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Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on 37 charges in a case centered on federal documents he took to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Florida, resort.
In 2022, the federal government recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Mar-a-Lago.
Presidents do have the authority to declassify documents, but the Justice Department said Trump gave no indication he declassified any of the sensitive material found at Mar-a-Lago.
Former President Donald Trump’s historic indictment on charges he mishandled classified documents drew scorn from some supporters.
Federal prosecutors charged him with more than three dozen counts, including willfully retaining national defense information, conspiring to obstruct justice and making false statements. The classified documents found at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort, contained information about defense and weapons, U.S. nuclear capabilities and its potential vulnerabilities, the indictment said.
But a June 9 Instagram post suggested the case is without merit: "They are trying to throw Trump in jail for the rest of his life for having a couple dozen documents that he had authority to declassify," read a screenshot of one Trump supporter’s tweet.
The post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
That downplays and distorts the charges Trump faces. The federal government has recovered hundreds of documents — not "a couple dozen" — with classified markings from Trump since he left office. The Justice Department said in an August 2022 filing there is no indication Trump declassified any of this material.
This is the second time Trump has been indicted in recent months. The first involved charges brought by a Manhattan grand jury stemming from a $130,000 hush money payment in 2016 to adult film actor Stormy Daniels. The classified documents case marks the first time a former president has faced federal charges.
The indictment includes 37 counts against Trump, some of which are shared with his personal aide at Mar-a-Lago, Walt Nauta.
Of those, 31 counts, solely against Trump, involve the "willful retention of national defense information," relating to his unauthorized possession and storage of federal documents, some of which were classified;
One count against Trump and Nauta involves a conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding and concealing documents;
One count against Trump and Nauta involves withholding a document from a grand jury;
One count against Trump and Nauta involves corruptly concealing a document or record from a grand jury;
One count against Trump and Nauta involves concealing a document in a federal investigation;
One count against Trump and Nauta involves a scheme to conceal classified documents from the grand jury and the FBI;
And finally, one count each on making false statements and representations was charged to Trump and Nauta separately.
In total, the government recovered 337 documents with classification markings from Trump last year, according to the indictment.
After leaving office in January 2021, Trump failed to cooperate with the National Archives and return missing presidential records for more than a year. In January 2022, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. These boxes contained 197 documents considered confidential, secret or top secret.
In June 2022, one of Trump’s lawyers went to Mar-a-Lago to search for additional documents in response to a grand jury subpoena. The lawyer found 38 more documents marked classified in boxes at the resort and turned them over to the FBI.
Then, in August 2022, the FBI, with a search warrant in hand, retrieved another batch of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. This search recovered 102 classified documents, found in Trump’s office and a storage room.
Under the Presidential Records Act, all of these sensitive documents should have been transferred to the National Archives at the end of Trump’s presidency.
Trump claimed during a May 10 CNN town hall that the classified documents "become automatically declassified when I took them" after leaving the White House. But this is unsupported by legal precedent.
Presidents have an unusual degree of authority to declassify documents. But there’s judicial precedent that counters Trump’s belief in what might be called "in-brain declassification."
In three legal cases during the Trump presidency, courts rejected the idea that a president can declassify simply by tweeting or issuing a news release and not following up through more formalized processes involving executive agencies. That’s more concrete action than the "automatic" declassification Trump cited.
There is no indication that Trump followed government procedure to declassify any of the sensitive material seized at Mar-a-Lago.
According to the indictment, Trump showed classified documents to others on at least two occasions. Trump also acknowledged the material had not been declassified.
In July 2021, when he was no longer president, Trump gave an interview at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club with a writer and a publisher. Two of Trump’s staff members were also present. During the interview, Trump showed all four people, who did not have security clearances, a document that he called "highly confidential" and "secret information," the indictment said.
"See, as president I could have declassified it," Trump said then. "Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret."
An Instagram post claimed "they are trying to throw Trump in jail for the rest of his life for having a couple dozen documents that he had authority to declassify."
Federal prosecutors indicted Trump on 37 counts for mishandling classified documents. The government has recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. There is no documentation showing that Trump followed procedure to declassify any of this material.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact Staff Writers Jeff Cercone, Louis Jacobson and Amy Sherman contributed to this article.
CORRECTION, June 13, 2023: This version corrects the location of Trump's interview with an author and publisher. It occurred at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Instagram post, June 9, 2023
PolitiFact, "Read Donald Trump’s indictment in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation," June 9, 2023
U.S. Code, "Title 18, Section 793 - Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information," accessed June 12, 2023
U.S. Code, "Title 18, Section 1512 - Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant," accessed June 12, 2023
U.S. Code, "Title 18, Section 1519 - Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy," accessed June 12, 2023
U.S. Code, "Title 18, Section 1001 - Statements or entries generally," accessed June 12, 2023
National Archives, "Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978," accessed June 12, 2023
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, "James Madison Project v. U.S. Dep't of Justice," March 3, 2020
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, "The New York Times, et al., v. Central Intelligence Agency," July 9, 2020
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, "Leopold et al v. U.S. Department of Justice et al," Sept. 3, 2020
Department of Justice, "Response to Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief," Aug. 30, 2022
PolitiFact, "Read the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, what agents took,"
PolitiFact, "Could Donald Trump declassify documents with just a thought? Three legal precedents say no," Sept. 23, 2022
PolitiFact," Read the 34 felony charges in the Donald Trump indictment over the Stormy Daniels payoff," April 4, 2023
The Associated Press, "EXPLAINER: Declassification in spotlight during Trump probe," Sept. 22, 2022
The New York Times, "Trump Had More Than 300 Classified Documents at Mar-a-Lago," Aug. 23, 2022
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