The indictment carries unmistakably grave legal consequences, including the possibility of prison if Trump's convicted.
The Justice Department did not immediately confirm the indictment publicly. But two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly said that the indictment included seven criminal counts. One of those people said Trump's lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced Thursday on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted.
Appearing Thursday night on CNN, Trump attorney James Trusty said the indictment includes charges of willful retention of national defense information — a crime under the Espionage Act, which polices the handling of government secrets — obstruction, false statements and conspiracy.
Within minutes of his announcement, Trump, who said he was due in court Tuesday afternoon in Miami, began fundraising off it for his presidential campaign. He declared his innocence in a video and repeated his familiar refrain that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”
The indictment arises from a months-long investigation into whether Trump broke the law by holding onto hundreds of documents marked "classified" at his Palm Beach property, Mar-a-Lago, and whether Trump took steps to obstruct the government’s efforts to recover the records.
Prosecutors have said that Trump took roughly 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, including some 100 that were seized by the FBI last August in a search of the home that underscored the gravity of the Justice Department’s investigation. Trump has repeatedly insisted that he was entitled to keep the classified documents when he left the White House, and has also claimed without evidence that he had declassified them.
The Justice Department has said Trump repeatedly resisted efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration to get the documents back. After months of back-and-forth, Trump representatives returned 15 boxes of records in January 2022, including about 184 documents that officials said had classified markings on them.
Court records unsealed last year showed federal investigators believed they had probable cause that multiple crimes had been committed, including the retention of national defense information, destruction of government records and obstruction.
Since then, the Justice Department has amassed additional evidence and secured grand jury testimony from people close to Trump, including his own lawyers. The statutes governing the handling of classified records and obstruction are felonies that could carry years in prison in the event of a conviction.
The investigation had simmered for months before bursting into front-page news in remarkable fashion last August. That’s when FBI agents served a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago and removed 33 boxes containing classified records, including top-secret documents stashed in a storage room and desk drawer and commingled with personal belongings. Some records were so sensitive that investigators needed upgraded security clearances to review them, the Justice Department has said.
The investigation into Trump had appeared complicated — politically, if not legally — by the discovery of documents with classified markings in the Delaware home and former Washington office of President Joe Biden, as well as in the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence. The Justice Department recently informed Pence that he would not face charges, while a second special counsel continues to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents.
But compared with Trump, there are key differences in the facts and legal issues surrounding Biden’s and Pence’s handling of documents, including that representatives for both men say the documents were voluntarily turned over to investigators as soon as they were found. In contrast, investigators quickly zeroed on whether Trump, who for four years as president expressed disdain for the FBI and Justice Department, had sought to obstruct the inquiry by refusing to turn over all the requested documents.