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These questions are mostly concerned with Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump over a hush-money payment scheme, but many could apply to each investigation.
He’s been indicted on seven counts, CNN reported.
Jack Smith, the special counsel coordinating federal investigations related to the former president, has never spoken publicly about what federal prosecutors have been doing in the nearly one year since FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. And we may not know much more until next Tuesday, when Trump has been ordered to appear at a federal courthouse in Miami at 3 p.m.
Here are some of the answers we have so far:
Has this ever happened before?
No. Absolutely not. No former president has been charged with a federal crime. Neither has the front-runner for president from a major political party.
Maybe the trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr for treason in 1807 is an analog, but probably not.
We are, as is so often the case with Trump, in uncharted territory.
Another indictment? Wasn’t he already indicted?
Yes and yes. Trump was indicted back in March by the Manhattan district attorney on state charges related to hush-money payments to a former adult-film star in 2016.
The new indictment involves completely different charges, brought by the federal government and related to his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.
Why isn’t Trump being charged in connection with January 6 or his effort to overturn the 2020 election?
He may yet be. Smith is also overseeing other investigations related to Trump, including those regarding the January 6, 2021, insurrection and the 2020 election.
Wasn’t classified material also found in President Joe Biden’s home?
Yes. And there is a special counsel investigating that too.
The major difference in the Trump case is that he actively tried for around a year to keep from handing documents over to the National Archives, which owns them after a president leaves office.
What exactly is in these new charges?
We know that there are seven counts, and according to CNN’s reporting, one of them is related to a conspiracy allegation.
Trump is facing a charge under the Espionage Act, his attorney Jim Trusty said on CNN Thursday, as well as charges of obstruction of justice, destruction or falsification of records, conspiracy and false statements.
More on the federal indictment of Trump:
There are some other things we can infer, including that people other than Trump are likely to face charges.
“All conspiracy means is an agreement between two or more people to violate the law, a meeting of the minds,” said Elie Honig, a senior CNN legal analyst and former assistant US attorney, appearing on CNN Thursday night.
What laws may have been broken?
The following comes from CNN’s Marshall Cohen:
Prosecutors revealed the specific statutes that they were investigating when they searched Mar-a-Lago last year, a search that uncovered dozens of classified documents, even after Trump’s team swore they turned everything over.
However, that was before Smith took over the probe as special counsel, and it doesn’t mean these are the only possible crimes. But it provides a roadmap of possible charges – because when seeking the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, prosecutors needed to convince a judge there was probable cause that they’d find evidence of these crimes.
- The first is 18 USC 793, which is part of the Espionage Act. That federal law deals with the illegal retention of “national defense information,” a broad term that encompasses classified documents and other sensitive government materials. This law can apply to people who are authorized to handle classified information but knowingly kept the material in an unsecured location, or to people who aren’t supposed to possess the information in the first place.
- The second is 18 USC 2071, which deals with the illegal removal of government records from US custody.
- The third is 18 USC 1519, which is obstruction of justice. This could come into play if prosecutors conclude that Trump or his aides intentionally tried to impede their inquiry – by moving boxes around so prosecutors wouldn’t find classified documents, by possibly questioning complying with subpoenas including for surveillance tapes that prosecutors believe captured the movement of the boxes, by failing to fully comply with a subpoena, or by falsely swearing that all classified files had been returned.
The FBI search was nearly a year ago. Has DOJ been sitting on these charges?
Probably not. Smith was not even involved in the case at that point. Every indication is that government lawyers have been busy building a case.
In fact, Smith has recently been using a second grand jury in Florida.
CNN has reported multiple details in recent weeks about witnesses that have appeared in recent months before grand juries. It wasn’t until March that they questioned an aide who was in the room for the meeting when Trump was recorded seeming to motion to papers with classified material on his desk.
When will we know more?
Trump is set to appear Tuesday at a federal courthouse in Miami. Until then, anything we hear on the matter is likely to come from Trump.
Miami? Why isn’t he being charged in Washington, DC?
Great question. CNN’s Evan Perez reported Thursday night that federal officials were scrambling with the logistics of how to prosecute the former president in Miami, and he noted that there had long been an assumption that federal charges against Trump would be in Washington.
However, it does make some sense for the case to be in Florida. That’s where Trump now lives most of the year, and it is also where the FBI conducted a search of Mar-a-Lago and carted away boxes containing classified material.
There are other reasons. Trump has dismissed legal setbacks in New York – his company was convicted of tax evasion and he was found liable for sexual abuse – with the argument that New Yorkers are politically opposed to him.
That argument will be more difficult in Florida, a state he won in both 2016 and 2020, although President Joe Biden carried Miami-Dade County.
“The fact that this is being charged in Florida is enormously significant,” said Honig. “Legally, I think it’s the right move by DOJ, be