trump — long known for suggestive comments in such situations — had apparently gotten across by that point.
Corcoran, whose notes were predicted to figure significantly in the case, appears likely to be a major witness as it moves forward.
Here are the 37 charges against Trump and what they mean
3. A rebuttal to the whataboutism
Without saying so directly, the indictment offers a counterpoint to Trump defenders’ efforts to whatabout his behavior by comparing it to others like President Biden also having classified documents where they shouldn’t have.
All of the indicted conduct pertains to events that occurred after the subpoena for the documents was issued in May 2022. It is not about merely having the documents in the first place.
Biden, Trump and classified documents: An explainer
Repeatedly, the charges begin by stating, “From on or about May 11, 2022” — the date of the subpoena for “documents bearing classification markings.”
All of the specific documents listed in the indictment were in Trump’s possession until either June, when Trump’s team voluntarily returned some of them after the subpoena, or August, when the FBI searched Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago because not all such documents had been returned.
The indictment references events that happened before that date, including some of the scenes above, but generally only to establish Trump’s knowledge that what he was doing was wrong or to lay out the timeline on elements like Nauta’s role.
In other words, not only is Trump’s case not directly comparable to Biden or former vice president Mike Pence having classified documents, which they quickly turned over, but Trump’s charges are focused on conduct for which there is no known parallel.
More on the Trump classified documents indictment
The latest: Former president Donald Trump’s indictment was unsealed, detailing the charges and allegations of obstruction and conspiracy. On Thursday, Trump said he had been indicted in connection with the discovery of hundreds of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. It’s the second time he has been indicted since March. Get live updates.
What happens next: Trump will appear in federal court in Miami for an arraignment on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Here’s a breakdown of what happens next in the case.
The case: The criminal investigation looks into whether Trump took government secrets with him after he left the White House and obstructed a subsequent investigation. Here’s what to know about the classified documents case.
Can Trump still run for president? While it has never been attempted by a candidate from a major party before, Trump is allowed to run for president while under indictment — or even if he is convicted of a crime.