So Donald Trump has been indicted again, this time in connection with his retention of classified documents at his home in Florida. We knew this initially because Trump announced it on Truth social. It has since been confirmed by the special counsel’s office, although, at this writing, the actual indictment does not seem to have been made public.
The prosecutor’s office leaked it to ABC News, so we have descriptions of it. This one from the New York Post seems reliable:
The charges against Trump include: willfully retaining the national defense documents, conspiring to obstruct justice, withholding the documents, corruptly concealing the records, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheming to conceal and making false statements, sources told ABC News.
All seven charges “break out from an Espionage Act charge,” his lawyer Jim Trusty confirmed to CNN.
A section of the Espionage Act prohibits any individual — including the president — from “willfully retain[ing]” national defense information and “fail[ing] to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”
In other words, no surprises.
The special counsel’s hardest task is to try to distinguish what Trump did from what Joe Biden, Mike Pence and many others have done. I take it that the willfulness of Trump’s retaining documents after the National Archives asked for them, along with charges alleging the conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements, etc., serve this function.
Will it work? I doubt it. I think most people will see no significant difference between Trump’s actions and Biden’s, and will consider this prosecution another manifestation of America’s two-tiered system of justice. They will be right to do so, although Trump’s own stubbornness and poor judgment also distinguish this case from Biden’s or Pence’s. If Trump had been trying to get himself indicted he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
In the short term, this indictment will probably help Trump in the national polls. Whether it will help him with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire is a different and more important question. Also, Trump’s legal problems are likely to mount. As I understand it, special counsel Jack Smith is also examining Trump’s role in the January 6 protest. The Democrats would dearly love to bring charges against Trump relating to that event, which goes to the heart of their real objections to Trump in a way that the document case, and the Stormy Daniels prosecution, do not. My guess is that such charges will be forthcoming before long. Trump is also likely to be indicted in connection with his post-election activities in Georgia.
I don’t think any of these charges have merit. On the other hand, all of them stem, to one degree or another, from Trump’s poor judgment and personality flaws. Together, they add up to an amount of baggage that many Republican primary voters will consider unacceptable. He is scheduled to go to trial in the New York case at the end of March–the height of the primary season. It may well be that during most of the primaries, Trump will be appealing a criminal conviction and a jail sentence. Democratic voters have a elected a mayor or two from a prison cell, but that may be a bridge too far for Republican presidential primary voters.