Multiple people with knowledge of the matter confirmed on Thursday that the Justice Department had taken the politically and legally significant step of filing federal criminal charges against Donald J. Trump. This followed a long investigation into his handling of classified papers he took out of office with him and then blocked the government from reclaiming them.
In the history of America, this is the first indictment filed by a former president in federal court. The indictment puts the country in a unique position. Mr. Trump is not only a former president, but also the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination 2024 to face President Biden. His administration will be now seeking to convict he potential rival.
According to a close friend of Mr. Trump and his post on Truth Social, Mr. Trump will surrender to the authorities in Miami Tuesday.
The indictment was filed by the Jack Smith Special Counsel's Office about two months after New York local prosecutors filed over 30 felony charges in connection with a case involving hush money payments to a pornstar in advance of 2016 elections.
Mr. Smith also investigates Mr. Trump's efforts to maintain power following his loss of the election in 2020 and how these efforts led to a pro Trump mob attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The public filings on the case of the documents have painted a picture that Mr. Trump has repeatedly stonewalled efforts made by the National Archives and Records Administration and Justice Department to recover the hundreds of sensitive records of the government that the former President took from the White House and stored mainly at his private club and Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
It is not known what classified documents were found at Mar-a-Lago or what damage they may have caused to national security.
Mr. Trump has described the investigation repeatedly as a politically-motivated witch hunt. In recent weeks, his lawyers have tried to bring up what they claim are issues of prosecutorial conduct.
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The indictment dates back to January 2021 at the end of President Trump's tenure, when documents, many of which were allegedly in the White House, were packaged in boxes with clothing, gifts, photographs and other materials and shipped to Mar-a-Lago by the General Services Administration.
In January 2022, after the National Archives spent much of 2021 trying to convince Mr. Trump that the material he took with him was government property and therefore subject to the Presidential Records Act, Mr. Trump handed over 15 boxes. The boxes contained highly sensitive information with classified markings. This prompted a Justice Department probe.
In August last year, federal agents conducted an extraordinary search at Mar-a-Lago. They found documents that Mr. Trump failed to return in response to the subpoena he received months earlier requesting that he return any classified materials still in his possession.
The Justice Department repeatedly questioned the level of cooperation of Mr. Trump in the recovery of the documents. It said that it recovered more than one hundred documents with classified markings, despite an attestation from Mr. Trump’s lawyer that his team's 'diligent' search had not revealed any additional materials.
Mr. Trump is still facing other criminal investigations. These include Mr. Smith’s investigation into Mr. Trump’s attempts to hold on to power after his election loss – and how these led to the assault on the Capitol in 2021 – and an inquiry by a Georgia prosecutor into his efforts to reverse his loss of the 2020 election in this vital swing state. The Manhattan criminal case is set to be tried by Mr. Trump in March next year.