Donald Trump is in his worst legal trouble yet

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meT IS NOT every day that a former American president faces federal indictment. Donald Trump was the first to earn this unsavory reputation on June 9 when the Department of Justice (DoJ) revealed several federal charges, the end of a 16-month investigation into the removal of classified documents from the White House after Mr. Trump left Washington, DCin January 2021.

Details of the allegation were not disclosed in the 49-page document. The allegations are astounding. Mr. Trump, prosecutors say, stored sensitive documents – including those related to national security issues – in boxes in a very rude and reckless manner. They were found in various corners of Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida estate, including a shower stall, bathroom, office, bedroom and – suddenly – a stage a ballroom “in which events and gatherings took place.” Mr Trump’s lawyers had insisted that all the documents were kept in a storage room.

The documents were seized last August, when investigators from the F.B.I executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago to retrieve highly classified documents that Mr. Trump had not returned, despite a series of requests. The surprising action suggests that Mr Trump’s pride may be to blame for his new headache. A key defense that Mr Trump gave at the time – that he had the power, as president, to declassify the documents by fiat – is against an audio recording from 2021, obtained by prosecutors, which appears to contain he admits that some of the files in his hands were still classified. “This totally wins my case, you know… Except it’s like, very secret… Secret. This is confidential information,” he told two writers who were working on a book about an aide. Mr Trump seemed to understand the situation clearly: “As president”, said e, “I could have been declassified… now I can’t.”

The DoJ there is a long-standing directive that prosecutors avoid investigating or prosecuting candidates for public office before the election, for fear of undermining public confidence in the rule of law. In 2022 Merrick Garland, the attorney general, told his department to be “particularly conscious of protecting the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and impartiality”. So he appointed an independent special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee two investigations involving Mr. Trump: his handling of classified documents; and his role in the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Failure to obtain a conviction would be a real shame for Mr. Smith and the department. Mr Trump and his supporters claim the conviction is just the latest iteration of a “witch hunt” by the armed deep state. Trustworthy, it already indicates that classified documents have been removed from the homes of President Joe Biden and Mike Pence, his former vice president and who- now a competitor in the Republican primary.

The charges outlined in the indictment, all of which carry significant prison sentences, include possessing classified documents without permission and possibly sharing them with others; conspiracy to obstruct justice by resisting requests to return documents; pressuring individuals to refuse to testify against him or to make things up; hiding documents and making false statements. In total, Mr. Smith brings 37 counts against Mr. Trump under federal criminal laws including the Espionage Act, a law enacted in 1917 during the first world war.

The scene in Miami, where Mr Trump will be arraigned in court on June 13, will be familiar to those who watched him appear in court in New York less than three months ago on related state charges. to his cash payments to Stormy Daniels. , an adult film actress who says she tried with him. The former president again pleads not guilty, gets bail and is released pending a trial date several months in the future. He will be the first person in American history to have a criminal case before a federal judge, Aileen Cannon, who appointed him to the bench.

Despite the dramatic spectacle of a former president being dragged into a federal courtroom, the political consequences are somewhat predictable. After all, this is not the first time Mr. Trump has faced legal scrutiny, or the first time he has been indicted. Just like before, the Republican Party seems to be uniting to defend him even as some are fighting him for the presidential nomination in 2024. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and his worst rival his, feeling compelled to come to his defense. “Federal law enforcement weapons are a mortal threat to a free society,” he tweeted. “Today, what we see is a justice system where the scales are tipped,” said Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina, which is also seeking the nomination.(Both candidates made these comments before they knew what the indictment said.)

Eight years of Trumpism have warred the Republican Party to the point that a barrage of accusations and legal cases could help the former president’s nomination, rather than hurt it. The idea that the president may have broken the law and could fairly be prosecuted for it; the price for thinking out still appears to be excommunication. If the party were willing to forgive him for his actions leading up to the attack on the Capitol, it is hard to imagine what could break the loyalty of his supporters – perhaps not a finding of civil liability for sexual abuse, or alleged financial crimes. cash payments.

Keeping highly classified documents and lying to federal agents about to protect them is a new level of crime – and it could put Mr Trump in more legal jeopardy than cases other – but the former president’s base could be shaken by any accusations against their political hero.

Local prosecutors in Georgia may conspire to turn the election process into a litany of accusations against Mr. Trump. Trials and court dates will recur throughout the presidential primary, raising the profile of voters and making his own party’s opponents waste less time. attacking him, and further criticizing the alleged persecution. The criminal trial in New York will begin on March 25, 2024, meaning it will take over the crucial first two months of the primary season.

There is little doubt, however, that Mr. Trump’s latest and most serious legal exposure is hampering his chances of regaining the White House. Although the slow pace of America’s courts means that it is highly unlikely that Mr. Trump will be in a prison cell before November 2024, the looming charges that helped him in the primary would be his duties. the general election rematch against Mr. Biden. Moderate voters already outraged by Mr. Trump’s behavior in office (and the Republican campaign to ban abortion) would have little reason to see him as the safer, safer candidate when which he promises to cleanse the deep state of his followers.

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