(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Jack Smith has assembled a strong criminal case against Donald Trump that outlines his mishandling of classified documents and obstruction of the US investigation to recover them, former federal prosecutors said.
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The indictment unsealed Friday in a Miami federal court alleges that after leaving the White House in 2021, the former president retained 300 sensitive documents about secrets like US nuclear programs, weapons capabilities and military plans.
Smith’s team has assembled allegations showing Trump willfully and recklessly mishandled and disseminated classified information, and thumbed his nose at the grand jury process, said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor.
“These allegations are exceedingly powerful,” Rossi said. “This is the most historic indictment in the history of the Justice Department, bar none.”
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With the prospect of 20 years in prison on the most serious charges, Trump faces stiffer penalties in the documents case than he does from criminal charges filed against him by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in April over allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, this case is an 11 as it involves the former president of the United States and a matter of national security and handling of classified documents, not hush money payments to an adult film actress,” David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who is now a partner at Jones Walker LLP in Miami.
Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the White House, has denied wrongdoing on social media and attacked the document investigation as a witch hunt by a “deranged” special prosecutor and a “totally corrupt” Biden administration. He is scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court in Miami.
The charges against Trump in Florida include willful retention of national defense information, corruptly concealing documents, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and making false statements, according to the indictment.
Room to Room
Prosecutors wove together text messages, photographs, Trump’s recorded words and testimony from his former attorney to create a narrative of the former president’s actions. Trump stored those documents at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, moving them between a bathroom, ballroom, and shower, among other rooms, while also suggesting his attorneys destroy or hide documents, according to the indictment.
“Smith went out of his way to put together and present to the public a range of documentary and testimonial evidence that sounds like it’s a pretty solid case,” said Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School and a former federal prosecutor.
While the defense is likely to challenge whether some evidence is admissible, the special counsel has “really lined up his ducks,” he said. Prosecutors marshaled evidence to do a “fine job of presenting” Trump’s “level of contempt for the indictment,” Richman said.
Smith’s combination of video and audio evidence, combined with allegations of false statements and conspiracy to obstruct justice, also impressed Paul Pelletier, another former federal prosecutor.
The indictment is “as strong a case as a prosecutor can have,” Pelletier said. “Add national security risk to that mix and Mr. Trump should be very worried.”
‘Plan of Attack’
In July 2021, for instance, Trump met at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff. Trump showed them and described a “plan of attack” against a foreign country that he said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official, according to the indictment. His audience lacked security clearances.
As president, Trump said, he could have declassified the document. He conceded he no longer had that ability, according to the indictment.
Rossi said the US made a “brilliant decision” to indict Trump in Florida, where the majority of the conduct occurred, and not in Washington, where he’s unpopular. Had Trump been indicted in Washington, he could have argued for months that Florida was the proper venue.
Instead, prosecutors have “just taken away a key issue from Donald Trump’s defense team,” Rossi said. “If they had had a trial in DC, Donald Trump would have turned that into a circus and been a martyr. Now, he won’t have the same stage that he would have had.”
The case will also serve as an “incredibly strong deterrent effect” in other national security cases, Rossi said.
“Prosecutors in other cases can say ‘We indicted the former president,”’ Rossi said.
The case is US v. Trump, 23-cr-80101, US District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).
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