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Trump Faces Felony Espionage and Witness Tampering Charges in New Indictment

Trump is the first former president in U.S. history to face a federal indictment.

Former President Donald Trump boards his airplane after speaking at a campaign event, at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on April 27, 2023, in Manchester, New Hampshire.

On Thursday evening, several news agencies reported that former President Donald Trump will be indicted in the federal case surrounding his improper retention of thousands of government records.

Trump and his lawyers appeared to confirm that they have been informed of his impending indictment, which they said will take place in federal court in Miami, Florida, this upcoming Tuesday.

In a three-post rant on his Truth Social account, Trump repeated false claims comparing his situation with that of President Joe Biden, and said that he had been informed by his attorneys that he was indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“I have been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM,” Trump wrote, adding that he had “never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States”.

“I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” Trump went on. He then claimed that his indictment was “a DARK DAY for the United States of America.”

In subsequent posts, the former president, who is running for office again in 2024, characterized the charges being levied against him as “election interference” and a “witch hunt.”

There is no evidence that Trump is being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department for the purposes of interfering with his electoral chances. But recent polling does suggest that Trump’s image will suffer somewhat if he’s indicted of a serious crime. Whether in the GOP primaries or in the general election, Trump’s indictment is sure to become a prominent topic in the campaign.

Sources told ABC News that Trump was indeed set to be arraigned on Tuesday, charged with seven counts relating to his retention of thousands of government documents, some of them marked classified, after he left the presidency in 2021, as well as for his efforts to conceal his retention of documents even after he was issued a subpoena to return them last year.

Trump will be the first president in U.S. history to be indicted on federal charges. He was also indicted in April in New York state court on charges related to his hush money payments to an adult film actress and a model he allegedly had extramarital affairs with prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Specific charges against Trump from the DOJ weren’t immediately known. It’s expected that Trump will surrender himself to authorities in Miami without incident on Tuesday.

The charges come after several months of inquiry at the Department of Justice (DOJ) led by special counsel Jack Smith, who was selected to lead the investigation after Trump announced his run for the presidency last fall.

The charges set to be made against Trump appear, thus far, to be solely related to the Mar-a-Lago documents case. They do not include potential charges stemming from a separate DOJ inquiry relating to Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, which could come later this year.

This week, sources told The Independent that, among the charges Trump could face, he would be charged with violating Section 793 of the Espionage Act, which “prohibits the “gathering, transmitting or losing … [of] information respecting the national defense.” That act is important because it dismantles an important defense by Trump, that he purportedly declassified sensitive documents before leaving office, or that by removing them he somehow declassified them automatically. The Espionage Act doesn’t differentiate between classified or declassified materials when it comes to violations of the law.

One of the lawyers representing Trump in the case, Jim Trusty, appeared on CNN on Thursday after news broke of Trump’s impending indictment. Although he didn’t go into extensive detail, Trusty did list a number of U.S. Codes of Law that the DOJ was planning to charge him with, including the Espionage Act.

Trusty also added that charges of obstruction and making false statements would be part of the indictment, and made specific mention of 18 U.S.C. 1512, which is witness, victim or informant tampering.

On Friday, just hours after Trusty appeared on CNN, Trump announced that Trusty and lawyer John Rowley were no longer representing him in the case. Trump thanked them for their work on his Truth Social website.

The investigation into Trump’s mishandling of government records entered the public eye in August 2022, when the FBI carried out a warrant search of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, obtaining more than 100 classified documents and a large number of other government materials. But the timeline of events leading up to that date suggests that Trump acted improperly well before then.

After Trump left the White House, he took with him thousands of government documents, which the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) sought to retrieve for almost a year afterward, as all records originating from the office of the president officially belong to the U.S. government and the American people, not the chief executive in office at the time they were generated. Only after NARA threatened to involve Congress in the matter did Trump and his lawyers agree to let the agency retrieve some records, which they did in January 2022.

Upon discovering that some of the documents in Trump’s possession were classified, NARA alerted the DOJ, and in late spring of that year issued a subpoena to Trump to return all classified documents. Trump allowed investigators to come to his property to do so, appearing to be cooperative — but it was later revealed that Trump had ordered workers at Mar-a-Lago to move some documents from a storage locker to his personal office at the estate, exactly one day before the DOJ came to retrieve documents.

Trump’s lawyers drafted an affidavit affirming he had returned all documents marked as classified to the DOJ and NARA. When additional evidence was obtained by investigators that he still held onto classified documents, the FBI obtained a warrant for the property, which they used to search the estate in August while Trump was in New York.

During that search, the FBI obtained more than 100 classified materials and over 11,000 other government documents.

Conservative lawmakers and commentators on social media sought to defend Trump, suggesting, without evidence, that the current president was manipulating the DOJ into issuing an indictment against his predecessor.

“I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable,” Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said on Twitter.

“If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic,” right-wing Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) wrote on Twitter.

But legal experts dismissed these suggestions. Former U.S. Attorney and current University of Michigan Law School professor Barb McQuade, for example, responded directly to criticism by Hawley, calling it a “reckless comment from a lawyer who knows better.”

McQuade added:

No one is jailing anyone at will. A grand jury has found probable cause of crimes. Trump gets due process, like everyone else. He gets jailed only if a jury finds guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and a judge imposes jail.

Other legal experts and observers also weighed in.

“Legally, he is presumed innocent and he’s afforded all of his rights,” said MSNBC host Ari Melber, but “the biggest problem for [Trump] … is that he did it, and he admitted it.”

“History is being made,” Harvard Law School professor emeritus Laurence Tribe tweeted. “Accountability will follow more swiftly because venue squabbles were taken off the table by not charging in DC.”

Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney and current law professor at the University of Alabama, wrote about the indictment in the context of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

“This is a moment to take stock and to realize how far we’ve come from the fragility that shook the country in January of 2021,” Vance wrote in a Substack post. “We’re entitled to a small moment of self-congratulation to appreciate everything that we have accomplished, and to double down on the commitment to preserve an American Republic from succumbing to a dangerous cult leader with fascist tendencies.”

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