Donald Trump engaged in relentless efforts to hide government documents from authorities, instructing aides to shuttle boxes of sensitive information at his Mar-a-Lago home from a ballroom to a bathroom to a storage room, as well as his office.
The efforts are detailed in words, photographs and conversations transcribed in a federal indictment unsealed Friday that alleges the former president engaged in a conspiracy with a close aide to resist returning classified materials, even after receiving a subpoena requiring him to do so.
Trump shared classified documents freely and indicated he knew some were classified, according to court documents.
In July 2021 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., during an audio recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, none of whom possessed a security clearance, Trump showed and described a “plan of attack” against an unnamed foreign country that he said was prepared for him by the Defense Department and a senior military official.
CNN has identified the target country as Iran and the senior military official as Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. Trump allegedly raised the classified plans to try to rebut critical comments by Milley.
Trump said as president he could have declassified the document he was showing to others. “See as president I could have declassified it,” Trump said, according to a transcript in the indictment. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
The documents found were from agencies including Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, National Security Agency, Department of Energy and more, according to the indictment.
Trump is the first former president to face federal allegations of criminal conduct. The indictment, unsealed by a federal court in Miami, outlines 37 counts of seven charges including willful retention of national defense information, corruptly concealing documents, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and making false statements.
The documents in boxes included “information regarding defense and weapons capabilities” of the U.S. and foreign countries, U.S. nuclear programs, “potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack” and “plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack.”
“The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States,” according to the indictment. “Trump was not authorized to possess or retain those classified documents.”
One photo shows show records, including classified material, spilled across the floor a storage room.
The indictment recounts evidence that special counsel Jack Smith’s team has gathered from witnesses and other sources in the two-year effort to figure out what government documents went with the former president when he left the White House – and whether any crimes were committed.
The unprecedented FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on Aug. 8 came after National Archives officials spent months trying to claw back records still in his possession. During the search, agents removed 27 boxes and several other document collections containing 11 sets of classified materials from at least seven government agencies.
Waltine “Walt” Nauta, a former military valet who followed Trump from the White House to become his personal aide at Mar-a-Lago, also has been indicted on charges in connection with the conspiracy. The indictment said Nauta was directed by Trump to “move boxes of documents to conceal them from Trump’s attorney, the FBI and the grand jury.”
“Trump was personally involved in this process. Trump caused his boxes, containing hundreds of classified documents, to be transported from the White House to the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the indictment says.
The court filing describes Trump’s response when one of his lawyers says he must respond to a government subpoena requesting the classified documents. “Well what if we, what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?” Trump said, according to one of the lawyers. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything there?”
After receiving a subpoena for the documents, Trump agreed to search for responsive documents alongside his attorney. But, without his lawyer’s knowledge, Trump instructed Nauta to move 64 boxes from the storage room to Trump’s personal residence, so the lawyer would not be able to search them.
The indictment doesn’t name the lawyer, identifying him only as “Attorney 1,” but the description matches other public documents that identified Trump attorney Evan Corcoran.
From that smaller batch, Corcoran identified several that should be returned to the government. According to the indictment, as Corcoran was leaving Mar-a-Lago with Trump, the former president made “a funny motion” indicating that he should “pluck” out any “bad” documents.
“He didn’t say that,” the lawyer said, indicating Trump communicated by gestures not words.
In late August or September, Trump showed a member of his political action committee, or PAC, one of the documents: a map of a country where he said an ongoing military operation was not going well. During the conversation with the PAC representative, who did not have a security clearance, Trump acknowledged he should not be showing him the map.
Trump maintained his innocence in a Thursday night post on his Truth Social platform and said that he’s been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States,” he wrote. “I am an innocent man!”
Trump’s campaign filing in November to run again for president in 2024 prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint Smith as special counsel that month. As Smith settled in, the first half of 2023 saw a procession of grand jury witnesses, sealed subpoena fights and shake-ups on Trump’s legal defense team.
A member of Smith’s team estimated the case would take 21 days to try in a certificate of trial attorney that follows the indictment.
Bloomberg’s Zoe Tillman, Patricia Hurtado, David Voreacos and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou contributed to this report.