Federal prosecutors laid out their case against former President Donald J. Trump in a 38-count indictment on Friday, saying he mishandled classified documents — including some involving sensitive nuclear programs and others that detailed the country’s potential vulnerabilities to military attack — after leaving office, then obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.
Jack Smith, the special counsel who is bringing the case, cast the investigation as a defense of national security in brief remarks on Friday, urging the public to understand the “scope and gravity” of the charges.
“We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone,” he said. The investigation was being conducted with utmost integrity, he added, and promised to seek a speedy trial. He did not take questions.
The indictment gives the clearest picture yet of the files that Mr. Trump took with him when he left the White House. It said he had illegally kept hold of documents concerning “United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.”
The indictment names one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, as a co-conspirator who assisted in obstructing the investigation into the former president’s retention of sensitive defense documents at his residence and resort in Florida.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Trump shared a highly sensitive “plan of attack” against Iran to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., in July 2021 — and was recorded on tape describing the material as “highly confidential” and “secret,” while admitting it had not been declassified.
In another incident in September 2021, he shared a top secret military map with a staffer at his political action committee who did not have a security clearance.
The filing includes many pictures of what appear to be bankers’ boxes, some containing highly sensitive national documents, which were haphazardly moved by Mr. Nauta and other aides at Mr. Trump’s behest. Some of the boxes appear to be sagging — and on Dec. 7, 2021, Mr. Nauta found that one of the boxes had toppled and spilled its contents on the floor.
The files that splayed on the carpet included the designation “SECRET/REL TO USA, FVEY” — which meant that they were meant to be seen by officials from the U.S., Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada with high-level security clearances.
Mr. Trump is expected to appear in Federal District Court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon. Judge Aileen M. Cannon is scheduled to preside over that initial hearing, according to people familiar with the matter. It was not clear whether Judge Cannon, who was criticized by a higher court for handing Mr. Trump a series of unusually favorable rulings during the early stages of the investigation, would remain assigned for the entirety of the case.
The indictment, handed up by a grand jury in Miami, is the first time a former president has faced federal charges. It puts the nation in an extraordinary position, given Mr. Trump’s status not only as a onetime commander in chief but also as the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to face President Biden, whose administration will now be seeking to convict his potential rival of multiple felonies.
Mr. Trump continued to rail against the indictment on Friday, calling it the “greatest witch hunt of all time,” in a Truth Social post.
Here’s what else to know:
The indictment reaches back to the end of Mr. Trump’s term in January 2021, when the documents — many of which were said to be in the White House residence — were packed in boxes along with clothes, gifts, photographs and other material, and shipped by the General Services Administration to his private club and residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.
Two lawyers, James Trusty and John Rowley, have left Mr. Trump’s legal team, and will no longer represent him in the documents case. “I will be represented by Todd Blanche, Esq., and a firm to be named later,” Mr. Trump wrote on Truth Social.
A recording of a meeting involving Mr. Trump in July 2021, six months after leaving the White House, is expected to be a key piece of evidence against him. During that meeting, he described a document in front of him as “classified” and “highly confidential,” according to a person briefed on the matter.
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