This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records on Dec. 7, 2021, in a storage room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., that had fallen over with contents spilling onto the floor. Credit - Justice Department/AP
The staff at Mar-a-Lago called them his “beautiful mind boxes.”
When Donald Trump lost re-election and left the White House in January 2021, he took to his home in Palm Beach, Florida an assortment of boxes stuffed with a hodgepodge of personal mementos mixed in with the country’s closest held secrets, prosecutors alleged in a 44-page federal indictment against Trump unsealed Friday.
Trump kept hundreds of classified documents in the cardboard boxes, including information on “defense and weapons capabilities” of the U.S. military and foreign militaries, “United States nuclear programs”, “potential vulnerabilities” of the US and allies to military attack, and “plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” the indictment states.
Trump stored boxes with classified documents in “a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom and a storage room,” the indictment states. When federal officials tried to get all the government documents back, Trump allegedly refused. That set off a chain of events that led to Trump becoming the first former President to be indicted on federal charges.
Trump now faces 37 counts including charges for 31 separate instances of the “willful retention of national defense information”. He is also charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and multiple counts related to withholding or concealing documents from a federal investigation, and a charge of making “false statements and representations.” Also charged with Trump is his long time U.S. Navy valet, Walt Nauta, who prosecutors described as a “co-conspirator”
The federal indictment includes photographs of apparently classified documents spilled on the floor at the Mar-a-Lago Club, allegations of showing secret war plans to visitors at his New Jersey club, and detailed descriptions of him allegedly working with others to hide papers from federal investigators.
Trump faces maximum sentences adding up to at least 100 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines, if convicted of the charges.
After news of the indictment broke, Trump said he is innocent and, in a message on his social media site Truth Social, called the charges part of “Greatest Witch Hunt of all time.”
Special Counsel Jack Smith made a rare appearance in front of reporters on Friday to address the unsealed charging document. He said that the decision to indict Trump was voted on by a grand jury of citizens in the Southern District of Florida, and he invited “everyone to read it in full to understand the scope and gravity of the crimes charged.”
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Smith said that violations of laws protecting national defense information “put our country at risk.” Smith pointed to the fact that Trump’s status as a former president shouldn’t factor into a decision to bring a charge, saying, “We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone.”
The indictment alleges that when he moved out of the White House, Trump “caused scores of boxes, many of which contained classified documents, to be transported to The Mar-a-Lago Club” in Palm Beach, Florida where he lived. Prosecutors describe Mar-a-Lago as “an active social club” that “hosted events for tens of thousands of members and guests” in the year and a half after Trump left the White House.
The documents were produced by some of the most secretive agencies in all of government, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency that analyzes images generated by the country’s most closely guarded satellite capabilities, and the Department of Energy that is responsible for safeguarding the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
A text exchange between two Trump employees in April 2021 appears to show that Trump had employees moving the boxes around his Mar-a-Lago Club in an apparently ad hoc and haphazard way. One employee asked if some boxes could be moved out of the Mar-a-Lago business center to make room for staff to use the room as an office. “There is a little room in the shower where his other stuff is,” wrote one Trump employee. “Anything that’s not the beautiful mind paper boxes can definitely go to storage,” wrote another employee. In December 2021, a photo allegedly taken by Nauta shows documents marked secret spilled out of the boxes on the floor of a storage room.
In one of the most potentially damning sections of the indictment, prosecutors allege that Trump showed classified documents to others on two occasions, and appeared to know that what he was showing off were government secrets. An audio recording from July 2021, has Trump telling a writer and publisher meeting with him at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he was showing them a plan of attack prepared by the Department of Defense. Trump says that plan is “secret” and “highly confidential.” During the conversation, Trump says “as president I could have declassified it” and “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
The indictment also describes a moment in August or September 2021 at Trump’s Bedminster club when Trump let a political supporter look at a classified military map. Trump showed a “representative of his political action committee a classified map related to a military operation and told the representative that he should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close,” the indictment states.
Prosecutors also lay out details of how Trump allegedly tried to hide the documents once federal officials started to take steps to get them back, including allegedly moving some to keep them out of reach from his own lawyers looking to retrieve classified material, and allegedly causing false statements about the documents to be submitted to the FBI and grand jury.
After a grand jury issued a formal subpoena to Trump in May 2022 to produce all classified documents, the indictment describes a Trump attorney finding 38 documents marked classified after spending two and a half hours in early June 2022 sorting through boxes in a Mar-a-Lago storage room. The attorney then sealed what was found into a Redweld file folder with clear duct tape. But Trump had directed Nauta to move many boxes before the attorney’s June search, the indictment alleges.
In his remarks to reporters Friday, special counsel Smith said that the “defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”
“My office will seek a speedy trial on this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused,” Smith said.