Donald Trump charged with illegal retention of classified documents

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Federal prosecutors have charged Donald Trump with violating the Espionage Act and conspiring to obstruct the criminal investigation among other counts, according to a person familiar with the matter, a historic development marking the most significant legal peril yet for the former president.

The exact nature of the seven-count indictment is unclear because it remains under seal.

At least some of the counts filed in federal district court in Miami by the office of special counsel Jack Smith include the willful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, false statements and concealment under title 18 of the US criminal code, the person said.

Trump and his legal team were told of the charges on Thursday afternoon. Trump is expected to surrender himself to authorities in Miami on Tuesday at 3pm, the person said, confirming what the former president posted on his Truth Social platform.

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.

Criminal charges against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation means the former president is now a defendant in a second case after he was indicted on state charges in New York by the Manhattan district attorney over his role in hush-money payments to an adult film star in 2016.

The indictment by Smith, appointed by the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, to lead the documents investigation, also means the country must grapple with the unprecedented situation of a twice-impeached, twice-charged former president running for re-election.

The news comes after activity in the investigation recently shifted to the Wilkie Ferguson US courthouse in Miami, after prosecutors subpoenaed multiple witnesses to appear before a previously unknown grand jury taking evidence in the case in Florida, the Guardian has reported.

Most of the grand jury activity until May had focused on the grand jury hearing evidence in the case in Washington. But that grand jury went quiet at the start of the month, around the same time that the Florida grand jury was impaneled, a person familiar with the situation said.

The investigation has broadly been focused on three statutes under title 18 of the US code, according to the FBI’s search warrant affidavit for Mar-a-Lago: wilful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice and the retention of government documents.

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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 authorized 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 showed an Iran document to some witnesses who appeared before the Washington grand jury and asked whether they had ever seen 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.