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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Justice Department charges Trump in documents case

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on April 27 in Manchester, N.H.  (SOPHIE PARK/New York Times)
By Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman, William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Protess New York Times

The Justice Department took the legally and politically momentous step of lodging federal criminal charges against former President Donald Trump, multiple people familiar with the matter said Thursday. The charges follow a lengthy investigation of his handling of classified documents that he took with him upon leaving office and into whether he obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, is the first time in American history a former president has faced federal charges. It puts the nation in an extraordinary position, given Trump’s status not only as a onetime chief executive but also as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to face President Joe Biden, whose administration will now be seeking to convict his potential rival.

Trump was charged with a total of seven counts, including willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and an obstruction of justice conspiracy, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump is expected to surrender himself to authorities in Miami on Tuesday, according to a person close to him and his own post on Truth Social.

The indictment, filed by the office of the special counsel Jack Smith, came about two months after local prosecutors in New York filed more than 30 felony charges against Trump in a case connected to a hush money payment to a porn star in advance of the 2016 election.

Smith is also investigating Trump’s wide-ranging efforts to retain power after his election loss in 2020, and how those efforts led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Public filings in the documents case have painted a picture of Trump repeatedly stonewalling efforts by both the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department to retrieve the trove of hundreds of sensitive government records that the former president took with him from the White House and kept mostly at his private club and residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.

While the nature of a few of the documents found in Trump’s possession is known – he had held onto letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un, for example – it remains unclear what other classified materials were found at Mar-a-Lago and what national security damage his possession of them caused, if any.

Trump has repeatedly characterized the investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt, and in recent weeks his lawyers have sought to raise what they say are issues of prosecutorial misconduct.

Here’s what else to know:

• Trump confirmed on his social media platform that he had been indicted, saying that he had been charged “over the boxes hoax.” The Justice Department made no comment and did not immediately make the indictment public.

• The indictment reaches back to the end of Trump’s term in January 2021, when the documents – many of which were said to be in the White House residence – were packed in boxes along with clothes, gifts, photos and other material, and shipped by the General Services Administration to Mar-a-Lago.

• After lengthy efforts by the National Archives throughout much of 2021 to get Trump to turn over the material he had taken with him – considered government property under the Presidential Records Act – Trump turned over 15 boxes of material in January 2022. The boxes turned out to contain highly sensitive material with classified markings, prompting a Justice Department investigation.

• Last August, federal agents descended on Mar-a-Lago to conduct an extraordinary search that turned up material that Trump had failed to turn over in response to a subpoena months earlier demanding the return of any classified documents still in his possession.

• The Justice Department has repeatedly questioned Trump’s level of cooperation with the efforts to recover the documents, saying that it had recovered more than 100 documents containing classified markings even after an attestation by one of Trump’s lawyers that a “diligent search” by his legal team had not turned up any further materials.

• Trump still faces other open criminal investigations. They include Smith’s inquiry into Trump’s efforts to hold onto power following his election loss – and how they led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol – and an investigation by a prosecutor in Georgia into his attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss in that vital swing state. Trump is scheduled to go on trial in Manhattan next March after he was charged in connection with a hush-money payment to a porn star.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.