WASHINGTON (TND) — Former President Donald Trump has been indicted for allegedly refusing to return classified documents.
He is facing 37 felony charges (an associate was solely named in a 38th charge) -- as well as a possible prison time if convicted.
The former president was charged Thursday, with the 49-page indictment unsealed the following day.
"Today an indictment was unsealed, charging Donald J. Trump with our national security laws as well as as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice," said Special Counsel Jack Smith in a prepared statement Friday afternoon, noting it was voted on by a group of citizens that made up the grand jury.
I invite everyone to read it in full to understand the scope and the gravity of the crimes charged," he added.
Shortly after the news of his indictment broke, Trump's lawyer Jim Trusty shared with CNN that some of the charges "break out from an Espionage Act charge ... and several obstruction-based type charges and false statement charges."
The full list includes: willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, false statements and representations and scheme to conceal – with counts one through 31 being violations of the Espionage Act.
According to the indictment, each one of those charges carries a maximum fine of $250,000, with maximum prison sentences between five and 20 years
The indictment noted that throughout his presidency from 2017 to 2021, Trump stored "hundreds of classified documents" in cardboard boxes at the White House, which he took to his Florida estate after his tenure. Some of these boxes were stored in showers, bathrooms, a public ballroom and other locations around his Mar-A-Lago estate.
"The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack," according to the indictment. "The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the united States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods."
The indictment also noted Trump also showed the documents to at least two people.
The men and women of the United States intelligence community and our armed forces dedicate their lives to protecting our nation and its people. Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States and they must be enforced," Smith added in his statement.
According to reporting by multiple outlets, Smith's investigators obtained a tape of Trump discussing some of the documents with unknown individuals at his Bedminsters golf club in the summer of 2021.
CNN shared new details of the tape Friday, which contains remarks in which Trump described a Pentagon “plan of attack” and shared a classified map related to a military operation, and seemed to be aware that he could not declassify the intelligence (he has routinely publicly tried to say he retains that power post-presidency).
“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” Trump says, according to a transcript of the audio obtained by CNN.
Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” he says at another point. “This was done by the military and given to me.
CNN notes the transcript of the audio recording suggests that Trump is showing the document(s) he’s discussing to those in the room. Based on context the conversaiton is believed to have taken place after a New Yorker article revealed how Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley sought to pre-empt any possible illegal military commands by the then-president during his final days in office.
“Well, with Milley – uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn’t that amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him,” Trump says, according to the transcript. “They presented me this – this is off the record, but – they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him. We looked at some. This was him. This wasn’t done by me, this was him."
Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know," he continues. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.
The case marks the first time in U.S. history the federal government indicted a former president.
"This is the most significant federal criminal case in the history of our country," John P. Fishwick, Jr., a former U.S. attorney, told The National Desk's Ahtra Elnashar on Friday.
President Joe Biden told reporters Friday he had not spoken to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the matter.
Trump posted about the ordeal on Truth Social, his social media platform. He described it as "the Greatest Witch Hunt of all time," adding that he will be represented by Todd Blanche, Esq., "and a firm to be named later."
He also questioned when President Joe Biden will be indicted "for his many crimes against our Nation" and noted that Walt Nauta, who served alongside Trump as a senior chief during Trump's presidency, will also be indicted.
They are trying to ruin his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about 'Trump.' He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot. The FBI and the DOJ are CORRUPT!"
Nauta, who was seen on surveillance camera removing boxes at Mar-a-Lago, was later charged.
Trump is running for a second term in the White House and currently remains the GOP frontrunner for the 2024 election. It's possible the trial will play out as the presidential race ramps up.
"It’s gonna be a trial date in 2024," Fishwick said. "I would expect the Department of Justice is gonna push to have the trial in early 2024. Former President Trump’s team, I think, will push back on that. Ultimately the judge decides when the trial is set. At some point a trial is gonna have to be set. I would imagine that a trial would be set before the election.”
Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer, former Harvard Law School professor and New York Times bestseller, has been vocal about Trump's indictment. He said the trial will likely impact the presidential race no matter when it begins.
There’s no good answer," Dershowitz said. "If it’s sooner, it will affect the primaries. If it’s later, it will affect the elections. If there’s already been an election, that would change things, as well.”
Fishwich said be believes the Department of Justice "thinks they have a strong case," adding that the charge is "very serious" and centered on the Espionage Act. He had documents that were classified and unclassified that affected national security and that he did not return those documents and that he obstructed justice in failing to return those documents," Fishwick said.
"I think this is the most serious investigation and now charges that former President Trump now faces," he added. "You know, to have classified documents and to hold onto them and not return them, that’s a very serious charge.
Trump is currently slated to appear at a federal courthouse in Miami Tuesday afternoon.
Fishwich said he thinks it’s appropriate that the case will be held in Florida. Trump owns property there -- Mar-a-Lago. Classified documents were previously confiscated from Trump at the Palm Beach estate.
"I think the former president should have a home field advantage," Fishwick said. "[The DOJ needs] "to make sure that they ensure that there’s fairness and transparency every step of the way....The venue is significant because ultimately that’s gonna be where the trial takes place and where the jurors come from.”
Fishwick added that "if a Trump-appointed judge presides over this case, that will give the public confidence that, again, that there’s real fairness being provided to the former president and if he’s found guilty under those circumstances, where the trial was held in Palm Beach, with a Trump-appointed judge, I think it’ll give the American people confidence that it was a fair process.”
But, Fishwick said, he thinks the biggest challenge for Trump’s legal team is the fact that the former president had multiple opportunities to return the documents and apparently chose not to.
"That makes the charges much more serious from a DOJ perspective and I would expect from a jury perspective," he said.
Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been reacting to the news. U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, issued a statement about the indictment.
"Trump brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so," Romney noted. "These allegations are serious and if proven, would be consistent with his other actions offensive to the national interest, such as withholding defensive weapons from Ukraine for political reasons and failing to defend the Capitol from violent attack and insurrection.”
Hilary Clinton, who ran against Trump for president in 2016, also tweeted about the "recent news."
Trump's campaign began fundraising off the indictment news 20 minutes after the former reality TV star first broke the story on social media.
The special counsel did not take questions from the press after delivering his remarks.
Read the full text of the indictment here.
EDITOR'S NOTE: WJLA's Michelle Marsh contributed to this report.