Last Thursday evening, former President Donald Trump announced that he had been indicted by the federal court in South Florida. The indictment was unsealed the next day and Trump’s first appearance in court is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
The case involves the documents that were found at Trump’s Florida home but that should have been at the National Archives. It’s a very long saga, so I won’t try to summarize it, but you can read a timeline here.
The cases are under the auspices of Special Counsel Jack Smith. Because of the structure of being a special counsel, Smith did not have to get permission from Attorney General Merrick Garland or Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco to indict. (Special counsels are meant to be independent; if AG Garland were to overrule any of Smith’s decisions, he would have to report the reasons to Congress.) This is important because Garland and Monaco were appointed by President Biden and approved by the Senate, but Jack Smith is a career official in the Justice Department, not a political appointee. For five years, Smith headed the public integrity unit of the Justice Department, so he is experienced in investigations and prosecutions involving political corruption. Just prior to being named special counsel, he had been working on war crimes prosecution at a special court in The Hague.
The indictment document is what is termed a “speaking indictment,” which means there is quite a lot of detail about what led to the charges. For example, it lists each of the 31 documents that are the cause of the charges of Willful Retention of National Defense Information, a violation of the Espionage Act. Trump and his valet Walt Nauta also face charges of Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice, making false statements, and withholding/concealing documents. The indictment contains photographs, verbatim conversations, and contemporaneous notes from one of Trump’s lawyers.
I’m glad that the indictment was unsealed so that everyone can read the charges and some of the evidence behind them. Even though it is a legal document, it’s fairly straightforward. There are many resources available with legal experts offering additional information.
Unfortunately, some people, including some Republican politicians, have been reacting negatively, seemingly without even reading the indictment. Some are even blaming President Biden, who had nothing to do with the investigation or indictment. Most upsetting, some are even espousing political violence. This is even more alarming knowing that Florida has relatively lax gun laws.
The judge who has been initially assigned to the case is Aileen Cannon, who, last year, ruled that a special master was needed to review the documents that had been found by the FBI when they carried out a search warrant at Trump’s home. Her ruling was overruled on appeal. It’s not clear if she will remain on the case or if she will recuse due to her prior involvement. She was nominated to the federal bench by Trump and confirmed by the Senate on November 12, 2020, after he had lost the election.
The Justice Department has asked for a speedy trial but Trump is re-shuffling his legal team again, which might slow things down. Scheduling could also get tricky if there are additional indictments, most likely state charges in Georgia over election interference and/or federal charges related to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Trump is considered innocent until proven guilty at trial, but his behavior has been upsetting. His rhetoric has become more vengeful and his lack of respect for individuals and groups of people who are not his supporters has become even more pronounced. Unfortunately, this vitriol has spread to a large swath of Republican officials and Trump’s MAGA supporters. It’s frightening.
I’m hoping for the best but keeping an eye out for possible trouble. I’m also hoping that people will read the indictment before trying to comment on it. Primary source material is generally the best way to understand a situation rather than relying on someone else’s interpreration.