Donald Trump is facing more criminal charges in a federal case accusing him of mishandling classified documents.
The new allegations are in a revised indictment from the special counsel’s office released last night. It added three charges: attempting to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”; asking someone else to do so; and a new count under the Espionage Act.
Today’s newsletter will explain the new charges and why they matter to the case.
The first two charges are connected. Prosecutors said that Trump asked the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home, to have surveillance camera footage deleted. That video was important to the special counsel’s investigation into whether boxes of documents were moved to avoid complying with a federal subpoena.
The property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, is now also charged in the case. He told a Mar-a-Lago information technology expert that “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” according to the revised indictment. After the employee said he did not know how to delete the footage, or whether he had the right to do so, De Oliveira restated the request from “the boss” and asked, “What are we going to do?”
The third charge, under the Espionage Act, concerns a memorable scene from the original indictment. An audio recording captured Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., showing visitors a classified document that detailed battle plans against Iran. Trump could be heard admitting to having the document and acknowledging that it was confidential.
Now that at least one of the charges is linked to the Iran document, the recording could become more damning in court, by directly tying Trump’s own remarks to one of the crimes that he’s accused of.
The indictment indicates that prosecutors have the document itself and details the dates that Trump possessed it, undermining his earlier claims that he never had it and was simply blustering.
Trump’s campaign called the new accusations a “desperate and flailing attempt” by the Justice Department to undercut him.
The bottom line
As this newsletter has noted before, it is not unusual for federal officials to misplace or accidentally keep classified documents when they leave office. Such files were found in the homes of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. What is unusual in Trump’s case is his attempts to keep the papers, even after federal officials asked him to return them.
The new charges help demonstrate the exceptional nature of Trump’s actions. If the accusations are true, Trump not only tried to keep documents that he knew he was not supposed to have, but he also tried to cover up his attempts to hold onto the files by deleting video evidence.
More on the indictment
Some legal experts think De Oliveira is likely to end up cooperating with prosecutors to avoid prison time. “This is a defendant who has almost no choice but to flip,” Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney, said on MSNBC.
But the new charges may slow the case, currently set to go to trial next May, and could even push it past the 2024 election. “For Trump, his best defense is delay,” Kim Wehle, a University of Baltimore law professor, writes in The Bulwark.
Trump’s lawyers met yesterday with the special counsel’s office, which is also investigating his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Charges in that case — which appear likely soon — would add substantially to Trump’s legal peril. (Track all the Trump investigations here.)
The Times’s Charlie Savage annotated the indictment.
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