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Trump indictment details national defense documents he kept at club

Some of the country’s most highly guarded secrets were kept in a ballroom, bathroom and supply room, court record states

John L. "Jack" Smith, special counsel, delivers a statement Friday on the recent indictment Donald Trump more than three dozen federal charges related to his retention of classified documents after his presidency.
John L. "Jack" Smith, special counsel, delivers a statement Friday on the recent indictment Donald Trump more than three dozen federal charges related to his retention of classified documents after his presidency. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on more than three dozen federal charges related to his retention of classified documents after his presidency, including false statements, concealing government records and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to court documents unsealed Friday.

The indictment states the former president took classified documents on military and nuclear secrets with him from the White House and conspired with an aide, Waltine Nauta, to keep them from the government.

The historic criminal indictment, which stems from the wide-ranging special counsel investigation headed by John L. “Jack” Smith, magnifies Trump’s legal exposure as he pushes forward with a comeback bid for the White House.

In a brief press conference Friday, Smith said the allegations were “grave” and noted that members of the intelligence community and military put their lives on the line to defend the country’s secrets.

“Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States, and they must be enforced,” Smith said. “Violations of those laws put our country at risk.”

Smith defended agents in the FBI, which has been criticized by Republicans for its role in the investigation into Trump. And he said the law must be applied equally.

“We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone,” Smith said.

Smith said his office will seek a speedy trial in the case, “consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused.”

Unsealed records

Court records unsealed Friday also said Trump would have to report for his arraignment in a Miami federal courthouse Tuesday. The charges and court appearance track with details in news reports from Thursday.

The indictment said Trump and Nauta, who was also indicted, worked together to handle the records and eventually conceal them from investigators. The documents Trump kept at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, included information about U.S. military plans and the nuclear capabilities of the U.S., the indictment said.

The indictment said the documents containing some of the country’s most highly guarded secrets were kept in bathrooms, showers and supply closets throughout the club.

The indictment said Trump had documents related to the “Five Eyes” — a group of U.S. allies whose intelligence agencies cooperate — as well as information about U.S. nuclear capabilities, U.S. military plans to deal with a foreign attack and details about military operations abroad.

In total, the indictment charged Trump for retaining 31 documents illegally, which included White House intelligence briefings, communications with foreign leaders, assessments of U.S. and foreign countries’ military capabilities and reports on military activities.

Those documents came from the CIA, Department of Defense, National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Department of Energy and Department of State, according to the indictment.

At several points, Trump discussed or showed classified documents to people without security clearance after his presidency, according to the indictment. In one recorded July 2021 incident at his club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump showed a writer working on a book a document about a U.S. military attack on a foreign country that he knew was classified.

“See as president I could have declassified it,” Trump said at one point in the transcription included in the indictment. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

Since announcing that he had been indicted on Thursday night, Trump has maintained his innocence and cast the investigation as a witch hunt on his social media platform, Truth Social.

“This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America,” Trump said in a post Thursday. “We are a Country in serious and rapid Decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”

Federal investigators searched Mar-a-Lago in August, after an 18-month dispute between Trump and the National Archives and Records Administration over documents removed at the end of the president’s term.

After the search, court documents showed that investigators found hundreds of pages of documents marked classified. Additionally, government court filings showed they were investigating charges related to espionage, illegal retention of government records and destruction of government records.

In November, after the former president announced his reelection campaign, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Smith to oversee the two grand jury investigations into Trump.

One probe looked at efforts to interfere with the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election and the other into the handling of materials marked as classified that were found at Trump’s property.

The former president will likely challenge many aspects of the case in the legal system, as he did the initial search of his club last year.

Investigation details

Court records unsealed Friday noted that Trump took hundreds of classified documents with him when he left office in January 2021. Over the course of several months the National Archives and Records Administration requested that Trump return documents.

Nauta in January 2022 sent 15 boxes to the archives and staff there found that 14 of them contained classified documents, according to the indictment.

The FBI opened a criminal investigation in March 2022 into the unlawful retention of classified documents at the club and a grand jury investigation started the following month, according to the indictment.

In May, the grand jury issued a subpoena, which Trump discussed avoiding, according to attorney notes included in the indictment.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” Trump said, according to the attorney notes.

After Trump met with his attorneys, Trump worked with Nauta to remove boxes from where the attorneys would be searching, according to the indictment.

Then, Trump and Nauta effectively falsely certified compliance with the subpoena, the indictment states. Investigators later obtained surveillance footage showing the boxes being moved before the attorneys made their search.

Investigators then obtained the search warrant in August, where they found more than 100 classified documents at the club.

Judge assigned

The case was initially assigned to Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who previously presided over Trump’s failed effort to prevent the federal government from using the evidence found in the search.

Cannon initially ruled in Trump’s favor and prevented the government from using evidence gathered in the search, before a panel of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed her ruling.

The federal indictment adds to existing legal woes for the former president, who already faces 34 criminal charges in New York accusing him of falsifying business records. That case is connected to his effort during his 2016 presidential campaign to pay off two women who claimed to have had sex with him. Trump pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Federal prosecutors could still charge Trump for crimes related to the second grand jury probe based in Washington, D.C., investigating the former president’s wide-ranging effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump could also face charges from a Georgia prosecutor investigating his effort to overturn his loss in the state in the 2020 presidential election. The prosecutor, Fani Willis, told a Georgia court that she may present charges from her probe to a grand jury this summer.

Ryan Tarinelli contributed to this report.