Federal prosecutors on Friday unsealed charges against former President Donald Trump ― accusing him of inappropriately keeping and distributing sensitive U.S. government information after he left office, then obstructing authorities’ efforts to investigate his alleged misconduct.
The 49-page indictment repeatedly accuses Trump of risking national security and misleading federal agents in coordination with his aide Walt Nauta. The allegations range from the shocking, like Trump describing U.S. military operations to people without security clearances, to the surreal, like the onetime reality TV star storing documents in a shower at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” Trump said of the indictment Thursday on his website Truth Social. He faces more than 30 charges, and is expected to dispute all of them. In a separate post on the site, he accused the U.S. government of “trying to destroy [Nauta’s] life.” An attorney for Nauta did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the charges.
The front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is expected to appear in court on Tuesday, June 13.
Here are some of the biggest revelations in the charge sheet prepared by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.
Trump allegedly knew he was holding classified material
The indictment undercuts Trump’s most consistent line of defense since the investigation into his handling of documents began last year: that he used his authority as president to declassify all the material he took.
Prosecutors say they can prove that in at least two conversations in 2021, Trump acknowledged possessing material that was still classified.
In July 2021, he held a meeting at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with two of his staff members and two people working on an autobiography of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Trump agreed that the meeting could be recorded.
During the taped conversation, Trump allegedly said he was showing the other four people a “plan of attack.” The plan was developed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Trump claimed, saying it undercut a recent New Yorker story in which Milley expressed fear that Trump would attack Iran.
“This wasn’t done by me, this was him,” Trump allegedly said on the recording. He asked the people with him to “look,” but added: “It is like, highly confidential... secret, this is secret information.”
Trump then allegedly acknowledged that the material he was talking about was not declassified, saying: “As president, I could have declassified it ... Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
CNN first reported on the existence of the recording last week.
Later that year, Trump had a meeting with a political adviser where he brought up a U.S. military operation in a different country, according to the indictment.
He then showed a classified map of that country to the adviser, who worked for Trump’s political action committee. Trump said he should not be sharing the map and the adviser should not get too close, the indictment says.
Trump allegedly shared classified documents inappropriately
In handling his trove of sensitive documents, Trump repeatedly exposed classified material to people who had no authority to view it and who had not been vetted, prosecutors allege — risking leaks of information and internal U.S. government decision-making and information-gathering processes.
In the two instances where Trump knowingly shared classified military documents with other people, none of the other people involved had security clearances or other government approval to view those documents, the indictment argues.
The government’s case against the former president also suggests that a slew of other individuals could have encountered sensitive information due to Trump’s bizarre approach to storing the documents. In one example from December 2021, Trump’s aide Nauta found that several boxes of documents in a storage room had fallen, spilling materials onto the floor. One of them was marked as only accessible for officials with the Five Eyes intelligence-gathering alliance: the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Nauta allegedly took photos of the spill ― one of which showed classified information ― and texted them to a colleague.
“Oh no oh no,” the colleague texted back.
Trump and his team allegedly tried to cover up his handling of sensitive documents
The indictment also asserts that Trump sought “concealment” of the boxes of documents, and cites instances where he seemed to speak favorably about, or even encourage, keeping documents hidden.
“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,” Trump said, according to one of his attorneys.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” he asked, according to the same attorney.
The same attorney also said Trump made a nonverbal suggestion that the attorney take a folder with him and pull out possibly damaging documents.
“He made a funny motion as though — well okay why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out. And that was the motion he made. He didn’t say that,” the attorney recalled, according to the indictment.
Trump allegedly kept a huge variety of classified material
Trump hoarded documents relating to a vast swath of national security issues, the indictment claims, including America’s nuclear capabilities and data about U.S. and allied vulnerabilities and possible responses to attacks. The list of agencies whose documents he allegedly retained reads like a Who’s Who of U.S. intelligence “alphabet” agencies and the federal defense sector.
Beyond the CIA, Trump is alleged to have kept documents that came from the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
The NSA is responsible for intercepting foreign electronic “signals” intel and disseminating that to lawmakers and military leaders. The NGIA and NRO work on getting, analyzing and exploiting imagery and geospatial intel, including space-based surveillance, while the Bureau of Intelligence and Research supports U.S. diplomatic efforts.
Trump is also alleged to have kept documents from the Defense Department and the Energy Department, the latter of which is tasked with making sure the United States’ nuclear weapons program is secure and effective.
In the list of specific documents in the indictment, classification statuses included “top secret,” “secret,” “special handling,” “FISA,” and “NOFORN.” The latter two likely refer to documents that concern activities related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which deals with countering espionage activities by foreign governments, and to restricting disclosure of the documents’ content to foreign nationals. The indictment also includes the classification categories of the documents found at Mar-a-Lago: seventeen Top Secret, 54 Secret and 31 Confidential.
Trump allegedly stored documents in bizarre locations
Among other places, Trump kept sensitive documents in a storage room and a bathroom with a shower at Mar-a-Lago, the indictment states. The indictment also says that he stored boxes of documents on a ballroom stage that visitors could access, as well as in a business center at his Mar-a-Lago estate. A photo included in the indictment document shows a ballroom stage stacked with cardboard boxes of documents, as though they were prepared for a move.
Per the indictment, some of the boxes from the Mar-a-Lago business center were shifted to the bathroom/shower after two Trump employees texted each other. One said there was still “a little room in the shower where the other stuff is” as they were looking for additional storage space.
In another exchange, a “Trump family member” texted Nauta to coordinate which boxes to bring along on a flight, warning that there would be little room because the “plane will be full with luggage.”
Trump is still obsessed with Hillary Clinton
The indictment quotes a conversation Trump apparently had with two of his attorneys regarding Hillary Clinton and her private email server, which Trump repeatedly attacked during the 2016 election cycle, spawning the line “Lock her up!” Whether Clinton’s use of a private email server was illegal remains the basis of various right-wing conspiracy theories.
The indictment doesn’t mention Clinton by name, but appears to refer approvingly to an attorney who, in Trump’s eyes, took the fall for her email woes.
“He was the one who deleted all of her emails, the 30,000 emails, because they basically dealt with her scheduling and her going to the gym and her having her beauty appointments. And he was great ... So she didn’t get in trouble because he said he was the one who deleted them,” Trump said, per the indictment.
The indictment also quotes several public statements Trump made about classified document laws while he was a candidate in 2016 ― in which he criticized Clinton’s handling of documents ― as evidence that he understood what he was doing.
Trump faces up to 20 years in prison
The indictment comes with a whopping 37 counts against Trump himself.
This includes 31 counts for the alleged willful retention of national defense documents, with a maximum imprisonment term of 10 years and a $100,000 fine. The counts also include conspiracy to corrupt justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal, and false statements and representation. None of the counts have a mandatory minimum sentence, but they have maximum sentences of five to 10 years, and maximum fines of $250,000 per count.
The indictment also includes charges against Trump’s aide, Nauta, on five of those counts, plus a single count of making false statements and representations against Nauta alone.