1 of 5 | Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower en route to criminal court in New York City on April 4 to face fraud charges. File Photo by John Nacion/UPI | License Photo
June 8 (UPI) -- Former President Donald Trump was charged Thursday in an indictment from a federal grand jury over his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
The investigation by the U.S. Justice Department has been overseen by special counsel Jack Smith since his appointment last fall.
The investigation centered on the former president's handling of more than 100 classified security documents after his term in the White House ended.
The probe also focused on whether Trump had obstructed the federal government from recovering those documents.
Trump confirmed that he was facing federal indictment in a post to his Truth Social platform, targeting the administration of President Joe Biden.
"The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax," the former president said.
Trump said he has been summoned to appear in a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday at 3 p.m., before adding that he is leading "all candidates, both Democrat and Republican" in polls for the 2024 presidential election.
"I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!" Trump said.
He added, "This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a Country in serious and rapid Decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!"
According to reports, he is facing at least seven counts.
It is the second criminal indictment of Trump. In March, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed 34 charges against the former president related to hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels while he was campaigning for president in 2016.
Trump became the first former president to face criminal charges. He pleaded not guilty to all counts, including falsifying business records. The falsifying business records charges were enhanced to criminal charges because it is alleged that records were falsified to further other criminal activities.
Leadup to indictment
It was reported last week that investigators obtained an audio recording of Trump discussing the contents of at least one classified document relating to a planned attack on Iran. Trump could be heard discussing Gen. Mark Milley opposing Trump's plans to launch the attack in his final days in office.
Trump would go on to discuss classified documents compiled by Milley that were being kept off the grounds of Mar-a-Lago, where the FBI confiscated hundreds of documents last summer.
The recording was captured at Trump's Bedminster, N.J., golf club in July 2021, during a meeting attended by two aides and writers working on a memoir for former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Meadows was not present, but he has testified before the grand jury in this case.
Illegally possessing and transmitting top-secret defense information is a violation of the federal Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. It is punishable by a fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
On Wednesday, Trump was informed in a letter from Smith that he was the subject of a criminal investigation. A notification from the Justice Department typically means there is "substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant," according to the agency.
It also gives the potential defense team the opportunity to prepare evidence and arrange a meeting with investigators to plead their case.
Three of Trump's lawyers -- James Trusty, John Rowley and Lindsey Halligan -- met with Smith and other Justice Department officials on Monday. Attorney General Merrick Garland was not present.
Last month, Trump's legal team requested a meeting with Garland to discuss the investigation.
Kendall Coffey, a U.S. district attorney in Southern Florida from 1993 to 1996, said it is important to note that a grand jury is an "investigative instrument of the prosecution," and has not heard the arguments of the defense.
"An indictment represents the decision of the prosecutors," he told UPI. "The bottom line is it is not a neutral authority that has heard both sides of the case."
Trump has alleged that this case, as well as the Daniels investigation and a probe into d attempts to undermine election results in Fulton County, Ga., are politically motivated to derail his campaign for president.
"Wow, this is turning out to be the greatest & most vicious instance of ELECTION INTERFERENCE in the history of our Country," Trump posted on Truth Social Wednesday. "Remember, I'm leading DeSanctimonious BIG in the polls but, more importantly, I'm leading Biden by a lot."
Trump was referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is among those running against Trump in the Republican presidential primary.
"Perhaps most importantly, they are launching all of the many Fake investigations against me RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF MY CAMPAIGN, something which is unheard of and not supposed to happen," he continued. "DOJ, FBI, NEW YORK A.G., NEW YORK D.A., ATLANTA D.A. FASCISTS ALL!"
David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida, said the Justice Department is an apolitical agency. During his 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, he served as chief of the public integrity and national security arm of the office, overseeing cases that involved the handling of classified documents.
"I have worked for U.S. attorneys and attorneys general appointed by Republicans and Democrats. Politics never entered any decision -- in regard to whether an investigation should be undertaken or filed," Weinstein said Thursday in an interview with UPI.
"Garland took pains to make sure politics weren't involved. That's why he appointed special prosecutor Jack Smith. I really find it hard to believe that this was something motivated by politics and motivated simply to impede the path of the former president trying to campaign for presidency."
Weinstein expects the case to move forward more quickly than the state cases Trump faces in New York. Federal cases will set the trial process in motion within 75 days of charges being filed, unless the appointed judge finds a legitimate reason to delay.
He estimates that the case could be resolved before Republican primaries begin in March, or at the least, before next summer.
"Federal judges do not allow cases to linger," he said.
Following an arraignment, there will be an exchange of discovery between the federal government and Trump's team. Then it will be determined if the case will go to trial or if a plea agreement will be reached.
While the eyes of the public will be fixed to this case in an unprecedented way, Weinstein said the bar for federal prosecutors is always high.
"Certainly this is nothing we've ever seen with someone who is the former president of the United States," he said. "We have seen cases where charges have been brought against other government officials, including but not limited to people who have held positions in the FBI and other domestic and international security agencies.
"The fact that you are prepared, for the first time in the history of our country, to indict someone who has been president of the United States -- you are going to cross every 't' and dot every 'i' and follow every statute," he said. "All cases should be tight. This case will be very tight because the scrutiny this case comes under is like we've never seen before."
Other legal woes
The latest charges add to the list of legal woes facing Trump as he campaigns for a second term as president. In May, he was found liable in civil court of battery and defamation in a case brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll. A jury ruled that he must pay an estimated $3 million in compensation and damages for the charges.
Also in New York, an investigation is ongoing into the Trump Organization. Trump and other top executives are accused of fraudulently inflating the value of assets to secure more favorable terms on bank loans.
In January, the Trump Organization was ordered by the state Supreme Court to pay $1.6 million in criminal penalties for paying some of its high-level executives under the table.
The Justice Department is investigating another case involving Trump, focused on his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Several contacts in Trump's inner circle, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence, have either testified or been subpoenaed to testify as part of the investigation.
A decision about whether Trump will face charges for attempting to subvert the results of the 2020 election is expected to be announced over the summer. Fani Willis, district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., launched that probe, which includes a phone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump asked him to "find" about 11,000 votes to change the election's results.