Donald Trump’s indictment: What you need to know

Trump indictment remains sealed, but he is believed to be charged in relation to mishandling of classified documents.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump yells as he visits the U.S.-Mexico border wall, in Alamo, Texas, U.S., January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Former US President Donald Trump shouting during a visit to the US-Mexico border wall in Alamo, Texas, in January 2021 [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Donald Trump’s indictment on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate has brought renewed attention to one of the most notable cases in the United States justice department’s history.

The federal charges represent the biggest legal jeopardy so far for Trump, coming less than three months after he was charged in New York with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are the charges?

  • Trump announced on Thursday night on his social media site Truth Social that justice department lawyers had informed his legal team that he had been indicted. Trump said he is due in court next week.
  • The former president has reportedly been charged with seven counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, according to two people familiar with the indictment but not authorised to speak publicly about it.
  • The charges themselves are unclear and remain under seal, one person said. It was not immediately clear if anyone else would be charged in the case.

How did this case come about?

  • Officials with the National Archives and Records Administration reached out to representatives for Trump, after his term in office ended in January 2021, when they realised that important material from his time as president were missing from their collection.
  • White House documents are considered property of the US government and must be preserved, according to the Presidential Records Act.
  • A Trump representative told the National Archives in December 2021 that presidential records had been found at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
  • In January 2022, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s Florida home, later telling justice department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material.

  • In May 2022, the FBI and the justice department issued a subpoena for the remaining classified documents in Trump’s possession.
  • Investigators who went to Trump’s property weeks later to collect the records were given roughly three dozen documents and a sworn statement from Trump’s lawyers attesting that the requested items had been returned. That assertion turned out to be false.
  • In August 2022, federal officials with a search warrant returned to Mar-a-Lago and seized more than 33 boxes and containers totalling 11,000 documents from a storage room and an office, including 100 classified documents.
  • Roughly 300 documents with classification markings – including some at the top-secret level – have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021.

What is an indictment?

  • An indictment is the formal charge brought against someone after a grand jury – which is made up of members of the community – votes and enough members agree there is sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime.
  • The indictment against Trump remains sealed. Once the document is made public, it will lay out the crime or crimes that Trump is accused of committing.
  • Sometimes indictments include a lengthy narrative with lots of details about the allegations, while others are more basic and just outline the charges a defendant faces.

Did President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence have classified documents, too?

  • Yes, but the circumstances of their cases are vastly different from the situation involving Trump.
  • After classified documents were found at Biden’s think tank and Pence’s Indiana home, their lawyers notified authorities and quickly arranged for them to be handed over. They also authorised other searches by federal authorities to search for additional documents.
  • There is no indication that either was aware of the existence of the records before they were found, and no evidence has so far emerged that Biden or Pence sought to conceal the discoveries.

  • That is important because the justice department historically looks for wilfulness in deciding whether to bring criminal charges.
  • A special counsel was appointed earlier this year to probe how classified materials ended up at Biden’s Delaware home and former office.
  • Even if the justice department were to find Biden’s case prosecutable on the evidence, its Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that a president is immune from prosecution during his time in office.
  • As for Pence, the justice department informed his legal team earlier this month that it would not be pursuing criminal charges against him over his handling of the documents.

Does a federal indictment prevent Trump from running for president?

Source: The Associated Press