President Donald Trump had to hold onto the reams of classified documents he took with him — at any cost, and in any place.
In the Mar-a-Lago bathroom, in the club’s ballroom, a shower, a bedroom: that’s where, prosecutors say, Trump stashed records that ranged from attack plans on a foreign country to documents outlining the United States’ nuclear capabilities.
Trump faces 37 separate counts relating to his alleged retention of national defense information after leaving office and his attempt to cover it up — including what prosecutors described as devious and ham-handed efforts to con his own attorney into lying to the FBI.
The indictment unveiled Friday is a sweeping document which alleges striking and brazen criminality from the moment that Trump left office. It uses many of the former President’s own political statements as a cudgel, particularly those in which he harped on his opponents’ supposedly poor attention to classified records handling policy. He comes across in prosecutor’s portrayal as a combination of master manipulator and clumsy oaf, alternately dispatching his valet Walt Nauta to move boxes of records out of the eyes of his legal team while loudly hinting to his own attorneys that Hillary Clinton’s lawyer simply deleted records sought by the government, and thereby took the fall.
At its core, the prosecutors say this: Trump took documents with him after he left office, which included information about the “nuclear weaponry of the United States,” “military attacks by a foreign country,” and foreign support of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.
The government sought the return of the records but, prosecutors said, Trump brandished them to others privately and looked for ways to hold onto them.
In one late summer 2021 encounter at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf resort, Trump was whiling away the hours with a person from his PAC.
The former President remarked that the U.S. was doing poorly in a foreign military operation, before unfurling what prosecutors describe as a “classified map of Country B.” Trump then beckoned, telling the PAC person that he shouldn’t show him the map, warning him not to “get too close.”
At other points, prosecutors say that the records were haphazardly thrown around, and stayed at multiple locations around Mar-a-Lago, including a shower, a ballroom, and a storage unit.
Nauta, prosecutors say, walked into the storage room in December 2021, only to find that a stack of boxes had collapsed, and a secret-marked record revealing “five eyes” access was strewn on the floor.
“I opened the door and found this…” Nauta allegedly texted another employee, along with a photo.
Prosecutors began to bear down on Trump in spring 2022, with the FBI opening a criminal investigation in March of that year and a grand jury being empaneled in April.
The first subpoena for records went to Trump in May, where he met with his attorneys — a group that, at the time, included lawyer Evan Corcoran. The feds wanted Trump to hand over any and all records bearing classification markings.
Prosecutors only charged Trump and Nauta with conduct that took place after the grand jury issued its first subpoena, on May 11.
Trump mused to the group about several options, prosecutors said, including wondering what would happen “if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them,” and suggested that maybe it would be better if the group just told the FBI that nothing was there.
That’s when Trump allegedly brought up several times his belief about what Hillary Clinton’s attorney would have done in their shoes. “You know what? He said, he said that it – that it was him,” Trump purportedly said.
Corcoran and Trump agreed that Corcoran would come back to Mar-a-Lago on June 2 to conduct a search for records to provide under the subpoena, the indictment says.
Trump allegedly used his valet, Nauta, to then play what prosecutors depict as a shell game with the records. Nauta allegedly moved 64 documents from storage into Trump’s residence, at one point texting with a member of Trump’s family who he addressed as “ma’am” that Trump “wanted to pick from” the documents.
And in the hours before Corcoran appeared at Mar-a-Lago on June 2, Trump allegedly had Nauta move 30 boxes of records out of the storage room that the attorney would search later that day.
When Corcoran arrived, Trump allegedly kept up the show, trying to befuddle his lawyer into helping him dodge the subpoena. At a Mar-a-Lago dining room, Corcoran recalled in a record cited by prosecutors that Trump suggested he take a folder with classified records to his hotel safe, and then made a “funny motion” with his hands. Corcoran understood that to mean, “pluck it out.”
FBI agents and DOJ Counterintelligence Section Chief Jay Bratt appeared at Mar-a-Lago the next day.
There, Corcoran had Trump attorney Christina Bobb sign a certification affirming a belief that, prosecutors suggest, was the product of Trump’s deception: that the attorneys conducted a thorough search in response to the subpoena. At the meeting, prosecutors say, Trump himself stopped by to tell federal law enforcement reps that he was an “open book.”
When the FBI executed search warrants on the resort in August, they say that they found dozens more classified records.
In response to the indictment, Trump has mostly reacted by doing what he’s done for years: claiming that he’s the victim, and projecting his grievances. In one Friday afternoon post, he assailed the photo of records strewn about his storage room, trying to set the stage for a conspiracy theory by asking “who opened it?”
Of course, federal prosecutors will tell you in the indictment itself that the problem here is partly that anyone could have “opened it.”
What shines through is Trump’s detailed knowledge of the papers and their contents from when he left office until the August 2022 searches. It’s not just him brandishing them to the PAC person, or using them to portray Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley as an inveterate hawk; at numerous points in the months after he left office, Mar-a-Lago staff seem aware in the indictment of Trump’s fixation on the records.
In one April 2021 exchange, an employee wrote that Trump had “specifically asked” Nauta to keep the records in the business center because those were ”his papers.”
The same person eventually added that “anything that’s not the beautiful mind paper boxes can go to storage.”
This is a developing story and will be updated. Read the indictment below.