Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents, delivers a statement on the recent indictment on June 9, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents, delivers a statement on the recent indictment on June 9, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

As 'Absolutely Devastating' Trump Indictment Unsealed, Special Counsel Stresses Gravity of Charges

"The criminal evidence unsealed in the indictment shows in painstaking detail that he acted as if he is above the law, while willfully and recklessly endangering our national security," said MoveOn Political Action's executive director. "Now is the time for Donald Trump to be held accountable."

As the unsealed indictment against former President Donald Trump and aide Walt Nauta provoked shocked and horrified reactions on Friday, Special Counsel Jack Smith vowed to seek a speedy trial while also emphasizing the severity of the 38 charges.

"Today an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice," said Smith, who was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in November, after the twice-impeached former president announced he is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

"This indictment was voted by a grand jury of citizens in the Southern District of Florida and I invite everyone to read it in full to understand the scope and the gravity of the crimes charged," he continued. "Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States and they must be enforced. Violations of those laws put our country at risk."

"We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone," Smith added. "It's very important for me to note that the defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. To that end, my office will seek a speedy trial in this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused."

The indictment—which journalist Judd Legum described as "absolutely devastating"—outlines that Trump faces 31 counts related to withholding national defense information. Additionally, he and Nauta face five counts related to concealing possession of classified documents. They also each face a count related to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

In what Norman Eisen—a Brookings Institution senior fellow in governance studies who was special counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee from 2019-20, including for Trump's first impeachment and trial—called "perhaps one of the most damning statements ever made about an American president," the indictment says:

The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.

The indictment explains that after leaving office in January 2021 "Trump caused scores of boxes, many of which contained classified documents, to be transported" to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, where FBI agents executed a search warrant last August. Even though "Trump was not authorized to possess or retain those classified documents," the document adds, he stored them throughout the club, "including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room."

The indictment accuses Trump of showing classified materials to people who lacked security clearance to see them at least twice at his golf club in New Jersey. The first time was in July 2021, during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff.

The former president "showed and described a 'plan of attack' that Trump said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official," according to the document. "Trump told the individuals that the plan was 'highly confidential' and 'secret.' Trump also said, 'As president I could have declassified it,' and, 'Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.'"

Then, in August or September 2021, Trump allegedly showed a representative of his political action committee "a classified map related to a military operation," told the unnamed individual that he should not be doing so, and said not to get too close.

After the FBI launched a criminal investigation in March 2022, which led to a grand jury issuing a subpoena for all records with classification markings in mid-May, "Trump endeavored to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations and conceal his continued retention of classified documents," the document details.

It goes on to share some comments Trump supposedly made to his attorneys in late May 2022, when the lawyers said they needed to search for materials to comply with the subpoena:

  • "I don't want anybody looking, I don't want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don't, I don't want you looking through my boxes."
  • "Well what if we, what happens if we just don't respond at all or don't play ball with them?"
  • "Wouldn't it be better if we just told them we don't have anything here?"
  • "Well look isn't it better if there are no documents?"

In a series of tweets after the indictment was unsealed, Noah Bookbinder, head of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that "this is consistent with what we expected and what had been previously reported, but the details make Donald Trump's alleged conduct even worse than we knew."

"The national security importance of the documents at issue is striking: Documents about American and foreign nuclear capabilities and military vulnerabilities, as well as about plans for possible military action. The damage if this information was compromised is not trivial," Bookbinder added. "That Trump allegedly on two occasions showed highly classified documents to and discussed them with civilians with no security clearance is just shocking. It violates the most basic understanding of how classified information works."

"The indictment also cleverly goes through Trump's many statements about the importance of enforcing laws governing classified materials and of having presidents and former officials who understand and follow those laws," the CREW leader noted. "So it becomes awfully hard for him to say he didn't know or didn't understand. The indictment makes even more clear that, if proven, he knew what he was doing and chose to subordinate national security interests and the law to his own whims. It sure doesn't look good."

Trump—whom the Manhattan district attorney in April charged with 34 felony counts related to alleged multiple hush money payments—and his supporters continued to frame his latest historic indictment as a "sad day for our country," with the former president maintaining his innocence and saying in a Friday fundraising email, "If our Free Republic has ANY hope of survival, then our movement MUST win in 2024 and DISMANTLE the Deep State for good."

As Common Dreams reported earlier Friday, survey results shared with The Guardian show 12 million people in the United States, or 4.4% of the adult population, think the use of violence is justified to restore Trump to power. While the ex-president's critics called for allowing the legal process to play out and welcomed that he may be convicted in the case—and even face prison time—some also acknowledged the risk of violence.

"No one is above the law—including Donald Trump," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement. "This indictment must now play out through the legal process, without any outside political or ideological interference. We encourage Mr. Trump's supporters and critics alike to let this case proceed peacefully in court."

MoveOn Political Action executive director Rahna Epting said Friday that "Donald Trump has regularly flouted and violated the law for much of his time as a political candidate and elected official. The criminal evidence unsealed in the indictment shows in painstaking detail that he acted as if he is above the law, while willfully and recklessly endangering our national security."

"Now is the time for Donald Trump to be held accountable," she continued, noting that MoveOn members have previously signed petitions calling for Trump to be disqualified from running for office again for his role in inciting insurrection—which Smith is also investigating. "No matter his front-runner status, Donald Trump does not belong on anyone's ballot. He belongs in a courtroom."

MoveOn is part of the Not Above the Law coalition, which also includes CREW, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, Greenpeace USA, Indivisible, NextGen America, Our Revolution, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Stand Up America, and other groups.

"In the United States, no one is above the law—not even a former president," the coalition declared Friday. "The rule of law is a basic principle—everyone must equally abide by our nation's laws, and those laws should be equally enforced. Trump must not be held to a different standard because he's rich, famous, or a former president."

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