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Federal indictment of Donald Trump unsealed in Florida

The former president will face the charges in court Tuesday before one of the judges he put on the bench in Florida.

(CN) — Donald Trump has been charged with dozens of federal crimes in Florida connected to his handling of classified documents, according to a sweeping indictment unsealed Friday afternoon.

The indictment hits the former president with 31 counts for willfully retaining top-secret national security documents, as well as additional counts for conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding and concealing documents, and making false statements to investigators.

If Trump is convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for retaining national security secrets, 20 years for obstructing justice, and five for making false statements and concealing documents.

A Trump-appointed federal judge has already been appointed to oversee the case when Trump arrives in Miami next Tuesday for his initial court appearance. Meanwhile two of his lawyers tendered their resignation Friday morning.

As Trump relayed in a post to his Truth Social platform Friday morning, the federal indictment includes charges against his longtime valet and aide Walt Nauta, who was responsible for moving the boxes in which Trump kept classified documents.

Nauta is not charged alongside Trump on the 31 willful retention charges, but he does face counts for conspiracy, false statements and various counts related to concealing a document or record.

The indictment describes how in January 2021, as Trump was preparing to leave the White House following his election defeat, his staffers began packing hundreds of classified documents to be transported to his private South Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, all under Trump’s personal supervision.

There were so many boxes that employees began asking if some of the boxes could be moved so they could use the business center in the club as an office. The request was denied because Trump “specifically asked Walt for those boxes to be in the business center because they are his ‘papers,’” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say Trump began showing the documents once they arrived in Mar-a-Lago in private meetings with visitors, including an unidentified writer who was working on a book connected to Trump.

After the FBI opened its investigation last year and began interviewing Trump and his staff, the indictment quotes the former president as having asked his attorneys whether they could refuse to cooperate with the federal agents.

“What happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?” Trump asked in May 2022. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”

Trump is set to answer the charges in Miami Federal Court on Tuesday before U.S. Judge Aileen Cannon, a judge he appointed in 2020 and who presided over initial proceedings in the classified-documents case last year after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago.

Cannon, who has been a member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2005, Cannon tried to block the Justice Department from using the seized documents until a third party could review them for privilege. The 11th Circuit quickly overturned Cannon's blockade, however, and later reversed the special master's appointment altogether.

It will be Cannon who decides when to set the trial date, a decision with significant implications for the 2024 election. Trump is still considered a front-runner in the increasingly crowded field vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

In a brief statement to reporters Friday afternoon, Special counsel Jack Smith briefly emphasized that Trump's violations of national security laws put the country at risk.

“We have one set of law in this country, and they apply to everyone," Smith said.

Smith has been investigating Trump for months, summoning witnesses to testify before grand juries in both Miami and Washington, D.C.

Ultimately, the Washington grand jury was further along, but federal prosecutors opted to indict Trump in Miami under a legal principle to charge someone where the crime happened for better standing in the case and to make it harder for the defense to challenge.

Trump was the first to announce the indictment Thursday, and he has been complaining about his treatment regularly via his social media platform Truth Social.

“I had nothing to hide, nor do I now,” Trump wrote Friday afternoon. “Nobody said I wasn’t allowed to look at the personal records that I brought with me from the White House. There’s nothing wrong with that…”

In addition to denying any wrongdoing, Trump has positioned the charges against him as unfair since classified documents from the Obama era were also discovered at President Joe Biden’s home and offices.

He didn’t mention that Biden cooperated with the Justice Department during its investigation, or that Biden was quick to turn over the records and voluntarily consented to a 13-hour search of his home where FBI agents found six documents. 

Trump is accused of taking more than 300 classified documents, a trove that included highly sensitive materials on an Iranian missile program, surveillance efforts in China and the nuclear capabilities of an unidentified foreign power.

The federal indictment comes as Trump faces a separate prosecution in New York — charges in state court there relate to hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump also faces criminal probes over his role in planning the insurrection and for having asked Georgia election officials to find more votes so he could masquerade as the winner of the 2020 election.

Follow @Ryan_Knappy
Categories / Criminal, National

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