Showing off military plans
On at least two occasions after leaving office, Trump displayed classified documents to others visiting him at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the indictment alleges. In July 2021, Trump showed a writer, a publisher and two staff members a “plan of attack” that he said had been prepared for him by the U.S. military, the charges say. The audio-recorded meeting reportedly involved a document that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley drafted about Iran.
Trump allegedly made a potentially damning admission at that session, saying he could have declassified the document while he was president but “now I can’t.”
A longtime aide turned co-conspirator
Trump isn’t the only person facing criminal charges over the classified documents fiasco: His longtime aide and “body man,” Walt Nauta, was also hit with six felony counts including obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI. The indictment says Trump instructed Nauta to move boxes containing classified documents in order to conceal them from both Trump’s own lawyers and the FBI.
Prosecutors accused Nauta of lying months ago and pressured him to cooperate in the investigation, a source familiar with the situation told POLITICO, but the charges unsealed Friday indicate that he and prosecutors didn’t come to terms on a deal – at least not yet.
Classified docs in a bathroom
The indictment says that Mar-a-Lago was a particularly vulnerable location for the classified documents because it’s “an active social club [that] hosted events for tens of thousands of members and guests” – a far cry from the closely guarded “sensitive compartmented information facility,” or SCIF, that is typically used to store the most sensitive national security secrets.
Trump has railed at the FBI for spreading classified documents across the floor of a closet during a search of Mar-a-Lago last August. But prosecutors say Trump’s own storage of the documents was just as sloppy. The indictment says some of the classified records at Mar-a-Lago were stored in “a ballroom, a bathroom and shower [and] his bedroom.”
Spilling secrets, literally
Other details from the indictment emphasize the haphazard nature with which sensitive government documents were strewn around the estate. The indictment alleges that, on at least one occasion in December 2021, boxes containing a mix of classified and unclassified records “spilled onto the floor” of a storage room. Helpfully for prosecutors, Nauta allegedly texted a photo of the scene to another Trump aide.
One of the documents, classified “Secret” and marked for release only to U.S. officials and close allies, discussed “military capabilities of a foreign country,” the indictment says.
Revisiting Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton…
Prosecutors don’t often wade into politicians’ stump speeches, but special counsel Jack Smith wasn’t shy about including some of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric in the indictment. The feds cite five statements by Trump about classified information, underscoring his understanding of the need to safeguard it and strictly enforce the laws related to it.
Of course, the remarks Trump made were prompted by allegations that his rival for the presidency that year, Hillary Clinton, had kept classified information on a private email server. By citing the comments, Smith could fuel claims that he’s injecting politics into a case that should be focused solely on weighty national security issues.
… And his attacks on John Brennan
Smith also could not resist including a statement Trump made in 2018 about the dangers of giving former officials access to national security secrets. “Such access,” Trump said at the time, “is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions.” Though the indictment doesn’t provide the context, Trump made that statement as he stripped former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance after Brennan criticized Trump’s ties to Russia.
Trump’s hands-on handling
The indictment indicates that Trump was intimately involved in the handling of boxes brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, requesting some of them and sorting through the items after the National Archives pressured Trump aides to send the files back to Washington. In January 2022, Nauta suggested in a text message that Trump was upset that the boxes were labeled with too many details about their contents.
“Can we get new box covers? … I marked too much,” Nauta wrote to a colleague.
The message was sent just days before 15 boxes were dispatched from Mar-a-Lago to the National Archives. The FBI later concluded that the boxes contained 197 documents with classification markings.