The prosecutor is investigating former President Donald Trump – including in the affair of secret government documents. Trump kept such documents in his Florida home after his time in the White House. A jury, a so-called grand jury, has now come to the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence for a crime.
What exactly is it about – and what is still unknown:
What do we know about the charges?
The indictment with seven categories of offenses was released on Friday. Trump is accused of, among other things, collecting, transmitting or losing information to defend the United States. This point falls under the US espionage law and can be punished with up to ten years imprisonment. It is possible that this offense will be applied to each of the documents concerned individually. In order to obtain a conviction on this count, prosecutors would have to show that the documents serve to defend the United States and that their publication could, for example, help a foreign adversary.
The US judiciary accuses Trump, among other things, of conspiracy to obstruct the investigation and making false statements. In the former case, the prosecutor would have to show, for example, that Trump willfully resisted the Justice Department’s request for the documents to be released.
What consequences must Trump fear if he is convicted?
Ultimately, such a process can drag on for years. If the Republican is convicted, he faces a year in prison. Despite charges, Trump can run for his party in the 2024 presidential election. From a legal point of view, even a conviction does not necessarily mean that Trump will not be able to hold the office of US President again. However, there has never been a president behind bars in US history – there should at least be practical hurdles here.
There is also a federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of willingly removing government records from holding political office. The corresponding criminal offense is not found in the indictment. In any case, a conviction in this context would not have to mean anything. Because the US Constitution says nothing about taking government documents with you as a criterion for exclusion from political office. Some experts argue that the Constitution trumps federal laws – courts would have the final say.
Special Counsel Smith is also investigating Trump’s role in the storming of the US Capitol – so far there have been no charges. However, this is the more interesting case when it comes to the question of being barred from political office, as Trump could be charged and convicted of the rare crime of sedition. According to the constitution, anyone involved in an uprising against the government is barred from public office.
What makes the prosecution in the affair about secret documents so special?
A few weeks ago, Trump was charged in New York State in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. This case marked the first time in US history that a president has been tried for a crime. Nevertheless, the charge in the secret service affair is historical again. Because never before has an ex-president been indicted at the federal level. Federal charges often carry harsher penalties because national interests are at stake.
What’s next for Trump?
Trump is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Miami, Florida, at 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday. He got a subpoena – not a warrant. The indictment will be read at the hearing. The accused is formally informed of the allegations made against him and then usually has the opportunity, for example, to “not guilty” or “guilty” to plead. It can be assumed that Trump is in favor of “not guilty” will express, because he denies the allegations.
At this appointment, the judge also decides whether the accused will be held until the beginning of the trial – for example if there is a risk of escape or a danger to the general public. According to experts, this cannot be assumed in the present case. The judge then sets the further court dates.
Why is this happening in Miami?
The public prosecutor’s office could have indicted Trump in the US capital Washington. However, the secret documents were stored in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida – so Florida was also an option. There is a greater chance of a jury closer to Democrats in liberal Washington than in more conservative Florida. Trump’s lawyers would almost certainly have challenged Washington directly as the location for the trial. The prosecutor probably wanted to avoid this. A judge nominated by Trump is now responsible for the case. Aileen Cannon had already decided in Trump’s favor at the beginning of the investigation into the secret documents affair.
What other legal problems could Trump face?
The trial related to hush money payments to a porn star is scheduled to begin in March 2024 in New York. In addition to the storming of the Capitol, special counsel Smith is investigating Trump’s role in efforts to influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. There could also be an indictment here. In the state of Georgia, the public prosecutor’s office is also investigating Trump for possible election manipulation.