Indictment against Trump 'very, very damning,' former Attorney General says

Former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during the North Carolina Republican Party Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 10, 2023. [AP Photo]

William Barr, former U.S. President Donald Trump's top law enforcement official at the end of his presidency, said Sunday that the criminal indictment accusing Trump of illegally retaining highly classified national security documents as he left office in 2021 was "very, very damning."

Other Republicans, however, came to Trump's defense, saying the indictment was an unwarranted political attack to keep him from winning back the White House in the 2024 presidential election.

"If even half of it is true, then he's toast. I mean, it's a very detailed indictment," Barr, Trump's attorney general in 2019 and 2020, told the "Fox News Sunday" show. "This idea of presenting Trump as a victim here - a victim of a witch hunt - is ridiculous."

Barr added, "We can't forget here that this entire thing came about because of [the] reckless conduct of the president" by taking more than 300 classified documents with him to his oceanside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida when his presidential term ended and he left Washington, instead of turning them over to the National Archives, as required by law.

"He was totally wrong that he had the right to have those documents," Barr said. "Those documents are among the most sensitive secrets the country has. They have to be in the custody of the archivist. He had no right to retain them, and he kept them in a way at Mar-a-Lago that anyone who cares about national security, their stomach would churn at it."

Trump, who has proclaimed his innocence, at various times kept some of the documents in a bathroom, a bedroom and a ballroom stage, photographs in the indictment showed.

Trump indicted over handling of classified documents

A federal grand jury in Miami last week filed a 37-count indictment against Trump, accusing him of "willful retention" of 31 of the national defense documents, along with six more charges, including obstruction of justice, hiding documents so one of his own attorneys wouldn't see them and making false statements to the government investigators.

Trump is set to turn himself in to federal authorities Tuesday at the U.S. courthouse in Miami.

Despite Barr's assessment of the case against Trump, the first-ever federal indictment of a U.S. president, other Republicans criticized special counsel Jack Smith for bringing the case against the 76-year-old former commander-in-chief. Trump, according to national polling, is also the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

One of Trump's staunchest defenders, Senator Lindsey Graham, told ABC's "This Week" show that while some of the charges brought against Trump were filed under the country's Espionage Act, "He did not commit espionage. He is not a spy." He said that what Trump did in retaining national security documents was not unlike what the 2016 Democratic presidential contender, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, did in maintaining a private email server at her home that contained classified documents while she was the country's top diplomat.

"It's very similar to what he did," Graham said, referring to Trump. "Not a damn thing happened to her."

Representative Jim Jordan, a vocal Trump supporter, told CNN's "State of the Union" show that the indictment against Trump was a "total affront to the rule of law" and accepted Trump's claim that he had declassified the documents before leaving office. The indictment, however, alleges that Trump, after he left office, showed a couple of the documents to others while acknowledging they were still classified and that he no longer had the authority to declassify them.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a longtime supporter of Democratic President Joe Biden, said, "President Trump has no one to blame but himself" for being accused in the classified documents case, noting that Biden and Trump's vice president, Republican Mike Pence, quickly turned over classified documents to the National Archives when such sensitive materials were found at their homes or offices.

Trump hit the campaign trail at Republican political gatherings in Georgia and North Carolina on Saturday, criticizing Smith, the prosecutor, and the Justice Department for bringing the case against him.

Trump Documents Case: Why it matters

"This is the final battle," Trump said at a speech in the southern city of Columbus, Georgia. "Either the Communists win and destroy America, or we destroy the Communists," seemingly referring to opposition Democrats.

Trump railed against "globalists," "warmongers" in government and "the sick political class that hates our country."

Trump also described the Justice Department as "a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately," calling Smith "deranged" and "openly a Trump hater."

In an interview with Politico, Trump vowed Saturday to continue running for president even if he were to be convicted.

"I'll never leave," Trump said in an interview aboard his plane. Trump predicted he would be acquitted but acknowledged the gravity of his legal peril, in which he could face years in prison if convicted.

"Nobody wants to be indicted," he said.