Donald Trump is preparing for his second arraignment in two months after learning he would face seven federal charges in connection to his mishandling of classified documents.
The former US president and current 2024 candidate is expected to surrender himself to authorities in Miami on Tuesday at 3pm ET, although the exact charges he will face are still unclear, as the seven-count indictment remains under seal. On Fox News Digital on Thursday night, he said he would plead not guilty.
It also emerged that Trump’s valet and aide Walt Nauta was indicted alongside him. Nauta is a former military valet who worked for Trump at the White House before accompanying him to a job at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago after Trump left office.
In a typically punchy social media post Trump said: “They are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about Trump.”
After news of the indictment broke, Trump’s allies rallied to his defense as the US braced for the unprecedented spectacle of a former president forced to defend himself against federal criminal charges.
The development comes just two months after Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in an unrelated case over hush-money payments during the 2016 election.
The charges filed by the office of special counsel Jack Smith in federal district court in Miami include the willful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, false statements and concealment under title 18 of the US criminal code, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Smith, appointed by the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has been investigating for more than a year whether Trump knowingly retained classified information at his Mar-a-Lago resort and attempted to conceal those documents from the justice department after authorities issued a subpoena for their return.
Trump himself confirmed the indictment in a Thursday evening post on his social media platform Truth Social, writing: “This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America.”
In a video posted to the platform shortly afterwards, Trump denied any culpability and lashed out against his political rivals. “I am an innocent man,” Trump said in the video. “I did nothing wrong.”
Meanwhile, two lawyers representing Trump, Jim Trusty and John Rowley, said they had quit working for him. In a joint statement the pair said they had “tendered our resignations as counsel to President Trump, and we will no longer represent him on either the indicted case or the January 6 investigation”.
They added: “It has been an honor to have spent the last year defending him, and we know he will be vindicated in his battle against the Biden administration’s partisan weaponization of the American justice system.”
Though the exact nature of the charges remained unclear, Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill quickly rallied to his defense, attacking the investigation as a case of political persecution. Many Republicans raced to note that Joe Biden is also under investigation by a special counsel over the alleged mishandling of classified papers, but they neglected to mention that Trump, unlike Biden, received a subpoena for classified documents amid concerns that he had willfully withheld some materials from federal authorities.
“Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House speaker, said on Twitter on Thursday evening. “I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”
Trump’s most competitive rival for the Republican ticket, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, also denounced the justice department’s actions.
“The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society,” he said on Twitter. “We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation. Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?”
But Democrats viewed the news as confirmation that authorities were again seeking to hold Trump accountable for his illegal conduct.
“Trump’s apparent indictment on multiple charges arising from his retention of classified materials is another affirmation of the rule of law,” Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said on Twitter. “For four years, he acted like he was above the law. But he should be treated like any other lawbreaker. And today, he has been.”
Later on Friday morning, it emerged that a federal judge appointed by Trump, who last year drew scrutiny for a ruling that was seen as deferential to the former president, may oversee proceedings in the case over his possession of classified documents, a source familiar with the summons told the Guardian.
The US district judge Aileen Cannon has been listed on the summons sent to Trump’s lawyers, the source said. The Florida-based jurist last year granted a request from Trump’s attorneys to appoint a special master to review the records federal agents seized from Mar-a-Lago that August, sparking uproar and disapproval among some legal experts.
The special master review delayed the justice department’s investigation into the materials and how they ended up at Trump’s south Florida property, but in December, Cannon’s decision was overturned by the unanimous decision of a federal appeals court.
Meanwhile, on Friday morning CNN revealed a transcript it had obtained of an audio tape in which Trump admits he had not declassified a military document about Iran he had retained. The existence of the tape in which he boasts about retaining the document emerged last month.
“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” Trump says, according to the transcript reported by CNN. The transcript offers further detail about the tape recording the former president talking at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club in July 2021 about his retention of national security papers. Federal prosecutors have the tape.
The latest indictment means Trump will face charges in at least two jurisdictions as he seeks to return to the White House next year. Trump continues to lead in polls of the Republican primary field, even after he was indicted in the hush-money case earlier this year.
As of now, there is no sign that Republican primary voters are prepared to abandon Trump en masse, despite his many legal liabilities. The country will soon find out if the threat of a federal conviction is enough to rob Trump of his status as the frontrunner in the Republican primary.