One of the most significant cases in the history of the US justice department has received new attention as a result of Donald Trump’s indictment on suspicion of mishandling secret papers at his Florida resort.
Less than three months after being accused in New York on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, the federal charges put Trump in the greatest amount of legal danger to date.
What are the charges?
- Trump announced on Thursday night on his social media site Truth Social that justice department lawyers had informed his legal team that he had been indicted. Trump said he is due in court next week.
- The former president has reportedly been charged with seven counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, according to two people familiar with the indictment but not authorised to speak publicly about it.
- The charges themselves are unclear and remain under seal, one person said. It was not immediately clear if anyone else would be charged in the case.
What led to this situation?
- Officials with the National Archives and Records Administration reached out to representatives for Trump, after his term in office ended in January 2021, when they realised that important material from his time as president were missing from their collection.
- White House documents are considered property of the US government and must be preserved, according to the Presidential Records Act.
- A Trump representative told the National Archives in December 2021 that presidential records had been found at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
- In January 2022, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s Florida home, later telling justice department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material.
- In May 2022, the FBI and the justice department issued a subpoena for the remaining classified documents in Trump’s possession.
- Investigators who went to Trump’s property weeks later to collect the records were given roughly three dozen documents and a sworn statement from Trump’s lawyers attesting that the requested items had been returned. That assertion turned out to be false.
- In August 2022, federal officials with a search warrant returned to Mar-a-Lago and seized more than 33 boxes and containers totalling 11,000 documents from a storage room and an office, including 100 classified documents.
- Roughly 300 documents with classification markings – including some at the top-secret level – have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021.
What is an indictment?
An indictment is the formal charge brought against someone after a grand jury – which is made up of members of the community – votes and enough members agree there is sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime.
The Trump indictment is still under secrecy. The crime or crimes that Trump is charged with committing will be detailed in the document once it is made available to the public.
While some indictments are more straightforward and simply list the accusations a defendant is facing, others contain a lengthy narrative with numerous details regarding the claims.
Did President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence have classified documents, too?
Yes, but the circumstances of their cases are vastly different from the situation involving Trump. After classified documents were found at Biden’s think tank and Pence’s Indiana home, their lawyers notified authorities and quickly arranged for them to be handed over.
They also authorised other searches by federal authorities to search for additional documents. There is no indication that either was aware of the existence of the records before they were found, and no evidence has so far emerged that Biden or Pence sought to conceal the discoveries
This is significant because, historically, the Justice Department has considered wilfulness when determining whether to file criminal charges.
In order to look into how sensitive information got up at Biden’s former workplace and Delaware residence, a special counsel was hired earlier this year.
The Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department has determined that a president is exempt from prosecution while in office, even if the Justice Department were to establish that Biden’s case could be prosecuted based on the facts.
Regarding Pence, the justice department earlier this month advised his legal team that it will not be bringing any criminal charges against him for the way he handled the materials.
Does a federal indictment prevent Trump from running for president?
No, Trump would be able to run for president in 2024 and win regardless of the indictment or a conviction.
Source: Al Jazeera