On June 9, 2023, federal prosecutors released an indictment detailing the government’s indictment against former President Donald J. Trump, who is accused of violating the National Security Act and obstructing justice.
The 49-page document was left in boxes around Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida resort home long after Trump’s presidency ended in 2021 and the government attempted to retrieve it. It details how secret government documents, including documents on US nuclear capabilities, were scattered and stored. they.
The indictment also indicates that President Trump shared classified defense information with people without any security clearance, including members of the Political Action Committee.
There are 38 felony counts against Mr. Trump, 31 of which involve withholding national defense information. Five charges involved concealing possession of classified documents and two involved making false statements.
U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has been appointed to oversee the investigation into President Trump’s possession of documents, said, “My office will seek a speedy trial on this matter in a manner consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused. I ask,’ he said.
In The Conversation, Gabriel J. Chin, a criminal law scholar at the University of California, Davis School of Law, discusses the most important takeaways from the unsealed indictment and the new implications it presents regarding the alleged criminal conduct of President Trump. Talk about open questions.
conversation: What does it mean that the Justice Department released the indictment on June 9, ahead of President Trump’s appearance?
Gabriel J. Chin: In the federal system, indictments are not automatically sealed, so either the U.S. special counsel didn’t ask for one, or the judge refused to do so. I think the former is more likely. This is not the case with active elements of ongoing investigations. The lawsuit is ready, and from the government’s perspective, it makes no difference whether they disclose the indictment today. Because the case is still in the can.
What are the highlights of the indictment?
What really stood out was the extensive personal involvement of Donald Trump himself in this alleged activity. Usually when a large company is sued, the CEO doesn’t give up and start reviewing the paperwork. Various other professionals also work for it. The details of Trump’s alleged direct personal involvement in the incident were shocking.
Second, one of the challenges here is that prosecutors have been forced to accuse President Trump of a lawyer-signed affidavit that contains a false statement that President Trump did not have the documents the government asked him to return. It’s trying to hold you accountable. And for the case to succeed, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump himself had some involvement in the case.
Count 32 of the indictment focuses on the conspiracy and charges against Trump and his aide Walt Nauta, as well as “people the grand jury knows and does not know.” The US Attorney General reserves the right to claim that others were co-conspirators, and that will have consequences. Who are these other people? Is the government’s theory that Trump’s lawyers are innocent dupes and that Trump gave them false information, or do they know the participants in this crime? was it? Others are not named, but the “known and unknown others” tell us that others undoubtedly exist.
Why did the indictment focus on the movement of boxes containing classified information at Mar-a-Lago?
The main reason is that all accusations must have some intention. Those who try to abide by the law are exempt from these charges. Prosecutors must show that what is happening here was a deliberate and calculated act.
Another reason goes back to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden, who face their own investigations for possession of classified documents.
When former FBI Director James Comey said in 2016 that he would not press charges for using Ms. Clinton’s private emails for government business, there were considerations in doing so. Those who make honest mistakes and cooperate in good faith will not be prosecuted. First, because it is difficult to accuse of wrongdoing. And there’s some fairness in saying that we don’t want civil servants to be booby-trapped, who could be thrown in jail if they let their guard down.
In this indictment, the prosecution seeks to tell the full story and explain why the actions detailed are unlawful. They would like to explain why the circumstances of the case warrant prosecution and why this is not a “trap”. A situation where someone has 200 carefully vetted documents on file and one or two documents were accidentally mixed in by him.
What are the implications of the many felonies facing President Trump?
Given the sentencing guidelines they usually follow, convictions on all counts are likely to result in relatively short sentences or no imprisonment at all. It’s important to note, however, that in theory Trump could face the maximum sentence for each offense. Sentences for all crimes could be executed serially, in which case the sentence would be about 400 years. I don’t think that will ever happen, but it highlights the power of judges to decide cases like this.
Gabriel J. Chin is criminal law scholar University of California, Davis School of Law