The media is on Trump indictment watch — again.
Multiple reports indicate that special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation of Trump for the classified documents held at Mar-a-Lago is wrapping up, and some experts expect an indictment of Trump as soon as this week.
On Wednesday, multiple news outlets reported that investigators had recently told Trump’s legal team he was a target in the documents investigation. The Washington Post also reported that prosecutors were planning to bring “a significant portion of any charges” in federal court in South Florida (rather than in Washington, DC, where the investigation has been headquartered).
If Trump is charged in the documents probe, it would be his first federal indictment — but potentially not his last. He’s already facing charges from state prosecutors in New York, and there are two other investigations pending into whether he tried to unlawfully subvert the result of the 2020 election (one federal probe, and one in Georgia).
But the documents probe, which first broke into public view when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago last August, is the one that’s apparently coming to a head now.
And as it does, a series of stories have leaked out with new revelations about evidence Smith has obtained.
Last week, CNN reported that Smith had a 2021 tape in which Trump claimed to have a classified document related to Iran in his possession. This weekend, the New York Times revealed Smith had obtained a detailed voice memo from a key period in which a Trump attorney recounted the team’s private deliberations. And on Monday, another CNN report revealed that prosecutors had suspicions about a pool draining at Mar-a-Lago that flooded a room with servers for the property’s surveillance footage.
Though Trump’s team has asserted these leaks come from the special counsel, that seems unlikely given how these stories are written — they all cite what Smith’s team has asked grand jury witnesses about but seem to be lacking a fuller picture of his theory of the case. That piecemeal aspect suggests that grand jury witnesses, their attorneys, and Trump’s own attorneys may be the sources, as they’re trying to piece together what Smith has.
The key fact at the center of the case is clear enough: Trump had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago at the time of that search that were the property of the US government, and that had not been returned to the government despite requests and subpoenas.
But many of the bigger questions remain mysterious: Why did Trump keep the documents? What happened to the documents while he had them? What’s the evidence that he knew he was breaking the law? And did he knowingly try to deceive the government about whether he still had classified material — something that could open him up to an obstruction of justice charge?
Whatever the answers, all signs are currently pointing toward a federal indictment of a former president.
Prosecutors have a recording in which Trump discussed a document about Iran
If prosecutors charge Trump, prosecutors will be looking to tell a larger story about why they believe what he did with the documents was so nefarious.
That’s particularly important because both Joe Biden and Mike Pence also ended up with classified documents in their respective homes after leaving the vice presidency. Pence’s investigation was closed without charges, and there hasn’t been much news of late on the Biden investigation (being carried out by a separate special counsel, Robert Hur). How was Trump’s conduct worse?
That’s where one newly revealed piece of evidence comes in. CNN learned that, in the summer of 2021, Trump had a discussion with people working on a memoir for his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows — a discussion that was taped by one of Trump’s aides.
On the tape, per CNN, Trump objected to recent media claims that General Mark Milley, his Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, stopped him from attacking Iran in his final months in office. Trump argued that Milley was the one urging him to attack Iran, and claimed to have a document with Milley’s own plan to that effect, but that he couldn’t show it to others.
That’s significant for a few reasons — because it’s Trump claiming to have a specific document, and because he acknowledges he’s not allowed to show it.
Trump’s allies have floated a dubious defense that he had already used his presidential powers to declassify all the documents in question, but his comment on the tape could be interpreted to suggest otherwise. And apparently, Trump’s claim to have this document was not just hot air — the New York Times has reported that the document does exist, though wasn’t actually Milley’s plan, since it predated his tenure.
The lawyer’s voice memo and the Mar-a-Lago pool flood are relevant to an obstruction charge
Moving on in the timeline, prosecutors also want to trace whether Trump lied to government officials when they demanded he return documents.
During a months-long back and forth with the government, Trump eventually returned 15 boxes of documents, some 184 of which were marked classified. He then was subpoenaed again because officials doubted he’d returned everything.
In June, DOJ investigators visited Mar-a-Lago to talk with Trump’s attorneys, who handed over another 38 documents, but claimed that was the end of it: Trump had no more. They also showed investigators a storage room which they said only had non-classified records.
The latest leaks flesh out two intriguing threads from this period.
One involves Trump’s attorney Evan Corcoran, who during that June visit gave investigators a letter claiming Mar-a-Lago had been diligently searched and all remaining classified records had been returned. As later revealed in the FBI’s search, this was not true, and more than 100 documents remained on the property, including in a basement and in Trump’s own office.
So how did the false letter get put together? Smith wanted to find out, and a judge ruled this year that Corcoran had to testify and hand over documents, holding that attorney-client privilege doesn’t apply here because of the “crime-fraud exemption” (that there was evidence the attorney was used by the client to commit a crime).
Last weekend’s Times report revealed one thing Corcoran handed over: a lengthy voice memo in which, during a long drive, he’d recapped to himself his interactions with Trump’s team during this period.
Per the Times sources, Corcoran said Trump had asked him if he had to comply with the subpoena, and Corcoran responded that he did. Corcoran also said that Mar-a-Lago employees had told him everything he needed was in the storage room, not elsewhere on the property. An earlier report from the Guardian claimed Corcoran had told others that Trump aides had waved him off from searching elsewhere on the property.
So were those Trump aides actively conspiring to hide certain documents from Trump’s own attorneys? Many previous reports have described prosecutors’ intense interest in surveillance footage of the storage room, which reportedly shows Trump aides moving boxes out of it around the time of investigators’ visit. Other recent reports have described new testimony from low-level Mar-a-Lago workers and refer to an insider witness.
That brings us to Monday night’s CNN leak, which claims that prosecutors had suspicions about an October 2022 pool flood at Mar-a-Lago, in which water got into a room with servers for the surveillance videos. Per CNN, one witness testified that no footage was actually lost, but prosecutors had questions about whether there was a deliberate effort to hold back subpoenaed surveillance footage from the government.
Does Jack Smith think there was a conspiracy to hold back classified documents and evidence from the government? If so, does he have evidence Trump ordered it? He appears to be seriously delving into both topics — but we don’t yet know what he has concluded.
Update, June 8, 9:45 am ET: This story was originally published on June 6 and has been updated to note new reporting about the investigation.