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Your 5 biggest questions about Trump’s first federal indictment, answered

Here’s what you need to know about the new charges in the classified documents case against Trump.

Trump in a white polo shirt and red MAGA hat, looking to the side and sneering.
Former US President Donald Trump watches from a box on the 18th green during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational - DC at Trump National Golf Club on May 26, 2023, in Sterling, Virginia.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Editor’s note, August 1, 7:45 pm ET: Former President Donald Trump has been indicted again; for an explainer on the charges related to January 6 and attempts to overturn the 2020 election, see this story. For an explainer on the federal indictment Trump faces for holding on to classified documents, read the story below.

Former President Donald Trump is facing new federal charges over his alleged refusal to return classified documents to federal authorities after he left the White House.

A 60-page superseding indictment filed Thursday accuses Trump of directing Carlos De Oliveira, a maintenance worker at his Mar-a-Lago estate, to destroy security camera footage sought by federal investigators in the summer of 2022. It also alleges that Trump possessed and shared plans for a US attack on an unidentified country, reportedly Iran, charging him with an additional count of willful retention of national defense information.

Prosecutors also brought two new obstruction counts against Trump, as well as De Oliveira, a new defendant in the case, and Walt Nauta, Trump’s body man. And they hit De Oliveira with charges of altering, destroying, or mutilating a document and false statements.

That brings the total counts Trump is facing in the case to 40. Trump is also accused of making false statements and representations, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, and scheming to conceal.

Trump and Nauta have already pleaded not guilty to the initial charges, and a trial has been scheduled in the case for next May, ahead of the 2024 election. De Oliveira will appear in court on Monday in Miami.

Trump remains the only president to face federal criminal charges. He was also indicted in New York in April in a separate case concerning hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign. And the twice-impeached former president could face additional legal troubles given that he is the target of several additional ongoing civil and criminal investigations. On July 18, Trump announced that he had received a letter indicating that he is likely to soon be charged in the Department of Justice investigation into his involvement in the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

“This is nothing more than a continued desperate and flailing attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their Department of Justice to harass President Trump and those around him,” the Trump campaign said in a written statement after the new charges came down Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know about the indictment and what comes next.

1) What does it mean that Trump was indicted?

An indictment is a document that lays out crimes a grand jury — a group of 16 to 23 people selected at random — believes someone committed. At least 12 members of a federal grand jury were convinced, given the evidence provided by the Justice Department, that there is probable cause Trump committed a federal crime and should face a trial.

The decision to indict doesn’t necessarily indicate guilt on Trump’s part; his innocence or guilt will be decided at a trial. It also doesn’t stop him from running for president.

2) What are the charges against Trump?

The superseding indictment, filed in Florida federal court, says that De Oliveira told a colleague that “the boss” — i.e. Trump — wanted to wipe a server storing the surveillance footage. De Oliveira nevertheless allegedly told the FBI that he never moved any documents that they had sought.

It’s a revelation that undermines Trump’s defense that he has been forthcoming in providing federal authorities with security footage. “I QUICKLY PROVIDED SECURITY TAPES FROM MAR-a-LAGO on the BOXES HOAX,” he wrote on July 10 on Truth Social.

As we already knew, the indictment also says that classified documents that Trump had in his possession included information relating to US and foreign defense, various nations’ weapons capabilities, US nuclear programs, and “potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack.” The superseding indictment also says that the Iran war plans were among those documents and that he twice showed them to four people without security clearances, including a group featuring a writer, a publisher, and members of his staff, as well as a representative for his political action committee.

“The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military and human sources, and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods,” the indictment states.

Trump allegedly stored the documents throughout Mar-a-Lago, including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.

Trump knew that he had held on to “secret information” that he hadn’t declassified before leaving office, the indictment says, and he acknowledged this in a conversation with an unidentified writer that his aides recorded with his consent.

The indictment says that Trump then “endeavored to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations” into his retention of the documents and to “conceal” that he had done so by directing his staff to move the documents around his properties, and by proposing that his attorneys lie about him having the documents. Trump also is accused of having suggested hiding or destroying them, at one point telling his lawyers, “Well look isn’t it better if there are no documents?”

Nauta allegedly aided in that process. He’s accused of making false statements to the FBI about how the documents got to Trump’s residence and whether they were stored in a secure location. At Trump’s instruction, he also allegedly moved more than 60 boxes of documents before one of the former president’s attorneys was supposed to review them as part of their response to a DOJ subpoena.

The attorney eventually reviewed the remaining boxes, and put all the documents with classified markings in a folder. Trump suggested they take those documents back to their hotel room and “pluck ... out” anything “really bad,” the lawyer told prosecutors. The attorney later turned over that folder to federal officials.

Trump’s legal team then certified to the DOJ that they had complied with the subpoena, not knowing that Trump and Nauta had allegedly conspired to prevent them from reviewing most of the boxes of documents.

3) Could Trump go to prison — or to jail?

The charges carry potential prison sentences, though it’s not at all clear that Trump will even be convicted. Each count related to Espionage Act violations alone could carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. For the conspiracy and false statements charges, it’s five years per offense; for the obstruction charges, it’s 20.

But there’s a logistical question as to whether Trump could even go to prison given his required Secret Service detail and security concerns. These are uncharted waters for a former president. He was allowed to return home following his arraignments in Miami and New York earlier this year.

As with the case against him in New York, the Florida court case could extend well into the 2024 campaign season or even beyond the election.

4) What happened with Trump’s first indictment again?

Trump was indicted in April on charges related to hush money payments. The indictment includes 34 felony counts of falsification of business records to “conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Though the crime of falsifying business records can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor under New York law, prosecutors elevated the charges to felonies, arguing Trump falsified records with the intent of covering up another crime.

The indictment didn’t specify what that crime might be. But Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has said that his team believes Trump tried to cover up a violation of New York state election law, which prohibits promoting a candidacy by unlawful means, including “planned false statements to tax authorities.”

He could face up to four years in prison for the falsification of business records (though serving time would be unusual for first-time offenders) and possible fines if convicted. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March 2024.

5) What are the other ongoing investigations into Trump?

Smith is also leading a separate investigation into Trump’s involvement in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.

That inquiry follows a comprehensive House committee investigation last year that concluded that Trump had incited the insurrection and conspired to defraud the US government, referring him and other associates to the DOJ for prosecution. If charged and convicted on that basis, Trump could face up to 35 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines.

A special grand jury also investigated Trump and his associates’ efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The jury has transmitted its final report to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who will decide whether to pursue charges. From the outset of the investigation, Willis zeroed in on a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes necessary for him to beat President Joe Biden in the state. CNN reported that prosecutors are considering racketeering charges, which carry fines and a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors are also reportedly weighing conspiracy charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years and up to a $250,000 fine.

Finally, Trump faces a civil inquiry in New York centered on his business dealings. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump, his company, and his three children for $250 million last year over alleged fraud, including lying about the value of the business, spanning a decade. A trial in that case is scheduled for October.

But even if all of these investigations may complicate Trump’s attempt to win the White House, federal charges could become moot if he wins. Under a longstanding Department of Justice policy, a sitting president cannot be charged with a federal crime. That’s why former special counsel Robert Mueller never considered whether Trump committed a crime as part of his investigation of Russian interference in 2016. But that policy technically only governs the DOJ, raising the unresolved legal question as to whether district attorneys could prosecute the president for state or local crimes.

Update, July 27, 8 pm ET: This story was originally published on June 9 and has been updated with additional information about the superseding indictment and the Trump campaign’s reaction to it.

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