The 47-page federal criminal indictment against former President Donald Trump unsealed on Friday incinerates months of desperate attempts by his media allies to excuse his behavior in handling classified material and the resulting probe of his actions.
Trump’s sycophants have claimed that Trump did not do anything wrong -- but the indictment says:
- Trump kept the documents in unsecured locations at Mar-a-Lago, including a ballroom and bathroom.
- Trump allegedly bragged that he had classified documents, acknowledging that he didn’t and could no longer declassify them while showing them to visitors.
- Classified documents related to U.S. nuclear programs were found at Mar-a-Lago.
- Trump’s actions were unique from other instances of people maintaining classified documents in that he willfully and knowingly mishandled the documents.
- Trump himself packed boxes.
- Trump admitted in an audio recording that he couldn’t declassify a document after he left office.
DEFENSE: The docs were secured
Right-wing media have claimed that the documents were secure at Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago. Fox News host Mark Levin said the documents were “safer at Mar-a-Lago” than “at the National Archives.” Conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted similar sentiments, saying, “Mar-a-Lago is protected inside and out by Secret Service federal agents at all times.”
INDICTMENT: Trump kept the documents in unsecured locations at Mar-a-Lago
As the indictment explains, Mar-a-Lago “was not an authorized location for the storage, possession, review, display, or discussion of classified documents. Nevertheless, Trump stored his boxes containing classified documents in various locations,” including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.” The indictment breaks down the locations, saying they include:
- “The Mar-a-Lago Club’s White and Gold Ballroom, in which events and gatherings took place.”
- “The business center at The Mar-a-Lago Club.”
- “The shower where his other stuff is” in“The Mar-a-Lago Club’s Lake Room.”
- The “Storage Room,” the hallway for which “could be reached from multiple outside entrances, including one accessible from The Mar-a-Lago Club pool patio through a doorway that was often kept open,” and which “was near the liquor supply closet, linen room, lock shop, and various other rooms.”
- Trump’s “summer residence at The Bedminster Club,” which, like Mar-a-Lago, “was not an authorized location for the storage, possession, review, display, or discussion of classified documents.”
- “Pine Hall,” which is “an entry room in Trump’s residence."
- Trump’s office.
\u201cTrump's contempt for United States national security, captured in a single photograph:\u201d— Michael Beschloss (@Michael Beschloss) 1686335871
DEFENSE: The documents were declassified
After the FBI seized documents during its search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump and his allies in right-wing media repeatedly claimed that Trump had issued a “standing order” to declassify documents at “the moment he removed them” from the Oval Office, with some even saying he was “the classification authority” and could essentially “wave a magic wand” to declassify documents without a paper trail.
Simultaneously, Trump sycophant and serial misinformer John Solomon and former Trump Department of Defense official Kash Patel — both of whom were named Trump’s representatives to the National Archives — claimed to be “on a mission” to prove Trump had declassified the documents.
Right-wing media continued to push these claims in recent months.
INDICTMENT: Trump allegedly bragged that he had classified documents, acknowledging that he didn’t and could no longer declassify them while showing them to visitors
According to the indictment, “on two occasions in 2021, Trump showed classified documents to others,” including in one instance where Trump noted that the U.S. military “plan of attack” document he was sharing was “highly confidential” and “secret information,” adding, “See as president I could have declassified it. … Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
DEFENSE: There were no serious classified materials
After news broke that the FBI was looking for material pertaining to nuclear weapons at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Fox host Sean Hannity, along with others in conservative media, downplayed the reporting, repeating Trump’s statement that “nuclear weapons, that issue is a hoax.”
And after it was reported that the FBI’s search proved to be fruitful, right-wing media still tried to leap to Trump’s defense.
On Fox News, host Laura Ingraham claimed, “And the issue of the nuclear capabilities of other countries, the CIA, I believe, has its own website that gives a lot of this information about — right?” Geraldo Rivera compared Trump's alleged crimes to “a library book that was overdue.”
INDICTMENT: Classified documents about U.S. nuclear programs were found at Mar-a-Lago
According to the indictment, included in the boxes of classified documents was information “regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries” and about “United States nuclear programs.” According to the Department of Justice: “The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”
DEFENSE: Everyone does it
INDICTMENT: Trump’s actions were unique in that he willfully mishandled the documents
Trump’s claims about these specific former presidents have been debunked and while former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden found classified documents at their properties, they immediately returned them and have not faced any charges. The indictment shows a clear disparity, alleging that Trump “did willfully retain the documents,” knew he had the documents, and knew they were classified.
In the indictment, Trump is quoted as saying to a staffer that a document he showed was “secret information” and that “as president he could have declassified it” but now he can’t. Further, when subpoenaed to turn over the documents, Trump “endeavored to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigation, and conceal his continued retention of classified documents,” the indictment alleges.
DEFENSE: Trump didn’t pack the boxes
Some right-wing media figures have claimed that the former president lacks culpability because he supposedly didn’t pack the boxes himself.
Fox’s Sean Duffy asked, “Do you think that he went through the boxes at Mar-a-Lago? Do you think he knows what he had in those boxes? I don’t think he did."
Former White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer made the same claim on Fox, saying, “If President Trump himself did not pack up those boxes — if, as reported, GSA, the General Services Administration packed up the boxes, then it’s very hard to see culpability for the president. And I have it on reliable authority that Donald Trump himself never opened those boxes in Mar-a-Lago and has no idea what’s in them.”
INDICTMENT: Trump himself packed boxes
According to the indictment, “In January 2021, as he was preparing to leave the White House, Trump and his White House staff, including [Trump aide Walt] Nauta, packed items, including some of Trump’s boxes.” The indictment added, “Trump was personally involved in this process.”
DEFENSE: Nobody knows the proper declassification procedure anyway
On his radio show, Hannity downplayed potential obstruction of justice charges against Trump, and said: “I would argue, legally, he doesn't have any obligation to cooperate with, and nor can anyone give a real definition of whether or not, you know, exactly how one president is supposed to declassify the materials anyway.”
INDICTMENT: Trump says on tape that he couldn't declassify documents after leaving office
The indictment reveals that Trump had knowledge of the proper declassification procedure. In an audio recording during a meeting he had with a writer and several other people, “Trump showed and described a ‘plan of attack’ that Trump said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense.”
Trump told them that the plan he was showing was “highly confidential” and “secret,” and said, “As president I could have declassified it,” but “now I can’t.”
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.