(UPDATED) (OSV News) — Former President Donald Trump has been indicted in a case concerning his alleged mishandling of classified documents, the second time he has faced criminal charges in the midst of his third bid for the White House.
Trump is accused of unlawfully retaining classified government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving the White House, and not cooperating with officials’ attempts to retrieve those documents.
Trump faces charges in the special counsel’s classified documents probe, including federal charges of false statements, conspiracy to obstruct and Espionage Act violations. Trump has been summoned to appear June 13 in court in Miami, where he will be arraigned.
In a statement posted on his Truth Social website, Trump said he is “an innocent man” and the Biden administration “is totally corrupt.”
A statement from the Trump campaign said the candidate “will fight this unconstitutional abuse of power until he is ultimately vindicated.”
“He will never stop fighting for the American people, and he will continue to work to restore the greatness of the United States of America,” the statement said.
Jack Smith, the U.S. special counsel pursuing the criminal charges against Trump, said in a statement from the Department of Justice that he invites Americans to read the indictment “in full to understand the scope and gravity of the crimes charged.”
“Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice,” Smith said. “And our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone. Applying those laws, collecting facts, that’s what determines the outcome of an investigation. Nothing more, nothing less.”
In the indictment, prosecutors say Trump divulged the contents of a secret “plan of attack” against Iran to visitors at his New Jersey golf club in 2021, and was recorded doing so, calling the material “highly confidential” and acknowledging it had not been declassified, among other allegations of improper handling of classified materials.
Trump sought to cast the charges as unfair, as classified materials were discovered at think tank offices formerly used by Biden, and at his Delaware home. Those discoveries are under investigation, but officials said Biden and his aides have cooperated in that process.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who recently launched his own bid for the Republican nomination, was recently cleared in an investigation concerning the discovery of classified documents at his Indiana home, for which he issued a statement apologizing, taking “full responsibility” and pledging his cooperation.
Trump and his aides are accused in court documents of stonewalling efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department to retrieve hundreds of sensitive government documents taken from the White House.
Trump was previously charged under New York state law with 34 felony counts related to falsifying business records associated with his alleged role in paying hush money to an adult film actress in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, among other alleged misconduct.
Separate and ongoing criminal investigations by both the Department of Justice and a Georgia state prosecutor are also scrutinizing Trump’s efforts in that state to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Trump, who is seeking to return to the White House for a second term, is currently leading polls for the 2024 GOP presidential primary. However, in a May Yahoo-YouGov poll, 63% of Americans called “taking highly classified documents from the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them” a serious crime.
Robert Schmuhl, professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who critically observes the modern American presidency, told OSV News the latest Trump indictment “doesn’t come as much of a surprise.”
“What’s unclear is why the former president wanted to keep federal documents in his possession after he left the White House,” Schmuhl said. He added that particular action “needs to be considered in relation to other investigations being conducted about his activities after the 2020 election, including what happened on January 6,” referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot in which Trump’s supporters attempted to block Congress’ certification of Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory.
Asked if Republican primary voters may consider the latest Trump indictment differently now that he has more rivals for the nomination, Schmuhl said a bigger field of primary candidates “makes it easier for Donald Trump to become the party’s candidate.”
“He has a very loyal following of 30 – 35% of Republican voters,” Schmuhl said. “That level of support could be enough to lead the large field and put the former president over the top. A large open question is what impact the upcoming Trump trials will have on the nominating process.”
Trump’s campaign issued digital fundraising materials based on the indictment, characterizing it as a witch hunt. James Patterson, chair of the politics department at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, told OSV News that “most politicians would hope to downplay indictments,” but Trump has embraced them in his campaign strategy in a bid to show he is “fighting against a corrupt system.”
“Evidence of this is found in how he broke the news himself at Truth Social and then released a video statement declaring his innocence, that the nation was in decline, and blaming the Biden administration for indicting him because of his success in the polls,” Patterson said. “In his video statement, Trump even complained about having to deal with the indictments while running a campaign but affirmed that he could do both.”
Patterson said the success or failure of that strategy depends on Republican primary voters.
“Either they will rally to the Trump cause, or they will make for the exits for a fresh candidate with less baggage, more focus, and something new to say,” Patterson said.