Ex-US president Donald Trump risked national secrets, prosecutors allege in indictment

Ex-US president Donald Trump risked national secrets, prosecutors allege in indictment


Ex-US president Donald Trump risked national secrets, prosecutors allege in indictment

(Reuters) - US prosecutors unsealed a 37-count indictment against Donald Trump on Friday, accusing the former president of risking some of the country’s most sensitive security secrets after leaving the White House in 2021.

Trump mishandled classified documents that included information about the secretive US nuclear programme and potential domestic vulnerabilities in the event of an attack, the federal indictment said.

Trump also discussed with his lawyers the possibility of lying to government officials seeking to recover the documents; stored some documents in boxes around a toilet, and moved others around his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida to prevent them from being found, the charges said.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” Trump said to one of his attorneys, according to the 49-page indictment.

Unauthorised disclosure of classified documents posed a risk to US national security, foreign relations, and intelligence gathering, prosecutors said.

The Justice Department made the criminal charges public on a tumultuous day in which two of Trump’s lawyers, John Rowley and Jim Trusty, quit the case for reasons that were not immediately clear. A former aide, Walt Nauta, faces charges of being Trump’s co-conspirator.

Trump is due to make a first appearance in the case in a Miami court on Tuesday, a day before his 77th birthday.

Since Trump would serve any sentences concurrently if convicted, the maximum prison time he would face is 20 years for obstruction of justice, a charge carrying the highest penalty.

“Our laws that protect national defence information are critical to the safety and security of the United States, and they must be enforced,” US Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the prosecution, said at a press conference.

“We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everybody,” Smith said in his first public appearance since Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned him to the investigation last year.

Smith said he would seek a speedy jury trial in Florida.

Trump has proclaimed his innocence. After the charges were unsealed, he attacked Smith on social media.

“He is a Trump Hater — a deranged ‘psycho’ that shouldn’t be involved in any case having to do with ‘Justice,’” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

The indictment of a former US president on federal charges is unprecedented in American history and emerges at a time when Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination next year.

Trump’s legal woes have yet to dent his popularity with Republican voters, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

But the charges laid out against him on Friday could give his Republican rivals in the presidential race ammunition to attack his national-security credentials. So far, they have largely sided with him.

“Its impossible to bet against Trump’s staying power with the Republican base,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left think tank Third Way. “But this conduct charged in this indictment is even worse than we expected — that might break through.”

Trump and his allies have portrayed the case as political retaliation by Democratic President Joe Biden, but Biden has kept his distance.

The White House said Biden had no advance knowledge of the indictment, and he later declined to comment when reporters asked about it.