Donald Trump charged with illegal retention of classified documents

Ex-president is being prosecuted for violating Espionage Act and obstruction over documents held at Mar-a-Lago and has been summoned to court next week

Federal prosecutors have charged Donald Trump over his retention of national security documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, a historic development that poses the most significant legal peril yet for the former president.

The exact nature of the indictment, filed in federal district court in Miami, is unclear because it remains under seal and the justice department had no immediate comment.

Trump confirmed the indictment on his Truth Social social media platform on Thursday afternoon, shortly after his lawyers received an email from prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith that outlined the charges and summoned the former president to surrender himself to authorities in Miami next Tuesday.

The charges listed in the summons included: wilful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document, corruptly concealing a document, concealing a document in a federal investigation, engaging in a scheme to conceal and false statements, people familiar with the matter said.

Trump’s lawyer Jim Trusty confirmed in an appearance on CNN that prosecutors had listed seven charges on the summons paper. Trusty said he had not seen a copy of the indictment but added he was hopeful that it might be unsealed before Trump makes his initial appearance in court.

From his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, Trump lashed out at the indictment in a series of posts on Truth Social. “I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States,” Trump said, adding: “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

This undated image released by the US Department of Justice shows documents allegedly seized at Mar-a-Lago spread over a carpet
This undated image released by the US Department of Justice shows documents allegedly seized at Mar-a-Lago spread over a carpet. Photograph: US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/AFP/Getty Images

The former president was said to be resigned to the fact that he would probably be indicted after prosecutors impaneled a new grand jury in Florida to take evidence in the case last month, which his advisers saw as a sign that the case had been moved from Washington for its final stages.

But even though Trump’s lawyers were told last week that the former president had been designated a “target” in the criminal investigation – the clearest indication that charges were forthcoming – the news of the indictment appears to have taken Trump and his inner circle by surprise.

Trump spent the early part of the evening calling allies on Capitol Hill to rally support and watching who was defending him on cable news, a person close to the former president said. He then went for dinner at the golf club and played DJ, selecting songs to play over its loudspeakers.

The former president’s team also later released a short video, recorded a day beforehand, in which he again proclaimed his innocence.

In Washington, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, called the charges a “dark day” in a post on Twitter that falsely suggested the Biden administration, rather than a grand jury, had returned the indictment. “House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable,” he added.

Criminal charges in the Mar-a-Lago documents case deepen the legal peril for Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, after he was indicted earlier this year on state charges in New York by the Manhattan district attorney over his role in hush-money payments to an adult film star.

Trump also remains under criminal investigation for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

For more than a year, prosecutors have examined whether Trump knowingly retained classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after he left office and took steps to conceal the materials after the justice department issued a subpoena for their return.

The Mar-a-Lago Club, home of former US President Donald Trump
The Mar-a-Lago Club, home of former US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

The criminal investigation started last February when the National Archives issued a referral to the justice department after discovering more than 100 classified documents mixed with presidential records in 15 boxes that Trump returned.

When the justice department reviewed the classified documents, people familiar with the investigation said, top officials in the national security division were alarmed to find that some of the materials amounted to national defense information that is controlled by the Espionage Act.

The issue was the sheer volume and the sensitivity of classified materials in the boxes. According to an estimate provided to Trump’s lawyers at the time, the 15 boxes included over 100 documents – more than 700 pages – that had the potential to implicate national security.

The discovery presented a problem for the department because Trump was no longer authorized to retain such documents once he left office and officials grew concerned that Trump might be in possession of further classified documents that were also national security materials.

The espionage investigation has been focused on whether Trump showed off national security materials in his office at Mar-a-Lago, and has questioned multiple witnesses about whether Trump waved around classified documents he had kept when no longer authorised to after he left office.

Prosecutors have also asked witnesses about documents concerning potential US military action against Iran, after Trump referenced such a document in a meeting at Bedminster in July 2021 where he said he could not show a certain document because he did not declassify it when president.

To that end, prosecutors have shown an Iran document to some witnesses who appeared before the Washington grand jury and asked whether they had ever been shown the material by Trump or anyone else. It was not clear whether any witness confirmed seeing the document, one of the people said.

The investigation into the obstruction, meanwhile, has focused on whether the failure by Trump to fully comply with the subpoena last year was a deliberate act of obstruction because he wanted to retain the classified documents even after he had left office, the people said.

Last June, the since-recused Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran found 38 classified documents in the storage room at Mar-a-Lago and told the justice department that no further materials remained there – which came into question when the FBI seized 101 more classified documents months later.

Corcoran later told associates he felt misled because he had asked whether he should search elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago, such as Trump’s office, but was waved off, the Guardian first reported. Corcoran’s notes also showed he told Trump he had to return all classified documents in his possession.


Hugo Lowell in Miami

The GuardianTramp

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