Donald Trump indicted on federal charges in Mar-a-Lago classified documents case

Multiple sources confirm indictment; according to Trump's social media, he'll be arraigned in Miami next Tuesday

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published June 8, 2023 8:42PM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Capital Region International Airport October 27, 2020, in Lansing, Michigan. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Capital Region International Airport October 27, 2020, in Lansing, Michigan. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

According to various media reports — and Donald Trump's social media posts — the former president was indicted Thursday on federal charges filed by special counsel Jack Smith's office, after a yearlong investigation into whether Trump had illegally retained national security documents at Mar-a-Lago and then obstructed investigators' efforts to recover them

Although an indictment was widely expected to occur this week, Trump himself managed to break the news in a series of posts on Truth Social, the social media platform he controls. The indictment has since been confirmed by multiple major media outlets, including CNN and the Guardian, citing unnamed sources familiar with the case. Smith's office reportedly filed a seven-count indictment in U.S. district court in Miami, but the precise details will likely remain sealed until Trump's arraignment — which he claims will occur on June 13. A source told the Guardian that "some of the counts include willful retention of national security materials, obstruction, scheme to conceal, false statements and conspiracy."

This is the second criminal indictment against Trump, following his indictment in New York earlier this year on charges relating to an alleged hush-money payment made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election. At least two other potential criminal investigations remain in process. Smith, the Justice Department special counsel, is still exploring Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and his alleged incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Willis is investigating Trump's alleged scheme to subvert the election results in Georgia.

Smith's investigation of the Mar-a-Lago documents case, which unveiled evidence suggesting that Trump had retained more than 300 classified documents — including some labeled "top secret" — at his Florida estate, has involved numerous revelations and has dominated the headlines for more than a year. 

Last week, federal prosecutors obtained a secret recording that showed Trump allegedly discussing a classified document he retained after his presidency, while May reports suggested that Trump's staff had moved boxes of classified materials into a storage room at Mar-a-Lago just a day before investigators came to retrieve them. Smith also recently heard testimony from a still-anonymous Mar-a-Lago staffer, and acquired damaging notes from former Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran that appeared to undercut the former president's defense. 

Throughout the probe, Trump has defended his actions — even arguing that he had the power to declassify documents with his mind — and insisted that he's been treated unfairly.

In a series of Truth Social posts in January, Trump attacked the special counsel's probe and compared his treatment to that of President Joe Biden, whose attorneys found classified documents he had retained after his terms as vice president in his former office and residence.

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 "Page 1: What Biden did was wrong, but he was given a reasonable and stable Special Counsel who is sane, inclined not to make waves, friendly with RINOS, and is not known as a flame-throwing lunatic or a Biden hater," Trump first wrote. "What I did was RIGHT, Secured documents in a secured place, lock on the doors, guards and Secret Service all around, security cameras working. Mar-a-Lago is essentially an armed fort, and was built that way in the 1920's, with High Walls & structure to serve as the Southern W.H."

"Page 2: I was President of the U.S. and covered and protected by the Presidential Records Act, which is not criminal and allows and encourages you to talk to the NARA, which we were, very nicely, until the FBI, who it is now learned has been after me for years without pause or question, RAIDED Mar-a-Lago, a stupid and probably Illegal thing to do," he continued in another post. "As President, I have the right to declassify documents, Biden did not. Special 'Prosecutor' Jack Smith, however, is a Trump Hating political Thug."

Trump echoed those arguments during a controversial CNN town hall in May, telling anchor Kaitlan Collins that the documents became "automatically declassified when I took them."

Trump's lawyers met with the special counsel and Justice Department officials on Monday in an apparent last-ditch effort to thwart the indictment, reportedly arguing that federal authorities had no right to file criminal charges the former president and alleging prosecutorial misconduct. 

The inquiry into Trump's handling of the documents was launched in February 2022 after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of government records from Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence following months of requests to Trump's lawyers seeking their return.

In February of that year, the National Archives and Records Administration sent a referral to the Department of Justice expressing concern about the 14 boxes that it had found containing classified materials. That prompted the FBI to open the investigation.

Throughout the Mar-a-Lago probe, Trump has defended his actions — even arguing that he had the power to declassify documents with his mind — and insisted that he's been treated unfairly.

NARA notified Trump that April that it would soon disclose the documents, which contained files later revealed to have been marked confidential, secret and top secret, to the FBI. Trump's lawyer at that time, Evan Corcoran, requested an extension until the end of the month. The DOJ responded with a letter to Trump's legal team seeking immediate access to the documents on grounds of "important national security interest."

On May 11, following NARA's denial of Corcoran's request, the Justice Department issued a subpoena for the additional materials, leading to the June 3 visit from a DOJ attorney and two FBI agents to Mar-a-Lago to collect files, including 40 classified documents, Trump's legal team had offered up in response. During that visit, investigators were informed that all such documents were held in a Mar-a-Lago storage room, which they were shown but prohibited from searching.

After sending a letter to Trump's lawyers requesting that the storage room be secured and issuing another subpoena for the club's surveillance footage, the DOJ then applied for a search and seizure warrant of the resort club last August, citing "probable cause" that additional government and classified records remained on the property.

On Aug. 8, 2022, the FBI executed the widely publicized search, seizing 36 items holding more than 100 classified documents found in the resort club's storage room and the former president's office. 

"That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the 'diligent search' that the former President's counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter," the Justice Department wrote in a filing at the time.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith as special counsel last November to continue the investigation into the former president, who was on the verge of announcing his third presidential campaign. After requests from the Justice Department, Trump's legal team hired individuals to search four other locations for classified materials: Trump's resort in Bedminster, New Jersey; Trump Tower in New York, a storage unit in Florida; and a Palm Beach office.

Trump's attorneys handed over two more classified documents to prosecutors following those searches, but reports from February of this year revealed the legal team later returned a box with additional classified documents, as well as a laptop with scans of the materials, after another yet search the DOJ requested last December.

In addition to the two existing criminal indictments and more that may or may not follow, Trump also faces a civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleging that his family business has defrauded lenders and tax authorities.

Trump continues to maintain that he did nothing wrong in any of these cases.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Brief Classified Documents Donald Trump Indictment Jack Smith Justice Department Mar-a-lago