Protester holds sign depicting Donald Trump in prison

New York, New York USA - April 4 2023: Woman Counter Protester with a Sign of Trump in Jail Outside the Courthouse during the Trump Indictment in New York City (Photo by James Andrews1 on Shutterstock)

Federal prosecutors on June 9, 2023, unsealed the indictment that spells out the government’s case against former President Donald J. Trump, who is accused of violating national security laws and obstructing justice.

The 49-page document details how Trump kept classified government documents – including papers concerning U.S. nuclear capabilities – scattered in boxes across his home at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, long after his presidency ended in 2021 and the government tried to reclaim them.

The indictment also shows that Trump shared classified national defense information with people without any security clearance, including someone on a political action committee.

There are 38 felony charges against Trump – 31 of these counts relate to withholding national defense information. Five counts relate to concealing possession of classified documents, and two relate to giving false statements.

“My office will seek a speedy trial in this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused,” said U.S. special prosecutor Jack Smith, who was appointed to oversee the investigation into Trump’s holding of the documents.

The Conversation spoke to criminal law scholar Gabriel J. Chin at the University of California, Davis School of Law about the most important takeaways from the unsealed indictment – and the new, open questions it presents about Trump’s alleged criminal activity.

What is the significance of the Justice Department’s unsealing the indictment on June 9, ahead of Trump’s turning himself in to authorities?

In the federal system, indictments are not automatically sealed, and so either the U.S. special counsel did not request it to be sealed or a judge refused to seal it. I suspect it is more likely the former. This is not a case in which there are active components of the investigation still going on. The case was ready to go and there is no difference, from the government’s point of view, in disclosing the indictment today or not, because the case is in the can.

What stands out about the indictment?

One thing that really stood out was the extensive personal involvement of Donald Trump himself in this alleged activity. Normally, when a big company gets sued, the CEO doesn’t drop everything and start going through documents. That’s what various other professionals are for. The details of Trump’s alleged direct personal involvement in this case were striking.

Second, one of the challenges here is that prosecutors are trying to hold Trump responsible for an affidavit that a lawyer signed that included untrue statements that Trump did not have the documents the government was asking him to return. And to make that case stick, prosecutors will really have to show that Trump himself had some involvement with that.

Count 32 in the indictment focuses on conspiracy and charges against Trump and his aide Walt Nauta, as well as “others known and unknown to the grand jury.” The U.S. attorney general is reserving the right to say other people were conspirators, and that will have consequences. Who are these other people? Is the government’s theory that Trump’s lawyers were innocent dupes and he fed them false information, or were they knowing participants in this criminality? No one else is named, but we are told – by that “others known and unknown” – that there definitely are others.

Why did the indictment focus on the movement of the boxes that held classified information at Mar-a-Lago?

The major reason is that all of the charges require some sort of intent. None of these charges would apply to someone who is trying to obey the law. Prosecutors have to show that what was going on here was an intentional, calculated act.

Another reason goes back to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden, who have faced their own inquiries into possessing classified documents.

When former FBI Director James Comey said in 2016 that he wasn’t charging Clinton for using her personal email for government work, there were considerations that led him to do that. People who make honest mistakes and cooperate in good faith don’t get charged because, first, it is difficult to make the case of wrongdoing. And there is some level of fairness to say that you don’t want to make public service a booby trap, where if you drop your guard for a second you could wind up in prison.

In this indictment, prosecutors are making an effort to tell the full story and explain why the actions detailed are wrongful. They appear to want to explain why the circumstances in this case justified charges and that this is not a “gotcha!” situation where someone has kept 200 cases of documents that have been carefully screened and one or two documents accidentally got in the mix.

What’s the significance of the many felony counts facing Trump?

Under the sentencing guidelines, which are usually followed, conviction on all counts could likely lead to a relatively short sentence or to no incarceration at all. However, it is important to note that in theory, Trump could be sentenced to the maximum on each count. The sentence on all counts could be made to run consecutively, which would lead to a sentence in the neighborhood of 400 years. I do not think that would ever happen, but it does underscore the power of the judge in sentencing a case like this.The Conversation

Gabriel J. Chin is the Edward L. Barrett Jr. Chair & Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About The Conversation

The Conversation is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of academic experts for the public. The Conversation's team of 21 editors works with researchers to help them explain their work clearly and without jargon.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink

Editor-in-Chief

Chris Melore

Editor

Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor

2 Comments

  1. PJ London says:

    The jury will find him guilty and he will get maximum on all charges. This is not justice, it is not a joke, if they could find a way to pull the Secret Service detail from him, he would be dead in 1 minute, unfortunately for the Swamp, the SS are dedicated to Trump.
    He can not be allowed back in the White House. He learned first time around how the deep state worked and if given a next time, he will put the whole damn lot in jail, starting with every employee of the DoJ.
    Disband Washington and move government to Florida. The weather and the people are a lot nicer.

  2. GrumpyVT says:

    In all honesty, both Trump and biden should be disqualified from running this election cycle due to the legal questions involving potentially treasonous acts that remain unanswered for both.
    The entire election is strictly about how dirty each candidate is compared to the other.
    Nothing about the important issues slapping us in the face every day, just if one is for it the other is against it.
    Unfortunately, the entire election is a contest based on the assumed criminal behavior of the other. Nothing good will come out of either election as the losing side will only obstruct, criticize, and attempt to destroy all decisions, as the other side will be constantly trying to punish the other. Meanwhile, the country continues on course to the bottom.