What Crimes Was Trump Charged With In Federal Documents Case? Here’s What We Know—And How Much Prison Time He Could Face
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Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on seven criminal counts, multiple news outlets reported Thursday, including charges for allegedly mishandling government materials and conspiring to obstruct justice—which could carry prison sentences if he’s convicted.

Key Facts

The Department of Justice hasn’t released the indictment, so the exact charges are unclear, but Trump attorney Jim Trusty told CNN they appear to include a violation of federal statute 18 U.S.C. §§ 793 and “several” counts of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512 and 1519—though he cautioned the charging details aren’t complete or “biblically accurate” since he has only seen a summons, not the indictment.

Part of the Espionage Act, section e of 18 U.S.C. §§ 793 carries a fine and/or up to 10 years in prison, and prohibits “willfully retain(ing)” national defense information and “fail(ing) to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”

18 U.S.C. §§ 1519 concerns obstruction, threatening up to 20 years in prison or fines for anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to “impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation.

18 U.S.C. §§ 1512 includes witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding and other crimes—punishments vary widely, with obstructing a proceeding or “alter(ing)” records to prevent their use in proceedings drawing up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine, while harassing people to prevent their testimony carries up to three years.

Trusty also said Trump appears to face “false statement” charges: He didn’t cite a specific statute, but some experts have suggested 18 U.S.C. §§ 1001 could be in play, which carries up to five years in prison.

What We Don’t Know

Whether Trump is facing any other charges. Prosecutors said in court documents last year they were investigating whether Trump broke 18 U.S.C. § 2071, in addition to 793 and 1519—though it’s unknown if 2071 was ultimately charged. That statute threatens fines or up to three years in prison to anyone who “conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys” any government documents or “takes and carries away” records with the intent to conceal or destroy them. Meanwhile, legal experts at Just Security argued last week several other criminal charges could be applied to Trump. Their suggestions included criminal contempt for disobeying a court order like a subpoena (18 U.S.C. § 402), which is punishable by up to six months in prison, as well as unauthorized removal or retention of classified materials (18 U.S.C. § 1924), which carries up to five years. They also proposed 18 U.S.C. § 641, which criminalizes “embezzl[ing], steal[ing], purloin[ing]” government materials or converting them to the person’s own use—that crime carries up to 10 years in prison or up to one year, depending on whether the government materials are worth over $1,000.

Big Number

More than 11,000. That’s the number of White House documents federal investigators have seized from Mar-A-Lago—between the materials that Trump turned over himself and that were found there during a search—including 325 classified materials. Trump has defended himself by claiming he declassified materials—which experts have largely denounced as false, and the ex-president’s attorneys have not claimed in court—but most of the statutes he could be charged apply to both non-classified and classified materials, so Trump could still be charged even if that were the case.

Chief Critic

Trump has broadly denied any wrongdoing in the classified documents case, maintaining he was allowed to bring the documents back to Mar-A-Lago with him under the Presidential Records Act and declassified many of the materials. Experts have said Trump’s interpretation of that law is inaccurate and White House materials are legally the property of the National Archives. On Thursday, he called himself an “INNOCENT MAN.”

Key Background

Trump is now the first former U.S. president to face federal criminal charges, following state criminal charges in an unrelated New York case. The DOJ has been investigating Trump’s retention of White House documents since February 2022, after Trump delivered 15 boxes of records to the National Archives in January 2022 and the agency discovered he had held on to classified materials. Federal investigators subpoenaed Trump for all remaining classified documents in June 2022, but then searched Mar-A-Lago in August after having reason to believe Trump did not turn all the documents over. Investigators found an additional 103 classified documents during the search, raising suspicions that Trump had obstructed the investigation by not fully complying with the subpoena. Special Counsel Jack Smith was appointed to oversee the investigation—along with a separate probe into the aftermath of the 2020 election—in November to avoid any biases, given Trump is challenging President Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential race. Before the charges were reported, a string of recent news reports suggested Smith has obtained damaging information, including an audio recording from 2021 in which Trump acknowledged he kept a classified document, but did not have the power to declassify it now that he had left office. Prosecutors also got detailed descriptions from Trump attorney Evan Corcoran about his work on the case.

Further Reading

Trump Told He’s Under Federal Criminal Investigation—Signaling Potential End To Probe (Forbes)

Trump Documents Investigation Heating Up: Here’s What We Know As Ex-President’s Attorneys Meet With DOJ (Forbes)

Trump Mar-A-Lago Investigation: What To Know As Ex-President Goes To Supreme Court (Forbes)

Model Prosecution Memo for Trump Classified Documents (Just Security)

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