It’s another unprecedented moment. A former President of the United States has been indicted on federal criminal charges.
What led to the 37 federal criminal charges against Donald J. Trump? What charges does he face, and what potential consequences lay ahead of him?
What Led to The Charges?
The core of the case against Donald J. Trump is tied to The Presidential Records Act, which requires all records created by a sitting president to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at the end of their administration. Two years of events triggered by the NARA led to Trump’s June 2023 indictment. Here is a breakdown of the timeline that led to the charges.
May 2021: The NARA realizes that several important documents weren’t handed over before Trump left the White House. The organization reaches out to Trump’s team to collect the documents.
January 2021: The NARA receives 15 boxes of documents. Inside, they find more than 100 classified documents.
February 2021: The NARA informs the Justice Department of the situation and asks the department to look into Trump’s handling of White House records and whether he violated the Presidential Records Act and other laws related to classified information.
April 2021: The Justice Department reaches out to Trump’s lawyers to request access to the remaining documents as they believe more sensitive information is included in the documents. Trump’s team asks for more time to review the documents before the FBI receives access.
May 2022: The Justice Department sends a subpoena to Trump requesting that all documents with classification markings be returned.
June 2022: Federal investigators visit Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s attorney hands over 38 classified documents and signs an affidavit saying there are no more classified documents on the property.
August 2022: The FBI executes a court-issued search warrant and searches Mar-a-Lago. Federal agents find more than 100 additional classified documents.
November 2022: Attorney General Merrick Garland appoints Jack Smith as a special counsel to investigate the situation.
June 2023: After months of investigation and conducting interviews, the special counsel presents evidence in front of a grand jury in southern Florida. The grand jury votes to indict Trump, charging him with 37 federal felony charges.
What Are the Charges?
Trump has been charged with 37 federal felony counts. Each count relates to Trump’s behavior while dealing with the NARA and FBI as they attempted to locate and collect documents from Trump’s presidency.
- Counts 1-31: Willful retention of national defense information. Trump is accused of storing 31 sensitive national defense documents at Mar-a-Lago. Each count represents a document.
- Count 32: Conspiracy to obstruct justice. Trump is accused of conspiring to keep documents from the grand jury investigating the case.
- Count 33: Withholding a document or a record. Trump is accused of moving boxes so documents would not be introduced to the grand jury.
- Count 34: Corruptly concealing a document or record. Trump is accused of attempting to hide boxes of documents from attorneys.
- Count 35: Concealing a document in a federal investigation. Trump is accused of hiding documents that led to a false certification being issued to the FBI.
- Count 36: Scheme to conceal. Trump is accused of hiding the possession of documents from the FBI and grand jury.
- Count 37: False statements and representations. Trump is accused of leading his attorney to make false statements to the FBI and grand jury.
Who Else Is Involved?
Walt Nauta, a former presidential aide to Trump and current Trump employee, is also listed as a defendant on the federal charges.
Naulta faces six charges. He is included in charges with Trump and also is charged with an individual charge of making false statements and representations. The count accuses Nauta of giving false answers during a voluntary interview with the FBI in late May.
What Are the Potential Consequences?
According to The Washington Post, Trump faces a maximum of hundreds of years in prison.
The maximum punishment for retention of national defense information is ten years in prison for each charge. Trump faces 31 charges for this crime.
Trump also faces charges associated with conspiracy to obstruct justice, tampering with grand jury evidence, and concealing evidence in a federal investigation which carry punishments of up to 20 years. He also faces false statement charges that carry up to five years in prison.
It’s unlikely that Trump would be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison even if he is convicted on all charges.
Federal defendants rarely receive the maximum possible punishment, and sentencing can vary widely as there are no mandatory minimum sentences. Trump will have an option to settle his case, or it will be brought to a jury trial in the upcoming months.
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