If convicted on all seven charges brought against him by US Justice Department, ranging from illegally retaining classified documents after he left the White House to making false statements and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the 76 year old former President faces up to 100 years in prison.
Trump immediately protested innocence, dubbing the charges as a “boxes hoax,” a reference to charges that he had illegally carted boxed of classified material to his home in Mar-a-Lago. The former President maintains that he had declassified the material, not by any official decree, but simply by saying so, a defense the Justice Department has rejected.
He has been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami at 3 PM on Tuesday and he is expected to comply. He will appear before a judge — Aileen Cannon — Trump himself had appointed.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting President in the History of our Country, and is currently leading, by far, all Candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in Polls of the 2024 Presidential Election,” Trump lamented on his social media platform, adding in all caps, “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”
The stunning developments, first disclosed by Trump himself, convulsed American politics and was met with incredulity, particularly the Republican Party, which accused the White House of weaponising the law enforcement system. Presidential historians described it as a “seismic moment” in the country’s history.
The GOP also began to close ranks behind the former President despite an internecine fight for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination. Trailing Trump in the race, his main challenger Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared that the “weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.”
Many Republican lawmakers too rallied behind Trump, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calling it a “dark day for America” and pledging that House Republicans “will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”
Former Trump cabinet member Nikki Haley, also in the running for the GOP nomination, tweeted, “This is not how justice should be pursued in our country. The American people are exhausted by the prosecutorial overreach, double standards, and vendetta politics. It’s time to move beyond the endless drama and distractions.”
A rare exception was Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic, who said Trump had “brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so.”
Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, who is also bidding for the 2023 GOP nomination, also said the indictment would be “terribly divisive” for the country, but hoped “the American people will see in this case that it would meet a high standard necessary to justify the unprecedented federal indictment of a former president of the United States.”
Trump himself turned on President Biden, accusing him of taking classified material too, although legal experts say there are no parallels between the two.
“The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 Boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more Boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is ‘secured’ by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time,” he wrote on Truth Social platform.
On Friday morning, it emerged that the Justice Department based its case partly on Trump’s own admission in recordings it obtained that he had taken classified material, some of which relate to a possible attack on Iran, from the White House.
ABC News reported that Trump faces four separate counts each carrying a potential prison time of 20 years: conspiracy to obstruct justice; withholding a document or record; corruptly concealing a document or record; and concealing a document in a federal investigation. One other count carries a 10 year sentence: willful retention of national defense information.