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From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbara. This is the Journal. In a landmark legal decision, the Department of Justice decided to file federal criminal charges against Donald Trump for handling classified material. I spoke with my colleague Mike Schmidt about what this will mean for Trump and President Biden, who the administration will now impeach his biggest potential rival for the White House.
It's Friday, June 9.
Mike, good night. I just want to clear the way for people. It's 9:25 PM. We're calling you in a car in suburban Virginia, which means you weren't prepared for this. We were not prepared for it. It was a surprise, so thank you for taking your time with us. Former President Trump has been indicted for the second time in just two months. These are great times. So for starters, Mike, what do we know at this point on Thursday night about what just happened?
About an hour and a half ago, Donald Trump took to his social media platform and announced that he had been charged in connection with an investigation into his handling of classified documents.
He even broke the story. He volunteered. Trump just got fired.
Mm-hmm. Trump has been under investigation by a special prosecutor for months. Investigators are examining documents he took from the White House at the end of his term, hid and refused to return to the administration. Minutes after Trump posted this, our reporters scrambled to find out what was known about the accusation. And they learned that there are seven beats.
OK, so what do we know about these costs?
We know that at least one of the charges is conspiracy to obstruct justice. Another is to make false statements to the government. One of them is the violation of spy law, which almost always relates to the storage of confidential documents. So we see the emerging picture that a government prosecutor will focus on how Trump wanted to keep those documents that weren't his - they belonged to the government - even after the government asked for them back and eventually summoned them to court.
Normal. Well, let's get back to the basic facts here. This is an issue that has received a lot of attention. And I think the basic facts are relatively well known by now, but in short, Trump is leaving office, taking with him hundreds of classified documents missing from the National Archives and asking for them back. It's not happening. Instead, Trump tries to keep them, prompting the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago and recover many of them. And these allegations you make seem to focus more on the alleged cover-up crime than on the original obtaining of the documents. Do I have that right?
Yes, if Donald Trump had returned it all when the administration kindly asked for it in the months after he left office, there would almost certainly be no problem here.
But the thing is, the government asked politely, and then demanded more harshly in a subpoena.
And from the beginning of this process, even as it became more and more serious, Trump and his lawyers did everything they could to preserve these materials until the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step last August and executed a search warrant in March - and - Lago to basically pick them up.
Okay, you're starting to imply that, but how do we understand the most convincing evidence gathered by the Special Counsel to support these allegations that Trump tried to hinder the administration's efforts to recover these documents?
So we'll know a lot more when we actually see the indictment when the Justice Department unveils it. But as far as we know, the most egregious example is that while the Justice Department was trying to get them back, Trump's lawyer told the department under oath that he had turned everything around and had run out of confidential documents.
But when the FBI went in and searched Mar-a-Lago, they found dozens of secret documents that clearly showed what Trump's lawyer told the Department was completely wrong. So when the special attorney's office dug into this investigation and talked to basically everyone around Trump from his minions to Secret Service agents to his lawyers, they could find out about many other things Trump did to basically try and hide or suppress documents despite government efforts.
Um, how what?
They learned how Trump used an aide to retrieve the documents and bring them to him so he could review them and find out which ones he wanted to return to the government and which ones to keep. They managed to get their lawyers to testify - which normally never happens - to a grand jury about what Trump told them.
Investigators also managed to obtain an audio recording of Trump, just months after leaving office, captured while discussing a document detailing plans to invade Iran. And it was during that conversation, in that audio recording, that Trump said he couldn't declassify the documents because he had already left office, essentially indicating that he knew they were still confidential.
hmm. My point is that there are a lot of things in this alleged audio recording that seem quite important. First, it reveals that the nature of these documents is very sensitive: planning a war around Iran. And second, as you said, it suggests that he understands very well, in fact, he says loudly in the recording that he understands that the documents he has kept are confidential.
Also, you don't need to be an FBI investigator to know that the president of the United States receives some of the most sensitive information held by the government. So if this is something Trump took from the White House, it was something he got when he was president, and it contains national security secrets that underlie all US military and intelligence operations around the world.
That's right, and as reported by our colleagues at The Times, these documents were stored in a rather insecure location at a resort whose members were very close to each other.
As the diagram drawn by our colleagues showed, parties were held in Mar-a-Lago a few meters from the cabinet where many of these documents were probably kept. Other documents were found on his desk in his office, an office that has been visited by hundreds in the two and a half years since he left office. So not only did he take these documents and mislead the government about them, but it's not like he kept them in a special secret safe that no one could break into. They blended in like everything else in Mar-a-Lago.
These include federal allegations brought by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is accountable to President Biden, which now means that the administration of the incumbent Democratic president seeking re-election will seek to be the main opponent of the Republicans in the next presidential race. It's surprising.
It's so, so extraordinary. As we approach the 2024 election, Donald Trump will be defending himself in court against Biden's Department of Justice while trying to win the Republican nomination so he can run against Biden. I do not know what to say. We thought we'd seen everything from the investigation into him when he was president to the prosecution, but even that has an overlay of extreme weirdness. Trump just finds a way to outdo himself.
What adds to the oddity of all this, Mike, is that President Biden himself is being investigated by another special prosecutor for his handling of classified documents found in his home. It's not the same situation. He sent them back immediately. There's no allegation that he tried to hide them. Either way, we have to imagine it will fuel Trump's claim that the Biden Department of Justice is the wrong entity to bring this case against Trump and that they want to get him.
You see, Trump quoted Biden's documents in his self-indictment announcement. Understanding classified documents and the secrets of the Presidential Records Act and how to handle classified documents is not something that the average person is interested in or understands. But Republicans will use the idea that Biden did what Trump did in an attempt to undermine the validity of these studies.
Right, and I have to think it will inevitably fit into Donald Trump's narrative, which has been crafted for many years, of the federal government being rigged against him.
Clearly. Even when Trump was president of the United States and controlled the Department of Justice and the entire executive branch, he claimed the deep state was behind him. Now he is being prosecuted by the Biden Department of Justice. I -
- archived video (donald trump)
There was never anything like what happened. I am an innocent man. I am an innocent person.
- not surprisingly, on the same platform where he announced his accusation, he posted a video.
- archived video (donald trump)
The whole thing is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia, like the fake file was a hoax. You saw the Durham report. You saw the Mueller report. It was all a big hoax. You had two impeachments, they lost and we won.
- claiming that the government is after him.
- archived video (donald trump)
I am innocent and we are going to prove it very, very deeply and hopefully very soon. Thank you.
So Mike, what's going on now? Trump announced that he had been impeached. We are waiting for the allegations to be revealed. What will the coming days look like?
In a statement, Trump said he would appear in court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon. Probably Trump is referring to the fact that he will be impeached. Basically, he will be arrested and brought before a judge who will decide if he can be released and under what conditions. And while this scene is unusual, as we repeat, it will be very similar to the scene we saw a few weeks ago when he was arraigned in a New York court on the charges brought there.
Okay Mike, this 30 misdemeanor indictment in New York related to a bribery scheme allegedly involving Donald Trump, we already know will involve a trial starting in March 2024 at the height of Republican power. presidential primaries. Do we know anything about when a federal classified documents trial might begin?
So, given the complexity of this case and the fact that the federal system tends to take a little longer than most, it is likely that Trump will not face trial for another two years or more after the election.
So this is not something that will be fixed anytime soon.
And Mike, if Trump goes to court and is convicted, what punishment will he receive for these federal charges?
We really need to see the indictment to get the exact details of its disclosure. But we know that people found guilty of similar charges have served years, if not decades, in prison. The government takes secret documents and their protection very seriously. In this case, you also have attempts to hinder government efforts to recover these materials. All of this together means he could get a decent amount of time in jail if found guilty.
He has never faced such an accusation, but as we have seen, Donald Trump has almost the same ability to get out of trouble as Houdini.
Well, Mike, thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you for accepting me.
we're coming back.
Here's what else you need to know today. On Thursday night, Republicans in Congress reacted furiously to Trump's latest impeachment, pledging to use their power to retaliate against the Biden administration for bringing the charges. In a tweet, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wrote that Republicans, without citations, "will be held accountable for these brutal weapons of power." Democrats, for their part, called the allegations "legitimate" and "overdue." Congressman Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the indictment revealed that Trump, without citations, "put our national security at great risk."
Today's episode was produced by Rachel Quester and Mary Wilson with help from Asthaa Chaturvedi. It was edited by Rachel Quester and Lisa Chow, features original music by Marion Lozano, and was designed by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme song was written by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. So much for the Journal. I am Michael Barbara. See you on Monday.