US Former President Donald Trump was on Thursday indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents, having been charged with seven counts. This also makes Trump the first former President to face federal criminal charges.
While the charges have not yet been made public by the Justice Department, Donald Trump's attorney Jim Trusty said on Thursday that charges against Trump "basically break out from an Espionage Act charge." The charges include conspiracy, false statements, obstruction of justice, and illegally retaining classified documents under the Espionage Act, added reports.
Now that Trump is also making a run for the White House in 2024 and is the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the nomination, there are apprehensions over what the indictment could mean for him. Though this is his second indictment - the first was two months ago wherein Trump was charged in New York state court for allegedly falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn star - the classified documents case is much more severe.
The first indictment is heading to trial in February or March next year and the likely outcome would be just a fine.
Can Trump continue to run for president now since he is indicted? Or can he go to prison if convicted? Here is what you need to know.
The classified documents' case
When Donald Trump left the White House at the end of his presidency in January 2021, he took along a trove of documents in boxes. These were moved to Mar-a-Lago, his home and resort in Florida along with clothes, gifts, photos and other material.
However, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) discovered in May of the same year that it was missing documents, a violation of the Federal law that requires presidential documents to be turned over to NARA.
The agency requested Trump to return the documents, after which he arranged for 15 boxes, that contained 184 documents that were classified, to be returned. NARA alerted the Department of Justice and a probe was launched into whether the materials had been mishandled.
The FBI began investigating in February of 2022 and went on to retrieve additional classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. By June, Trump's lawyers turned over 38 additional documents with classified markings.
In August of 2022, the FBI conducted a raid on Mar-a-Lago and found more than 100 classified documents. Following this,
Special counsel Jack Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into whether Trump or his aides committed crimes by taking classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago resort and whether they obstructed the investigation.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and even decried the investigation as politically motivated. Trump has insisted that he was entitled to keep the classified documents when he left the White House and has also claimed without evidence that he had declassified them.
Can Trump still run for the White House
Despite being indicted, Trump can still run for President in 2024. First, there is no law in the US which stops anyone from running for the White House from prison, or even being elected while behind bars. He would also be allowed to travel as he awaits trial.
Can he go to the prison
Though convictions for violating the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice, as mentioned in his indictment, often lead to prison time, it is too early to say whether Trump would end up behind bars.
Many top officials accused of wrongdoing also have historically found a way out of jail and if Trump were convicted only of a false statement charge, he might have a better chance to avoid prison, according to Politico.
Trump's political future
The case is the most serious of the multiple legal threats against Trump, who is also being probed in another criminal investigation in connection with the alleged bid to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Though it will increase his legal woes, Trump has already started fundraising off the news. He issued an email appeal to donors under the heading "BREAKING: INDICTED." His first indictment had brought in millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn't damage his support base. The indictment will also put him in the spotlight and can even affect the chances of other candidates.