The special counsel who oversaw the investigation into former U.S. president Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents on Friday urged Americans to read the newly unsealed 37-count indictment to understand the “full scope and gravity” of the crimes being alleged.
In his first public statement on the investigation, Jack Smith defended his office’s work and the grand jury’s decision to bring charges against Trump, who along with his allies has worked to undermine Smith and the U.S. Justice Department while maintaining his innocence.
“We have one set of rules to everyone, and it applies to everyone,” Smith told reporters in a brief statement. He took no questions.
Smith said he will seek a “speedy trial” to resolve the case. Trump is due to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday to answer to the charges, one day before his 77th birthday.
The special counsel spoke hours after the Justice Department unsealed the indictment against Trump and a former aide Friday, a tumultuous day that also saw two of Trump’s lawyers quit the case.
The charges stem from Trump’s treatment of sensitive government materials he took with him when he left the White House in January 2021.
According to the indictment, those documents include some of the most sensitive U.S. military secrets, including information on the U.S. nuclear program and potential domestic vulnerabilities in the event of an attack.
One document concerned a foreign country’s support of terrorism against U.S. interests.
Materials came from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, the indictment said. Information exclusive to the Five Eyes allies of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand was also found.
According to the indictment, Trump showed another person a Defense Department document described as a “plan of attack” against another country.
The indictment of a former U.S. president on federal charges is unprecedented in American history and emerges at a time when Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination next year.
Investigators seized roughly 13,000 documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, nearly a year ago. One hundred were marked as classified, even though one of Trump’s lawyers had previously said all records with classified markings had been returned to the government.
“I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on Thursday after announcing he had been indicted.
Trump has previously said he declassified those documents while president, but his attorneys have declined to make that argument in court filings.
The indictment includes excerpts of recorded conversations that show Trump admitting to not declassifying documents he showed to aides and outside visitors who did not have proper security clearances.
CNN reported on Friday that Trump said after leaving office that he had retained military information that he had not declassified. Those comments, captured on audio, could be a key piece of evidence in the case.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has been initially assigned to oversee the case, said a source who was briefed on the matter. She could preside over the trial as well, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Cannon, appointed by Trump in 2019, made headlines last year when she decided in favor of the former U.S. president at a pivotal stage of the case and was later reversed on appeal.
Cannon would determine, among other things, when a trial would take place and what Trump’s sentence would be if he were found guilty.
It is the second criminal case for Trump, who is due to go on trial in New York next March in a state case stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in that case.
If he wins the presidency again, Trump, as head of the federal government, would be in a position to derail the federal case, but not the state one in New York.
Former aide charged, lawyers quit
The indictment also charges Trump’s former military valet, Walt Nauta, with six felony counts for allegedly conspiring with Trump to move and hide some of the documents being sought and making false statements to investigators.
Nauta worked at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort after serving in the Trump White House.
Nauta’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, declined to comment.
In an earlier post, Trump said he would be represented in the case by white collar defense lawyer Todd Blanche, who is representing him in a separate criminal case in Manhattan.
Trump made that announcement after his lawyers John Rowley and Jim Trusty quit the case for reasons that were not immediately clear.
“This morning we tendered our resignations as counsel to President Trump,” the two lawyers said in a statement. “It has been an honor to have spent the last year defending him, and we know he will be vindicated.”
Trump and his allies have portrayed the case as political retaliation by Democratic President Joe Biden, but Biden has kept his distance.
The White House said he did not find out about the indictment ahead of time, and he declined to comment when asked by reporters in North Carolina about the indictment.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has sought to minimize the perception of political interference by appointing Jack Smith as special counsel, giving him a degree of independence from Justice Department leadership to head the prosecution.
The case does not prevent Trump from campaigning or taking office if he were to win the November 2024 presidential election. Legal experts say there would be no basis to block his swearing-in even if he were convicted and sent to prison.
Popular with Republicans
Trump’s legal woes have not dented his popularity with Republican voters, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. His main Republican rivals have so far lined up behind him to criticize the case as politically motivated.
Trump served as president from 2017 to 2021, and he has so far managed to weather controversies that might torpedo other politicians. He describes himself as the victim of a witch hunt and accuses the Justice Department of partisan bias.
Special Counsel Smith is leading a second criminal probe into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Trump also faces a separate criminal probe in Georgia related to efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in that state.
Smith convened grand juries in both Washington and Miami to hear evidence, but has opted to bring the case in the politically competitive state of Florida, rather than the U.S. capital, where any jury would likely be heavily Democratic.
Under federal law, defendants have a right to be charged where the activity in question took place. A Florida prosecution, legal experts say, could head off a drawn-out legal challenge from Trump’s team over the proper venue.
The Republican state-by-state presidential nominating contest kicks off early next year, and the party is due to choose its nominee for the November 2024 election in July of that year.
—With files from Reuters