Former US President Donald Trump’s second indictment alleges that he mishandled sensitive papers, in what is thought to be his most serious legal threat to date.
Trump announced the indictment on his Truth Social platform, declaring himself “innocent.” He said that he has been summoned to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday. It is the first time a former president has been charged in federal court.
Although the indictment is still sealed, media reports indicate that the former president has been charged on seven counts. They concern his handling of confidential documents as well as his obstruction of justice.
The indictment adds to Trump’s legal difficulties and hinders his presidential bid in 2024.
In March of this year, he was indicted in a state case in New York in connection with an investigation into hush money given to adult film star Stormy Daniels. He is scheduled to go on trial in March, right in the middle of the primaries.
How did the case involving sensitive documents begin?
The issue has been building since shortly after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and was forced to leave the White House.
In the spring of 2021, employees at the National Archives and Records Administration discovered that crucial records from Trump’s presidency were missing from their collection.
The Presidential Records Act declares that all White House documents are the property of the United States government and must be preserved.
Officials from the National Archives contacted Trump representatives, one of whom informed them in December of the same year that presidential records had been discovered at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022. They eventually admitted to the Justice Department that the boxes included “a lot” of secret information.
That, however, does not account for all of the missing records. Trump was served with a subpoena for the remaining sensitive materials in May 2022 by the FBI and the Justice Department.
Investigators visited Trump’s Florida resort several weeks later. They were given several dozen documents, as well as a sworn declaration from Trump’s lawyers attesting that the sought information had been returned.
Why did the FBI conduct a raid at Mar-a-Lago?
Federal agents, supported by a search warrant, stormed a storage room and an office in Mar-a-Lago in August 2022, seizing over 33 boxes containing thousands of documents. There were 100 classified documents in the boxes.
Some 300 classified documents have been found from Trump since he left office in January 2021, including some classified as top secret.
The president did not deny possessing classified documents. He justified his activities, claiming that he had them declassified while in government, although he provided no proof to back up this claim.
According to US law, current presidents have the right to declassify information, but that authority expires when they leave office.
What exactly are Trump’s charges?
It is unclear what charges the former president is facing. However, the seizure of the documents from Trump’s Florida resort violates three separate statutes, all of which do with mishandling federal government records. The laws apply whether or not the records are still classified.
The first stated statute punishes unauthorised possession of national defence information with up to ten years in prison.
The other two regulations, which prohibit concealing or destroying official US papers, have prison sentences of up to three and twenty years, respectively.
Trump’s lawyer, Jim Trusty, told CNN following the indictment that his client faces charges under the Espionage Act for conspiracy, false statements, obstruction of justice and illegally retaining sensitive documents.