What are the charges?
According to sources familiar with the matter, the charges include:
Willful retention of national defense information: This charge, covering counts 1-31, only applies to Trump and is for allegedly storing 31 such documents at Mar-a-Lago. Apparently, Trump thought that Mar-a-Lago was a secure location to keep top-secret information, because who would ever suspect that a luxury golf resort owned by a former president would have anything to do with national security? Maybe he also thought that putting them in boxes labeled “classified” would make them invisible to prying eyes.
Conspiracy to obstruct justice: Trump and Walt Nauta, a former presidential aide to Trump who remained in his employ after Trump left office, are charged with conspiring to keep those documents from the grand jury. They allegedly moved the boxes of classified documents around Mar-a-Lago to hide them from their lawyer, who was supposed to turn them over to the authorities. Maybe they thought that playing hide-and-seek with classified documents was a fun way to pass the time at Mar-a-Lago, or maybe they were just too lazy to pack them up and ship them back to Washington.
Withholding a document or a record: Trump and Nauta are accused of misleading one of their attorneys by moving boxes of classified documents so the attorney could not find or introduce them to the grand jury. This charge is basically the same as the previous one, but with an added twist: they lied to their own lawyer. That’s like lying to your doctor or your therapist: it’s not only stupid but also counterproductive. Maybe they thought that their lawyer was part of the “deep state” or the “fake news” or whatever conspiracy theory they were into at the time.
Corruptly concealing a document or record: This pertains to Trump and Nauta’s alleged attempts to hide the boxes of classified documents from the attorney. This charge is also basically the same as the previous two but with an added adjective: corrupt. That means that they did it with evil or dishonest intent, not just out of ignorance or incompetence. Maybe they thought that they could get away with it by using their charm or their power or their money or their tweets.
Concealing a document in a federal investigation: They are accused of hiding Trump’s continued possession of those documents at Mar-a-Lago from the FBI and causing a false certificate to be submitted to the FBI. This charge is different from the previous ones because it involves not only hiding the documents from their lawyer but also from the FBI. That’s like hiding a dead body from your neighbor, but also from the police. Maybe they thought that the FBI was too busy investigating other crimes or scandals involving Trump or his associates or his family or his friends or his enemies or his pets.
False statements: They are accused of lying to investigators about their knowledge and involvement in the retention and concealment of the classified documents. This charge is pretty self-explanatory: they lied. A lot. About everything. Maybe they thought that lying was their best defense, or maybe they just couldn’t help themselves.
Violation of the Espionage Act: This charge is related to Trump’s unauthorized disclosure or retention of information relating to national defense. This charge is the most serious one because it involves violating one of the oldest and most important laws in the country, which protects national security from foreign spies and enemies. Maybe they thought that they were above the law, or maybe they just didn’t care.
Why are these charges serious?
The charges are serious because they involve the mishandling of some of the country’s most sensitive secrets, which could endanger national security and harm U.S. interests. The classified documents that were found at Mar-a-Lago included memos, briefings, transcripts, and photos related to topics such as nuclear weapons, foreign leaders, military operations, intelligence sources and methods, and diplomatic negotiations. Some of these documents were marked as “top secret” or “secret”, meaning that their unauthorized disclosure could cause “exceptionally grave damage” or “serious damage” to national security. That’s like leaving your diary or your credit card or your social security number or your nudes lying around for anyone to see. Not a smart move.
The charges also reflect the gravity of obstructing justice and lying to federal investigators, which are crimes that undermine the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial system. The indictment alleges that Trump and Nauta engaged in a deliberate scheme to hide and destroy evidence, mislead their lawyers, and thwart the grand jury’s investigation into their conduct. That’s like cheating on a test or a game or a spouse or a diet. Not a nice thing to do.
What are the potential consequences?
If convicted, Trump and Nauta could face significant prison time and fines. The maximum penalties for each charge are
Willful retention of national defense information: 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine per count. That’s like spending a decade in jail and paying a quarter of a million dollars for each document you kept at Mar-a-Lago. Ouch.
Conspiracy to obstruct justice: 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. That’s like spending half a decade in jail and paying another quarter of a million dollars for each time you tried to hide those documents from the grand jury. Double ouch.
Withholding a document or a record: 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. That’s like spending two decades in jail and paying yet another quarter of a million dollars each time you lied to your lawyer about those documents. Triple ouch.
Corruptly concealing a document or record: 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. That’s like spending another two decades in jail and paying another quarter of a million dollars each time you lied to your lawyer with evil intent. Quadruple ouch.
Concealing a document in a federal investigation: 3 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. That’s like spending three more years in jail and paying another quarter of a million dollars for each time you lied to the FBI about those documents. Quintuple ouch.
False statements: 5 years imprisonment and $250,000 fine per count. That’s like spending five more years in jail and paying another quarter of a million dollars for each lie you told to the investigators. Sextuple ouch.
Violation of the Espionage Act: 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine per count. That’s like spending another decade in jail and paying another quarter of a million dollars for each time you violated the Espionage Act. Septuple ouch.
However, these are only statutory maximums, and the actual sentences would depend on various factors such as the defendant’s criminal history, cooperation with authorities, acceptance of responsibility, and other aggravating or mitigating circumstances. The sentencing guidelines would also provide a range of recommended sentences based on these factors. But no matter what, it’s safe to say that Trump and Nauta are facing some serious consequences for their actions.
In addition to the legal consequences, the indictment could also have political repercussions for Trump and his supporters. The indictment could damage Trump’s reputation and credibility among his base and potential voters, especially if more evidence emerges during the trial. The indictment could also affect Trump’s ability to run for office again in 2024, as he would have to deal with legal proceedings and public scrutiny. Moreover, the indictment could trigger a process of revoking Trump’s security clearance, which would limit his access to classified information and his ability to influence U.S. foreign policy. But hey, at least he still has his golf courses.
What are the next steps?
The indictment is currently under seal, which means that the public cannot access it until it is unsealed by a judge. The government has issued a summons to Trump and Nauta to appear in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, for their arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendants will be formally informed of the charges against them and will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge will also decide whether to release them on bail or keep them in custody pending trial.
The trial date has not been set yet, but the special counsel’s office has said that it will seek “a speedy trial on this matter consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused”. The trial is expected to be a high-profile and contentious event, as both sides will present their evidence and arguments before a jury of 12 citizens. The prosecution will have to prove each charge.