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Trump Indictment Unsealed
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Trump Indictment Unsealed

Special counsel Jack Smith presents an ‘extremely damning’ case against the former president.

Happy Monday! A 53-year-old man in Florida nearly lost his leg to a flesh-eating bacterial infection a few months ago after he was bitten in the thigh while trying to break up a fight.

The man declined to name the Floridians who were fighting or what they were fighting about, but we’re pretty sure we know.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed to confirm Saturday his country’s long-awaited counteroffensive is underway against Russian forces in southeast Ukraine. Ukrainian officials claimed over the weekend their troops had liberated at least three villages in the Donetsk region while Russians suggested they had repelled an attack on one of their ships in the Black Sea. Some reports indicate Russian forces have mounted a more significant defense than originally anticipated.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he will begin moving tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus as soon as July 7, assigning a timeline to his March promise to station warheads in the allied neighboring country. Putin maintains Russia is still meeting its non-proliferation requirements by retaining control of the weapons, though Russian forces have trained Belarusian troops to deploy them.
  • The Biden administration on Friday released declassified intelligence revealing Iran is helping construct a drone factory in western Russia that could be in use by early next year. Iranian-made attack drones have been at the forefront of Russia’s invasion, including strikes on residential areas and critical infrastructure.
  • The Pentagon announced Friday $2.1 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine, this time in the form of a long-term arms package. The money—drawn from the $19 billion appropriated in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI)—will finance contracts with U.S. defense manufacturers for several kinds of air defense systems as well as two types of artillery rounds. The weapons provisioned in this package must be manufactured from scratch and will not be delivered to Ukraine for months or even years.
  • Moscow police arrested American musician Travis Leake last week on drug charges after raiding his apartment and seizing what they described as paraphernalia for dealing drugs. Leake—a 51-year-old former U.S. paratrooper who sings in two musical groups in Moscow and publicly decried Russian government censorship in 2014—is reportedly being held until August 6. Drug charges have previously been used as a pretense for Russian authorities to detain American citizens, most recently WNBA player Brittney Griner.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Beijing on Sunday, following through with a planned visit that was canceled following the Chinese spy balloon incident in February. This week’s trip would represent the highest-level visit to China since then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the country in 2018 and mark a significant step in the Biden administration’s attempted thaw. But the public revelation Saturday that China has for years operated an electronic spying facility in Cuba to eavesdrop on U.S. communications may complicate the trip.
  • Boris Johnson on Friday resigned his post as a member of the United Kingdom’s parliament Friday after receiving a preview of an ethics report on whether he lied to parliament about parties held while he was prime minister during COVID-19 lockdowns. In a resignation statement Saturday, Johnson decried the investigation, led by the parliament’s privileges committee, as politically motivated. “Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts,” he said.
  • The Biden administration announced Friday Jason Owens will become the new head of the Border Patrol. Owens—a 27-year Border Patrol veteran–currently leads the agency’s Del Rio division in Texas. The current Border Patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, announced his retirement in May, and will step down from his post at the end of the month. Owens will be the third person to hold the position under President Joe Biden.
  • Nate Paul—the Austin real-estate investor at the heart of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment— was arrested and charged last week with eight counts of making false statements to credit agencies and mortgage lenders. The indictment does not mention Paxton, who is currently suspended from his position over allegations of abusing his office to benefit Paul, a campaign donor and friend of the attorney general.
  • A northbound section of I-95 in Philadelphia collapsed Sunday morning after a tanker truck caught fire underneath it and damaged the interstate overpass. The truck is reportedly still stuck under the collapsed bridge, but authorities have not announced any injuries related to the fire and collapse. The incident chokes off a major East Coast artery—the four southbound lanes are also no longer structurally sound for traffic, and repairs will likely take months
  • Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin announced Friday he won’t run for U.S. Senate in 2024 against incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Gallagher said he intended to continue to focus on the bipartisan committee on China he chairs in the House. There’s currently an open GOP field for the Senate seat in the battleground state.
  • Ted Kaczynski–the infamous Unabomber—died Saturday, reportedly of suicide, at age 81 in the North Carolina prison where he was serving a life sentence. A Harvard-educated mathematician, Kaczynski’s opposition to industrialized life motivated his 17-year terrorist campaign, which included bombings that killed three people and injured more than 20 before his arrest in 1996.
  • Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic won his 23rd Grand Slam title Sunday at the French Open, beating Norwegian Casper Ruud. Iga Swiatek, from Poland, bested the unseeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic Saturday to win her third French Open title. In the world of horse racing, Arcangelo became the first woman-trained horse to win a Triple Crown race at the Belmont Stakes Saturday.

Here We Go

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks June 10, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks June 10, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

After eight years of this, you’d think GOP elected officials and commentators would have learned their lesson: Do not go out on a limb for Donald Trump, because he will saw it off behind you—and drop an anvil on your head for good measure.

Yet on Thursday night—minutes after Trump announced on Truth Social he’d been indicted a second time—dozens of prominent Republicans were out with scathing statements impugning special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation and defending the former president. “If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic,” Sen. Josh Hawley said. Sen. Marco Rubio accused “these people” of “ripping our country apart” to “protect their power [and] destroy those who threaten it.” Rep. Jim Banks complained that Democrats were “throwing away 247 years of American democracy over a records case.”

Less than 18 hours later, the Justice Department (DOJ) unsealed the actual indictment against Trump—and those three lawmakers’ Twitter accounts went noticeably silent on the subject.

That will surely change in the coming days as they face questions from reporters and have to formulate a response, but the post-indictment silence over the weekend—from three of the GOP’s loudest Trump supporters (and China hawks)—says a lot about what the former president is actually alleged to have done. Even Trump-friendly legal analyst Jonathan Turley admitted Friday the indictment is “extremely damning,” and Bill Barr—Trump’s hand-picked attorney general—told Fox News yesterday that if “even half” of the DOJ’s allegations are true, Trump is “toast.”

As we reported last November, Attorney General Merrick Garland—citing concerns about a potential conflict of interest—appointed longtime prosecutor Jack Smith to serve as a special counsel overseeing two separate probes into the former president. The first focused on January 6 and Trump’s efforts to remain in power following the 2020 presidential election. The second—and more clear-cut—investigation had to do with Trump’s alleged retention of classified documents and other presidential records. 

Court filings and media reports had for months kept observers aware of the general contours of the latter inquiry—and federal prosecutors signaled last week an indictment was imminent—but the evidence laid out by Smith and his team on Friday was stunning nonetheless. All told, Trump is facing 37 charges: 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, three counts of concealing or withholding documents in a federal investigation, and two counts of making false statements and scheming to conceal his continued possession of classified documents. Walt Nauta—a Navy veteran who served as a White House valet before transitioning to work for Trump in a personal capacity—was also indicted on Friday, and faces six similar charges.

“We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone,” Smith said in brief remarks after the indictment was unsealed. “Applying those laws. Collecting facts. That’s what determines the outcome of an investigation. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

In 44 double-spaced pages that rely on text messages, surveillance footage, and audio recordings, the special counsel’s team detailed a harebrained plot cooked up by Trump—and executed by Nauta—to keep dozens of boxes of classified documents and presidential records that ended up at Mar-a-Lago in January 2021 rather than the National Archives where they belonged. 

On May 11, 2022—after months of back and forth that eventually led the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to refer the matter to the DOJ—Trump was hit with a subpoena requiring him to turn over any material with classification markings remaining at Mar-a-Lago. He’d already relented and returned some 15 boxes a few months earlier, but NARA knew plenty more were still missing. Trump did too. According to notes compiled by his lawyer at the time, however, the former president didn’t want to comply.

“What happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?” Trump reportedly asked the attorney. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” The two eventually agreed the lawyer would come back in a few days to conduct a search of the property for any additional classified material, but in the intervening period, Trump—unbeknownst to his attorney—allegedly instructed Nauta to move approximately 64 additional boxes of material from a Mar-a-Lago storage area to the former president’s personal residence. Only about 30 of the boxes were later returned, meaning Trump’s lawyers unknowingly conducted an incomplete review when they foraged through the room for classified documents in early June—and certified that a “diligent search” had been conducted.

The documents Trump sought to retain weren’t mere “mementos” and “press clippings” from his time in office, as many of his allies had insisted. According to Smith, the former president had absconded with documents relating to the “defense and weapons capabilities” of both the United States and other countries, various U.S. nuclear programs, “potential vulnerabilities” of the U.S. and its allies to military attack, and “plans for possible retaliation” to a foreign attack. In addition to the obvious military ramifications, information like this in the wrong hands could—as intelligence community veteran Klon Kitchen told us back in August—jeopardize the lives of American operatives and sources around the globe.

Trump, by all accounts, didn’t treat the material accordingly. The indictment includes several photographs, each depicting the boxes stored in a more haphazard manner than the last: on the stage in one of Mar-a-Lago’s ballrooms, next to a toilet in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, tipped over and sprawled across the floor of a storage room. The third photo—of the spilled documents, including at least one marked SECRET and for members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance only—was taken by Nauta, who texted the picture to another Trump employee. “I opened the door and found this…,” he said. After a few minutes, the other employee replied: “Oh no oh no.” It’s not clear from the indictment whether the employees were simply concerned about the mess, or if they believed someone had accessed and rifled through the material. Intelligence officials have long worried about the ease with which foreign spies could infiltrate Mar-a-Lago, and at least two Chinese nationals have been arrested in recent years for trespassing on the property.

At least twice in the summer of 2021, according to Smith, Trump showed highly classified material to visitors without security clearances. At his Bedminster golf club in August or September, for example, the former president met with a “representative of his political action committee” and showed him or her a “classified map related to a military operation” that he openly admitted he should not be sharing. In July, Trump was meeting with a writer and publisher—reportedly working on Mark Meadows’ memoir—when he pulled out a “plan of attack” he said had been prepared for him by the Pentagon.

“It is like, highly confidential,” Trump said, reportedly seeking to discredit Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against whom he harbored a grudge. “This was done by the military and given to me.” He seemed to ask an aide if the information could be included in the book, before quickly realizing it hadn’t been declassified. “See as president I could have declassified it,” Trump supposedly said. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

Those words, if accurately recounted in the indictment, seem to establish mens rea—demonstrating Trump knew he was doing something wrong—and drive a stake in the former president’s argument that he had declassified all the material in question en masse before leaving the White House. That didn’t stop a few particularly Trump-loyal Republicans from carrying the torch over the weekend. “Prosecuting a president over his own government’s documents is turning a political issue into a legal one,” Sen. J.D. Vance wrote on Saturday. “Does Article 2 mean anything? If so Trump did nothing wrong.”

The former president himself made the same claim on Saturday. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he told Politico’s Alex Isenstadt aboard his plane, making clear he will “never” drop out of the 2024 race despite his mounting legal woes. “These are thugs and degenerates who are after me.” His rhetoric grew increasingly violent at a state GOP event in Georgia, where he described his campaign as the “final battle,” where either the “Communists win and destroy America” or “we destroy the Communists.” At the same event, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake declared prosecutors would have to go through her and 75 million Trump voters—many of whom are “card-carrying members” of the National Rifle Association. “That’s not a threat,” she said. “That’s a public service announcement.”

Speaking of 2024, Trump’s rivals for the nomination were relatively muted over the weekend, with Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson the only candidates willing to actually knock him over the allegations. Vivek Ramaswamy promised to pardon Trump immediately if he were elected, while Nikki Haley argued the indictment was “not how justice should be pursued in our country.” Mike Pence made clear “no one is above the law,” but added that he viewed the indictment of a former president as “deeply troubling.” 

Ron DeSantis—Trump’s closest competitor—uttered a quick aside about how he’d have been “court-martialed in a New York minute” if he mishandled classified documents while in the military, but went on to target the Justice Department for what he considered its unequal enforcement. “Is there a different standard for a Democrat secretary of state versus a former Republican president?” he asked. “I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country. Let’s enforce it on everybody and make sure we all know the rules.”

As Trump prepares for his arraignment in Miami on Tuesday—with an almost entirely new legal team after two of his lawyers abruptly resigned Friday—expect him and his allies to make that double-standard argument early and often. “Many officials, from Secretary Hillary Clinton to then-Senator Joe Biden, handled classified info after their time in office & were never charged,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Friday. “Now Biden’s leading political opponent is indicted—a double standard that must be investigated.” (Biden himself has kept a low-profile on Trump’s indictment, telling reporters he had no influence on the Justice Department’s decision while the White House claimed he first learned of the charges through news reports.)

If a number of leaders were found to have engaged in the same behavior and only one was charged, that would indeed represent a miscarriage of justice—and reasonable people (including old friend David French) can believe former FBI Director James Comey erred in not indicting Hillary Clinton over the private email server she used as secretary of state. The special counsel probe into Biden over his retention of classified material is ongoing—though unlikely to wrap up soon—while the Justice Department informed Pence earlier this month it had closed its inquiry into him on similar grounds.

Trump expressed frustration with Pence’s exoneration—“I’m at least as innocent as he is”—but a number of prosecutors have argued Trump could have similarly avoided charges if he had simply cooperated with the federal government and returned it. “The conduct that Donald Trump engaged in was completely self-inflicted,” Christie told CNN over the weekend. “He could have avoided all of this if he had just returned the documents at any point if he hadn’t taken them in the first place. But once he took them, if he had returned them at any time between January 2021 and August of 2022, he wouldn’t be here tonight and the country wouldn’t be here.”

Barr—Trump’s onetime attorney general—agreed. “This idea of presenting Trump as a victim here or a victim of a witch hunt is ridiculous,” he told Fox News Sunday. “Yes, he’s been a victim in the past. His adversaries have obsessively pursued him with phony claims. And I’ve been at his side defending against them when he is a victim. But this is much different. He’s not a victim here. He was totally wrong that he had the right to have those documents. Those documents are among the most sensitive secrets that the country has.”

Worth Your Time

  • In dozens of Washington war games predicting the results of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the U.S. loses the resulting conflict, Michael Hirsh writes in this deeply reported piece for Politico. What can we do about it? “Now may be the time for a radical shift in defense thinking,” Hirsh argues. “First, this would mean de-emphasizing traditional platforms like expensive, and newly vulnerable, aircraft carriers and moving to exploit the best of U.S. high tech advantages… After Pearl Harbor, Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto was famously said to have warned (though the quote is apocryphal) that he thought all Japan had achieved with the surprise attack was to ‘awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’ That is pretty much what happened, and the United States utterly destroyed Japan’s military machine. But now, says [former Obama defense official Seth] Jones, the giant is ‘lying in bed still. Its eyes are open and it’s recognizing there’s a problem. But it’s got to get out of bed.’”
  • “Miracle, miracle, miracle, miracle.” These words crackling over army radios last week broke the news that rescuers had found four children—ages 13, nine, four, and one—who had been missing for 40 days in the Colombian jungle after the plane they were riding in crashed, eventually killing their mother. The eldest used survival skills she’d learned from their indigenous community to keep her siblings alive. “After the crash, Lesly built makeshift shelters from branches held together with her hair ties. She also recovered Fariña, a type of flour, from the wreckage of the Cessna 206 plane they had been traveling in. … But they still faced significant challenges surviving in the inhospitable environment,” Matt Murphy reports for the BBC. “By the time the children were discovered, about 150 troops and 200 volunteers from local indigenous groups were involved in the operation, which was combing an area of over 300km sq (124sq miles). ‘This isn’t a search for a needle in a haystack, it’s a tiny flea in a vast carpet, because they keep moving,’ [search commander Gen. Pedro] Sanchez told reporters during the hunt. But on Friday, after a month-long search, specialist rescue dogs found the children.”

Presented Without Comment

The Verge: DeSantis Attack Ad Uses Fake AI Images of Trump Embracing Fauci

Also Presented Without Comment

Axios: N.C. Republicans Censure U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis for His Bipartisan Deals

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Wall Street Journal: George Soros Hands Control to His 37-Year-Old Son: ‘I’m More Political’

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew covers the GOP primary field’s response to the Trump indictment while Haley checks in on the reaction on the Hill. Jonah tries to make sense of Republicans’ insistence Trump is innocent while Nick explains why (🔒) the former president himself thinks he is. Chris, meanwhile, turns his attention to Hunter Biden. 
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David break down the Trump indictment in an emergency episode of Advisory Opinions, while Jonah mulls the indictment and Chris Licht’s departure from CNN on the Remnant
  • On the site over the weekend: Christopher J. Scalia argues PBS’s Tom Jones adaptation misses the mark, John Guaspari takes stock of the effects of the MLB rules changes, and Price explains the Trump indictment. 
  • On the site today: Chris writes on the coinciding legal and political woes of Trump, Boris Johnson, and Nicola Sturgeon. Plus, Audrey reports from Trump’s Georgia stopover, where some of the former president’s staunchest supporters remain steadfast despite the indictment. 

Let Us Know

In 2016, FBI Director James Comey declined to charge Hillary Clinton because prosecutors did not find “clearly intentional” and “willful mishandling” of classified information or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to “support an inference of intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice.”

Do you think the evidence Jack Smith laid out against Donald Trump on Friday meets that test? If you’re frustrated Clinton was not charged in 2016, do you think Trump should be immune from similar prosecution?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.