Shortcuts / 13 June 2023

Donald Trump’s second indictment

Former US President Donald Trump has been indicted again – and it’s the first time a former president has faced federal charges. Those charges will see him back in court this week, so in this Squiz Shortcut, we’ll get you across what the Justice Department has claimed, why the development is so extraordinary, and what’s next.

Hold on, wasn’t Trump just indicted?
He absolutely was – back in April, he was indicted by local prosecutors in New York. That was in a case related to alleged hush-money payments during the 2016 election campaign. But this time, the charges are federal charges.

What are these new charges?
Prosecutors say Trump was behind the mishandling of classified documents that he kept upon leaving office and that he obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.

Tell me more…
Specifically, the latest charges are that he willfully retained national defence secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, made false statements and conspired to obstruct justice. In total, he is facing a 37-count federal indictment – 31 of those allege he kept classified documents in his possession after leaving the White House.

Wow… And what evidence do federal prosecutors have?
You might remember the hullabaloo in August 2022 when the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. They found more than 100 documents with classified markings. And this week, prosecutors released photos showing how those classified documents were allegedly stored at the Mar-a-Lago resort. And let’s just say they were stored in some rather unusual places…

Go on…
The Justice Department alleges they were stored in various locations over time. That includes the White and Gold Ballroom, where events took place. At one point, the boxes were stacked on the ballroom’s stage. Some then went to the resort’s business centre. There was even a bathroom and shower used at one point.

So not the usual storage solution for top secret documents…
Definitely not. Especially when those documents include details of America’s nuclear secrets, assessments of the defence and weapons capabilities of the US and foreign countries, and plans for retaliation if the US were to come under attack. The kind of documents the government would want under lock and key. But the indictment isn’t over…

But the latest indictment isn’t just about Trump’s possession of the documents?
Nope, it’s also about his alleged reluctance to hand them back to authorities. The Justice Department said he spent more than a year stonewalling efforts to get them back.

So is Trump in big trouble, or are these minor charges?
Compared to the New York defamation and sexual battery charges in April, experts say these federal charges pose a more serious legal threat and carry potentially harsher punishments if he is found guilty.

What could happen?
Well, it could put an end to his 2024 presidential bid… Trump is currently the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination to face President Biden in next year’s election. And the Justice Department bringing the charges is under Biden’s administration, which creates the awkward spot where Biden’s government is pursuing charges against his likely political rival…

That sounds complicated…
It really is. Pundits say the important ironclad separation of law and politics will now be tested in a way that has rarely been seen before in American history.

Has Biden said anything since the indictment?
Since the new charges against Trump were announced, Biden has been keeping largely silent on the matter. When questioned about whether he’s had discussions with his Attorney General Merrick Garland, he said: “I’ve not spoken to him at all, and I’m not going to speak with him. And I have no comment on that.”

And what’s happening this week?
Trump will be presenting himself to authorities in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday US time – so it’ll be early Wednesday Aussie time. When he surrenders, local journos say he’ll probably go in through an underground garage before being transported through a tunnel to the main federal courthouse.

Will we get to see Trump in handcuffs?
It’s actually unlikely Trump will be handcuffed for charges of this nature – but reports say that the federal court is unlikely to allow cameras in the courthouse, so we might not see any photos of Trump in court at all.

Anything else to know about the upcoming court date?
One thing that US media have been talking about is the judge assigned to Trump’s first court appearance. A random system assigned Judge Aileen Cannon, which has raised a few eyebrows…

Why’s that?
Because Judge Cannon was actually appointed by Trump when he was President. Last year, she was at the centre of a big dispute over the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago and ruled very favourably for him as far as his legal team having access to those documents.

How interesting…
But her rulings were overturned on appeal in that case. As for this current case, critics say she should ‘recuse’ herself. That’s a fancy way of saying she should take herself off the case because of a conflict of interest.

When will the full trial happen?
With federal cases, the aim is to go to trial 70 days after the formalisation of the charges, which is what is meant to happen this week. But the experts say it’s highly unlikely that this case will go to trial quickly because there will be motions from Trump’s side to dismiss the case.

Sounds like there’s plenty left to play out…
Yep, we’re going to be watching this particular case unfold for a good long while.

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