Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been indicted by a federal grand jury for retaining classified government documents and obstruction of justice, according to a source familiar with the matter, reports Reuters.
The criminal case, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, amounts to another legal setback for Trump as he seeks to regain the U.S. presidency next year. He already faces a criminal case in New York that is due to go to trial in March.
A spokesperson for Special Counsel Jack Smith, the Justice Department official who is handling the investigation, declined to comment. It is illegal for the government to comment publicly on any sealed grand jury matter.
Trump faces seven criminal counts in the federal case, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The indictment remains under seal, and even Trump himself has not yet seen what it says. His legal team was notified about the seven charges as part of a summons ordering Trump to appear in court, the source said.
Reuters could not immediately learn what specific charges Trump is facing. In a sworn statement to a federal court last year, an FBI agent said there was probable cause to believe several crimes were committed, including obstruction and the illegal retention of sensitive defense records.
The Justice Department has been investigating whether Trump mishandled classified documents he retained after leaving the White House in 2021.
Investigators seized roughly 13,000 documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, nearly a year ago. One hundred were marked as classified, even though one of Trump’s lawyers had previously said all records with classified markings had been returned to the government.
Trump has previously defended his retention of documents, suggesting he declassified them while president. However, Trump has not provided evidence of this and his attorneys have declined to make that argument in court filings.
It marks the second time that Trump, the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges, has been indicted.
In April, he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records relating to hush money paid to a porn star before the 2016 election.
President from 2017 to 2021, Trump is the front-runner in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Through the years Trump has shown an uncanny ability to weather controversies that might torpedo other politicians. He describes himself as the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt and accuses the Justice Department of partisan bias.
Trump’s lead has grown over his rivals in the Republican nominating contest since he was indicted in the New York case, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.
A SECOND INVESTIGATION
Special Counsel Smith, appointed last year by Attorney General Merrick Garland, is also leading a second criminal investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Although Garland is a Biden appointee, special counsels appointed to investigate politically sensitive cases do their jobs with a degree of independence from Justice Department leadership.
Smith convened grand juries in both Washington and Miami to hear evidence, but appears to have decided to bring the case in the politically competitive state of Florida, rather than the U.S. capital, where any jury would likely be heavily Democratic.
Legal experts say that could head off a drawn-out legal challenge from Trump’s team over the proper venue. Under federal law, defendants have a right to be charged where the activity in question took place.
“The center of gravity is clearly Florida,” said Robert Luskin, a Washington lawyer who has represented senior government figures.
In the current case, the Justice Department examined whether Trump unlawfully removed classified documents when he left office in January 2021. Part of the investigation has also looked into whether Trump or others sought to obstruct the government’s investigation.
The classified documents investigation was first referred to prosecutors in 2022 after the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration tried for more than a year to retrieve presidential records from Trump.
Trump handed over 15 boxes of records in January 2022, a year after leaving office, but federal officials came to believe he had not returned all the government documents he had taken.
The Justice Department issued Trump a grand jury subpoena in May 2022 asking him to return any other records bearing classified markings, and top officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the materials.
Trump’s attorneys turned over 38 pages marked as classified to FBI and Justice Department officials and showed them a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, but they did not permit the agents to open any of the boxes.
One of the Trump attorneys involved in searching Mar-a-Lago – Evan Corcoran – has since become a witness in the case.
Corcoran drafted a document signed by another Trump lawyer attesting that all records with classified markings had been returned to the government – a claim later proven false after the FBI searched Trump’s home.
FBI agents in August 2022 searched Mar-a-Lago and recovered roughly 13,000 documents, 100 of which were marked as classified.
Trump’s lawyers tried to block the Justice Department from accessing some of the records, claiming they were covered by the legal doctrine of executive privilege, which shields some White House communications from disclosure. A federal appeals court rejected that argument in December.
Trump is not the only top government official to draw scrutiny for retaining classified documents.
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Attorneys for Biden and for Trump’s then-vice president, Mike Pence, this year disclosed they were cooperating with the Justice Department after the discovery that both men had retained classified records after leaving office.
Biden’s documents dated back to his tenure in the U.S. Senate and as vice president. The Justice Department in June closed its investigation into Pence without filing any charges.
Trump’s legal woes are growing.
In May, a jury in federal court in Manhattan decided in a civil lawsuit that he must pay $5 million in damages for sexually abusing former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll and then defaming her by branding her a liar.
Trump also faces a criminal investigation by a county prosecutor in Georgia relating to his efforts to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.