Former United States President Donald Trump has claimed on his Truth Social platform that he faces possible indictment on federal charges of mishandling classified documents when he left the White House.
“I have been arraigned in federal court in Miami on Tuesday,” Trump wrote in the post. I never thought such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States. »
The sealed indictment would mark another “first” for the angry Republican: No US president, current or former, has faced federal charges.
In April, Trump became the first US president to face criminal charges, after Manhattan Attorney General Alvin Bragg declared 34 counts of falsifying commercial documents statewide in a case involving the payment of fees to an adult film actress.
“I am an innocent man,” Trump said in a video released shortly after the announcement on Thursday. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Thursday’s announcement is part of an ongoing investigation by the US Department of Justice, led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, into boxes of classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Media outlets including the Associated Press and Reuters reported that the former president faces seven counts related to the investigation. The specific charges will be announced once the indictment is dismissed.
“Our country is going to hell. They come after Donald Trump and arm the Justice Department and arm the FBI,” Trump said in the video, indicating that the indictment aims to block his 2024 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “Election interference. they try. Destroy their reputation so they can win the election. »
After the Mar-a-Lago search in August, several other high-profile politicians — including current US President Joe Biden and Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence — came forward to hand over classified documents. kept in their homes.
But many experts point out that Trump’s case is different. Initially, as Trump prepared to leave office in January 2022, the National Archives collected 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, some of which contained classified information.
However, there were more discs. The FBI had to issue a subpoena in May of that year for classified documents that had remained in the former president’s possession.
And when FBI investigators came to believe there were more documents at Mar-a-Lago — despite a signed statement by Trump’s legal team to the contrary — a search warrant was issued in August for the property. This led to the recovery of nearly 100 additional documents marked as confidential, bringing the total number to 300.
The volume of records retrieved is also notable: A total of 33 boxes, containing nearly 11,000 records, were removed from Mar-a-Lago.
Possibility of “illegal concealment”
Experts have warned that Trump could face charges of obstructing his conduct in the investigation. An FBI affidavit, dated August, describes a criminal investigation into “improper deletion and storage of classified information in unauthorized locations, and concealment or unlawful removal of government records.”
As explained by Al Jazeera correspondent Shahab Ratansi, early speculation indicated that Trump could face charges related to conspiracy to obstruct, making false statements and knowingly withholding documents.
“It could be a charge under the Espionage Act,” he said. Espionage law does not necessarily mean espionage. It can only mean bad document management that you shouldn’t have.
But, Ratansi warned, even Trump’s lawyers themselves don’t have the details.
“They don’t have the charges either. They don’t have the indictment. What they received is a subpoena to appear in court in Miami next Tuesday. From the language used in these documents and other communications, they may have inferred what the charges could be,” Ratansi explained.
“The indictment may not be opened until the court date on Tuesday. We just don’t know.”
Ongoing rivalry with Biden
In his social media posts on Thursday, Trump criticized Biden for beating him in his 2020 campaign.
“The corrupt Biden administration has informed my attorneys that I have been charged, apparently for a fund hoax,” Trump wrote, referring to the 15 pulled boxes. He accused Biden of hypocrisy, claiming — without evidence — that the sitting president “had documents strewn all over his garage floor” when officials searched his Delaware residence.
The indictment represents perhaps the biggest legal hurdle Trump has faced since leaving office. In addition to the 34 criminal charges he faces in New York, the former president was convicted of defamation and sexual assault last month in a civil suit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, and was awarded $5 million in damages.
Trump also faces investigations into whether he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election — one in the southern state of Georgia and another at the federal level, also led by Special Counsel Smith.
The Republican leader has repeatedly called this election “rigged” and a group of his supporters attempted to disrupt the Electoral College vote count on January 6, 2021, storming the US Capitol and forcing lawmakers to flee.
Different polls, different scenarios
US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has been nominated by Biden, appointed Smith as special counsel for Trump’s two-part investigation in November. Garland also hired attorney Robert Hoare in January to serve as special counsel reviewing Biden’s handling of classified documents.
But the legal stakes are likely to be different for Trump and Biden. In the case of the latter, attorneys contacted the National Archives upon the discovery of nearly 10 classified documents relating to Biden’s tenure as vice president under Barack Obama.
The discovery — at a Washington, D.C. think tank in November — led to the recovery of a second set of documents from Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden’s lawyers turned over what they described as a “small number” of documents and authorized a home search, which took more than 13 hours and uncovered six more tapes.
There was no evidence that Biden knew of the documents, nor did he try to hide them — two lingering questions about Trump’s case.
Similarly, in the Pence case, his attorneys preemptively flagged a “small number” of classified documents from the former vice president’s home in Indiana, and a subsequent FBI search revealed other classified documents. On June 2, the Justice Department announced that it had ended its investigation into Pence’s handling of the documents without filing any charges.
The three men — Trump, Pence and Biden — have announced their 2024 presidential bids.
Republicans rally behind Trump
Trump remains the frontrunner on the Republican side, which makes him primed for a possible showdown against Democrat Biden. Following Trump’s social media posts on Thursday, at least one of Trump’s Republican challengers for the presidency, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commented on the news of the indictment, calling for his caution.
We don’t get our Truth Social news from Trump’s Truth Social. Let’s see what the facts are when a potential indictment is released,” Christie, a prominent Trump critic, wrote on Twitter.
He added, “No one is above the law however he wants it to be. We will have more to say when the facts come out.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have largely rallied behind the former president, decrying what they see as a politically motivated attack.
“Today is indeed a black day for the United States of America,” said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Posted on Twitter.
I, every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will respond to this brazen arming of power.
An unprecedented indictment
Bruce Fein, assistant attorney general under former Republican President Ronald Reagan, told Al Jazeera that the federal charges are the first of their kind against an American president – but only fair.
Richard Nixon was about to be impeached [special prosecutor] Finn said, referring to the former Republican president implicated in the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
“Gerald Ford pardoned him,” Finn continued. So he was about to be charged, but pardon saved him. »
What stands out in Trump’s case, Finn argued, is the “outrageous manner” in which the former president acted before, during, and after his only term in office. Finn referred to Pence’s comments this week, in which he alleged Trump presented him with a choice on the day of the Capitol attack: “I’m choosing between him and the Constitution.”
“No other president in US history in more than 230 years has asked a vice president to reject the Twelfth Amendment,” Finn said, referring to that part of the US Constitution that governs presidential elections. “Well, this is unprecedented because the abuse is unprecedented.”
Finn also dismissed Trump’s claim that the latest charges were part of a larger “witch-hunt” against his political career: “What else is new? That’s all he has to say. Evidence proves his innocence. He just started screaming and screaming.”
“It’s just the rules of the game itself,” Finn added. “I think his base is shrinking. I think the Republicans will be divided, especially since other presidential candidates, even Ron DeSantis, may turn against Trump.”
Trump said he is scheduled to appear in federal court in Miami, Florida, at 3 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) on Tuesday.