Miami, Jun 9: Former U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, igniting a federal prosecution that is arguably the most perilous of multiple legal threats against the former president as he seeks to reclaim the White House. The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. But two people familiar with the situation who were not authorised to discuss it publicly said that the indictment included seven criminal counts. One of those people said Mr. Trump's lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted. “The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Mr. Trump wrote on his platform Truth Social as he broke what would be bombshell news of a historic moment for the United States: the first time a sitting or former commander-in-chief has ever faced federal charges. The indictment enmeshes the Justice Department in the most politically explosive prosecution in its long history. Its first case against a former president upends a Republican presidential primary that Mr. Trump is currently dominating, and any felony charges would raise the prospect of a yearslong prison sentence.
‘A witch hunt,' says Trump Within 20 minutes of his announcement, Mr. Trump, who said he was due in court Tuesday afternoon, had begun fundraising off it for his 2024 presidential campaign. He declared in a video, “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” and repeated his familiar refrain that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”
The case adds to deepening legal jeopardy for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that also could lead to criminal charges. As the prosecution moves forward, it will pit Trump's claims of sweeping executive power against Attorney General Merrick Garland's oft-stated mantra that no person, including a former commander in chief, should be regarded as above the law. The indictment arises from a months long investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Mr. Trump broke the law by holding onto hundreds of documents marked classified at his Palm Beach property, Mar-a-Lago, and whether Mr. Trump took steps to obstruct the government's efforts to recover the records.
Prosecutors have said that Mr. Trump took roughly 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, including some 100 that were seized by the FBI last August in a search of the home that underscored the gravity of the Justice Department's investigation. Mr. Trump and his team have long seen the special counsel investigation as far more perilous than the New York matter — both politically and legally.
Campaign aides had been bracing for the fallout since Mr. Trump's attorneys were notified that he was the target of the investigation, assuming it was not a matter of if charges would be brought, but when.
But it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Mr. Trump. His first indictment spurred millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn't damage Mr. Trump in the polls. No matter what, the indictment — and the legal fight that follows — will throw Mr. Trump back into the spotlight, sucking attention away from the other candidates who are trying to build momentum in the 2024 presidential race.
Mr. Trump has insisted that he was entitled to keep the classified documents when he left the White House, and has also claimed without evidence that he had declassified them.
The case is a milestone for a Justice Department that had investigated Mr. Trump for years — as president and private citizen — but had never before charged him with a crime. Garland was appointed by President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection in 2024.
The former president has long sought to use the mounting legal troubles to his political advantage, complaining on social media and at public events that the cases are being driven by Democratic prosecutors out to hurt his 2024 election campaign. He is likely to rely on that playbook again, reviving his longstanding claims that the Justice Department — which, during his presidency, investigated whether his 2016 campaign had colluded with Russia — is somehow weaponized against him. drawer and commingled with personal belongings. Some records were so sensitive that investigators needed upgraded security clearances to review them, the Justice Department has said.
The investigation into Mr. 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 the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence. 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 Mr. 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.
In contrast, investigators quickly zeroed on whether Mr. Trump, who for four years as president expressed disdain for the FBI and Justice Department, had sought to obstruct the inquiry by refusing to turn over all the requested documents. The focus on obstruction was reminiscent of the special counsel investigation Mr. Trump faced as president, when prosecutors examined whether Mr. Trump illegally tried to thwart the Russia probe, including by firing his FBI director. (Agencies)