Former U.S. president Donald Trump has reportedly been indicted over his alleged mishandling and withholding of classified documents and obstructing law enforcement efforts to retrieve them, according to multiple major U.S. media outlets and a post from Trump on social media.
The reported development would serve the apparent frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination another legal blow.
News of the indictment, which would be the first federal charges ever laid against a former or current U.S. president, was reported late Thursday by multiple U.S. outlets including the Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN, ABC News and the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter. The reports said Trump is facing seven criminal charges.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on the reported indictment when contacted by Global News, which has not independently confirmed the charges.
Trump himself announced the indictment on his Truth Social platform, adding he is being summoned to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday.
“”I have been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM. I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States. … I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”
The charges stem from a Justice Department special counsel investigation that included two separate grand juries — one in Washington, the other in Florida — that spent weeks hearing testimony and reviewing evidence.
Special counsel Jack Smith was tasked by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November with overseeing the investigation, which spilled into public view in August 2022 when FBI agents raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and seized several boxes of material from Trump’s time in the White House.
But efforts to retrieve what prosecutors say were over 300 documents taken to Florida by Trump at the end of his presidency began much earlier, in May 2021, when the National Archives and Records Administration — the agency tasked with preserving government and historical records in the U.S. — first realized they were missing.
While Trump’s lawyers returned some of the materials being sought, the FBI issued a subpoena in May 2022 for classified records at the property. After coming to suspect that Trump and his representatives had still not returned all the documents, they returned in August with a search warrant and recovered an additional 100 with classification markings.
The investigation has focused not only on the possession of classified documents, including at the top-secret level, but also on the refusal of Trump to return the records when asked, and on possible obstruction. Among the allegations are that Trump’s lawyers and staff moved documents between rooms at Mar-a-Lago and falsely stated to federal officials that no more sought-after materials were at the estate.
Trump has maintained his innocence in the case, falsely claiming he was allowed to declassify and remove records from the White House at will under the Presidential Records Act and that he cooperated with officials in the investigation.
“How can DOJ charge me, who did nothing wrong,” he wrote on social media this week. “The greatest witch hunt of all time!”
Trump is already the first U.S. president past or present ever to face criminal charges, having pleaded not guilty in April to 34 felony charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney of falsifying business records relating to hush money paid to a porn star before his election in 2016.
Rather than hurting his re-election bid, that indictment has only fuelled support in both fundraising and polling. He raised over US$15 million in total campaign contributions in the two weeks after he was arraigned in Manhattan, and his polling average in the Republican primary is more than twice that of his closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump’s trial in the hush money case is set to begin in March 2024 in Manhattan.
Despite opposing Trump in the primary, Republican presidential hopefuls have leapt to Trump’s defence after that indictment and over the possibility he would be charged again.
“I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting (the) former president of the United States,” Trump’s former vice-president Mike Pence told a CNN town hall hours after announcing his candidacy Wednesday.
Another Republican candidate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, said in a statement Thursday he would pardon Trump if elected, and if Trump were convicted. Pence did not make a similar commitment when asked directly at Wednesday’s town hall.
In a statement, Trump’s presidential campaign called the federal indictment “un-American and wrong,” and echoed Trump’s assertion that the multiple criminal investigations against him are akin to electoral interference.
“Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a top Republican ally of Trump in Congress, said on Twitter.
The documents investigation has seen Trump’s legal team seek to delay the work of federal prosecutors in the weeks following the raid, pushing for an independent arbiter to review what documents could be reviewed and seeking the return of other seized materials they argued were personal in nature.
The so-called special master’s appointment and powers were later scuttled by federal judges, allowing prosecutors unfettered access.
The case intensified in recent weeks as Trump’s lawyers met with Smith’s team of prosecutors at the U.S. Justice Department headquarters in Washington to argue against indicting their client.
A variety of witnesses, including lawyers for Trump, close aides to the former president and officials with the Trump Organization, have appeared over the past year before the grand jury in Washington.
The existence of the second, separate grand jury in Florida, which has heard from Trump aids and employees at Mar-a-Lago, added a new wrinkle in the case and foretold that charges would be brought in Florida — where the documents were taken after Trump left the White House and where multiple acts of alleged obstruction have occurred — rather than Washington.
In addition, several media reports Wednesday evening, including Reuters, said prosecutors had recently issued the Trump legal team a letter indicating the former president was a target of the investigation, which is often but not always a precursor to criminal charges. The existence of the letter was not confirmed by Global News.
“You typically wouldn’t send a letter like that unless you are pretty far along the investigative path, because it shows you’ve made up your mind,” Tom Dupree, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil division, told Global News in an interview.
The investigation into Trump had appeared complicated — politically, if not legally — by the discovery of documents with classified markings in the Delaware home and former Washington office of President Joe Biden, as well as in Pence’s Indiana home. The Justice Department recently informed Pence that he would not face charges, while a second special counsel continues to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents.
But compared with Trump, there are key differences in the facts and legal issues surrounding Biden’s and Pence’s handling of documents, including that representatives for both men say the documents were returned as soon as they were found.
Beyond the Mar-a-Lago investigation, another probe in Washington also conducted by Smith centres on efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election.
—with files from Global’s Jackson Proskow, the Associated Press and Reuters