By ERIC TUCKER, JILL COLVIN and MICHAEL BALSAMO (Associated Press)
MIAMI (AP) — Donald Trump said Thursday he has been accused of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, triggering a federal prosecution that is perhaps the most dangerous of multiple legal threats against the former president, as he tries to claim White. Home.
The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. But two people familiar with the situation, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly, said the indictment includes seven counts. One of the people said Trump’s lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted.
The indictment embroils the Justice Department in the most explosive political prosecution in its long history. His first case against a former president upends a Republican presidential primary that Trump currently dominates, and any felony charges would carry the prospect of years in prison.
Within 20 minutes of his announcement, Trump, who said he was due in court Tuesday afternoon, began fundraising for his 2024 presidential campaign. He declared in a video: “I AM A INNOCENT MAN!” and repeated his familiar refrain that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”
The case adds to deepening legal jeopardy for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could also lead to criminal charges. As the impeachment moves forward, it will pit Trump’s claims to expand executive power against Attorney General Merrick Garland’s oft-stated mantra that no person, including a former commander in chief, should be seen as above the law.
The indictment stems from a month-long investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Trump broke the law by keeping hundreds of documents marked classified at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, and whether Trump took steps to hinder the government’s efforts to recover. the records.
Prosecutors said Trump took about 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after he left the White House, including about 100 that were seized by the FBI last August in a search of the home that underscored the seriousness of Department of Justice investigation.
Trump and his team have long seen the special counsel’s investigation as far more dangerous than the New York matter — both politically and legally. Campaign aides have been bracing for fallout since Trump’s lawyers were told he was the target of the investigation, assuming it wasn’t a matter of if charges would be brought, but when.
But it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Trump. His first impeachment spurred millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn’t hurt Trump in the polls. Regardless, the indictment — and the legal battle that follows — will thrust Trump back into the spotlight, drawing attention away from the other candidates trying to build momentum in the 2024 presidential race.
Trump insisted he had the right to keep classified documents when he left the White House and also claimed, without evidence, that he declassified them.
The case is a milestone for a Justice Department that has investigated Trump for years — as president and as a private citizen — but has never before charged him with a crime. Garland was appointed by President Joe Biden, who is seeking re-election in 2024.
The former president has long tried to use the growing legal problems to his political advantage, complaining on social media and at public events that the cases are being handled by Democratic prosecutors to hurt his 2024 campaign. He is likely to rely on new on that playbook, reviving his long-standing claims that the Justice Department — which, during his presidency, investigated whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia — is somehow weaponized against him.
Among the various state and federal investigations facing Trump, legal experts — including Trump’s former attorney general — have long considered the Mar-a-Lago investigation to be one of the most likely to lead to indictment and the one in which the evidence seemed to favor the government. Court records unsealed last year showed that federal investigators believed they had probable cause to commit multiple crimes, including withholding national defense information, destroying government records and obstructing an investigation.
Since then, the Justice Department has gathered additional evidence and secured grand jury testimony from people close to Trump, including its own lawyers. The statutes governing the handling of classified records and obstruction are felonies that could lead to years in prison if convicted.
Signs have emerged for several weeks that an indictment is near, including a June 5 meeting between Trump’s lawyers and Justice Department officials. After that meeting, Trump said on social media that he anticipated he might be indicted, even as he insisted he had done nothing wrong.
Although most of the investigative work had been handled in Washington, with a grand jury sitting there for months, it recently emerged that prosecutors were presenting evidence to a separate panel in Florida, where many of the alleged obstruction acts reviewed by prosecutors — including efforts to move the boxes — took place.
Trump’s legal woes extend beyond the indictment and classified documents in New York.
The special counsel has a separate investigation underway focused on efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. And the district attorney in Georgia’s Fulton County is investigating Trump for alleged efforts to undermine the 2020 election in that state .
The classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, along with thousands of other unclassified government records, were taken from the White House to the Florida club after Trump left office in January 2021.
The Justice Department said Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly resisted efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration to retrieve the documents. After months of back-and-forth, Trump representatives returned 15 boxes of records in January 2022, including about 184 documents that officials said had classified markings on them.
FBI and Justice Department investigators issued a subpoena in May 2022 for classified documents that remained in Trump’s possession. But after a Trump lawyer provided three dozen records and asserted that a diligent search of the property had been conducted, officials came to suspect that even more documents remained. They obtained surveillance tapes with recordings moved from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago.
The investigation simmered for months before hitting the headlines in remarkable fashion last August. That’s when FBI agents executed a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago and removed 33 boxes containing classified records, including classified documents hidden in a storage room and a desk drawer and mixed with personal items. Some records were so sensitive that investigators needed enhanced security clearances to review them, the Justice Department said.
The Trump investigation appeared complicated — politically, if not legally — by the discovery of classified documents in President Joe Biden’s Delaware home and former Washington office, as well as the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence. The Justice Department recently informed Pence that he would not be charged while a second special counsel continues to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents.
But compared to Trump, there are key differences in the facts and legal issues surrounding Biden and Pence’s handling of the documents, including the fact that representatives for both men say the documents were returned as soon as they were found.
Instead, investigators quickly focused on whether Trump, who for four years as president has expressed disdain for the FBI and the Justice Department, tried to obstruct the investigation by refusing to hand over all the requested documents. The focus on obstruction was reminiscent of the special counsel investigation Trump faced as president, when prosecutors examined whether Trump illegally tried to thwart the Russia probe, including by firing his FBI director.