In a stunning development, a federal grand jury in Florida indicted former U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday over his retention of sensitive government documents after he left the White House.
The Justice Department informed Trump that he had been indicted and asked him to make his first court appearance in Miami on Tuesday, the former president confirmed on his social media platform.
"The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform, apparently alluding to boxes of documents seized by the FBI from his Florida estate last August.
The indictment remains under seal, but seven news outlets, citing sources familiar with the case, said it contains several criminal charges.
In a request for a search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last year, the FBI listed three statutes that may have been breached.
The first is part of the Espionage Act and prohibits the unauthorized transmission or retention of "national defense information" such as classified government documents.
Another statute concerns obstruction of a federal investigation by destroying, altering and falsifying records.
Violations of the two statutes are punishable by as much as 10 to 20 years in prison.
The indictment makes Trump the first former president to be charged in federal court. He is facing separate charges in New York state of falsifying business records to hide a hush money payment to an adult film star in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Trump, did not immediately respond to a VOA request for comment.
The Justice Department had been investigating Trump since early last year after learning from the National Archives that the former president stashed hundreds of sensitive government documents at his Florida resort and thwarted government efforts to retrieve them.
The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago last August led to the discovery of more than 100 classified documents.
In all, prosecutors have retrieved more than 300 classified government documents from Trump bearing various classification markings, including “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” the highest level of classification.
The investigation was led through most of last year by the Justice Department. But Trump's announcement in November that he was running for president prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint Jack Smith, a former career Justice Department prosecutor, as special counsel.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the documents, calling the investigation a witch hunt designed to sabotage his bid for reelection.
He also claimed that he had a standing order to declassify all documents taken from the Oval Office to the White House residence.
But prosecutors have reportedly obtained a 2021 audio recording in which Trump acknowledged that he had retained a classified Pentagon document, which contradicts his claim that he had declassified all documents.
The indictment can’t prevent Trump from forging ahead with his presidential campaign.
In fact, former federal prosecutor John Malcolm noted, there are no laws that would stop him from running, even if he is convicted.
"There have been people who have run for office from prison cells," Malcolm said.
In 2002, former Representative Jim Traficant ran for his old congressional seat while serving a prison sentence for corruption.