A United States federal grand jury is charging former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump with crimes linked to his possession of sensitive government documents. Trump is to appear in court in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday to hear the charges against him.
The day will mark the first time a former president has been charged with a crime in a federal court.
The indictment was released publicly Friday.
Jack Smith is the Justice Department special counsel who filed the charges against Trump. Smith spoke to reporters after the indictment was opened. He explained the charges against Trump and said that the country has “one set of laws and they apply to everyone."
Smith did not take questions at the press conference.
Trump has said he is innocent and has done “nothing wrong.”
The indictment accuses Trump of 37 crimes. They include willfully holding national defense information, obstruction, false statements and plotting with another to carry out a crime.
In March, a government lawyer in the state of New York charged Trump with 34 counts of criminally falsifying business documents. That indictment made Trump the first former president to face criminal charges.
Why are federal officials investigating Trump?
The Justice Department announced an investigation into Trump’s keeping possession of government records in early 2022. The investigation started when the National Archives reported that Trump had hundreds of sensitive government documents at his home in Florida.
Under U.S. law, presidential records belong to the government and must be given to the National Archive when a president leaves office.
Trump is being accused of taking hundreds of records from the White House and sending them to his home at Mar-a-Lago.
The National Archives demanded the documents from Trump’s representatives in 2021 and received 14 containers of them in January 2022. The boxes contained more than 100 documents that are described as “classified.”
The National Archives then reported the discovery to the Justice Department, which started an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
How is a special counsel involved?
The Justice Department was leading the investigation through most of last year. In November, Trump announced that he would again be a presidential candidate. Attorney General Merrick Garland then appointed Jack Smith, a department lawyer, as a special counsel to carry out the investigation.
Smith brought evidence to two grand juries in recent months. One in Washington, D.C. and another in Miami, Florida. A court ordered a number of witnesses to appear before the two groups, which decide whether charges can be brought.
Smith is also investigating Trump in connection with the events that lead to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
A federal indictment would not disqualify Trump from competing in the 2024 presidential campaign. Experts say the former president could seek a return to office even if he is found guilty of charges.
Other documents cases
In January, the Justice Department named another special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate the documents case of President Joe Biden. The documents are from at least the time when Biden was vice president.
The documents were found last year at Biden’s former Washington office and at his home in Delaware. Biden’s lawyers have said there are few documents involved and that they were given to the government as soon as they were found.
Experts suggest that failing to correctly deal with classified documents would be unlikely to cause federal officials to bring charges. Jordan Strauss is a former Justice Department official who is now with Kroll, a business risk adviser. He said there is a Justice Department policy saying that a current president cannot be indicted.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has also been criticized for holding classified documents. And the Associated Press reported last year that the claim that former President Barack Obama took millions of documents when he left office was false.
Answering a question about whether the Justice Department indictment of a competing presidential candidate was unfair, Biden said:
“I have never once — not one single time — suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do, relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge. I’m honest.”
I’m Caty Weaver. And I'm Mario Ritter Jr.
Masood Farivar reported this story for VOA NEWS. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English with some additional material from Associated Press.
Words in This Story
obstruction –n. (legal) the act of blocking or trying to block legal officials from getting evidence that they are seeking
conspiracy –n. (legal) a secret plan by two or more people to do something harmful or illegal
indictment –n. (legal) the process of bringing charges before a court of law
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