What are Trump’s charges and possible sentences?

  • Donald Trump was indicted on charges related to classified documents at Mar-a-Lago
  • His former lawyer told CNN charges are connected to the Espionage Act 
  • The former president has maintained his innocence amid the probe
FILE - This image contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on Aug. 30, 2022, and partially redacted by the source,

FILE – This image contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on Aug. 30, 2022, and partially redacted by the source, shows a photo of documents seized during the Aug. 8 FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The Biden administration has begun sharing with a bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight classified documents found in the possession of Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. (Department of Justice via AP, File)

(NewsNation) — Former President Donald Trump was indicted on 37 formal charges after an investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

A monthlong special counsel probe was conducted after records were found last fall at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach estate. The FBI seized more than 100 documents in the Aug. 8 search, months after other boxes were voluntarily returned to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Willful Retention of National Defense Information (Counts 1-31)

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 10 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

This charge comes under section 18 U.S.C. §§ 793 of the Espionage Act. That section makes it a crime to remove, copy or share national defense information, or to ‘“willfully” retain that information, and fail to “deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”

A CNN report from last month showed federal prosecutors obtained an audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting where Trump acknowledged he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran.

Ryan Goodman, former special counsel for the Department of Defense and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security, wrote in a series of tweets after the CNN article came out that, “War plans are among the most highly classified documents.

“Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict,” he continued. “Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an ‘obstruction’ case. There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove.”

Former President William Howard Taft signed the Defense Secrets Act of 1911, which criminalized the collection of national defense information from military installations and facilities and sharing it, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act, which built on the 1911 law, albeit with new elements added in.

Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 20 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

According to the website of the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, obstruction of justice refers to those trying to “illegally prevent or influence the outcome of a government proceeding.”

This could mean tampering in a judicial proceeding, though the Cornell site points out there are “numerous” laws on obstruction of justice covering all branches of government.

“Instead of one law, law on obstruction of justice is located in multiple federal and state statutes, given the numerous methods in which obstruction can be carried out,” according to the site.

In April of this year, a Washington Post article detailed fresh evidence, gathered by the Justice Department and FBI investigators, that pointed to an obstruction charge. Using witness statements, security camera footage and other documentary evidence, the Post reported, investigators now suspect Trump personally examined at least some of the boxes of documents.

Investigators, according to the Post, also have evidence that Trump asked for advice from lawyers and advisers on how he could keep documents, even after some on his team told the former president he could not. Some advisers even warned Trump that keeping the documents could be legally perilous, the newspaper reported.

False Statements and Representations

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 5 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

Section 18 U.S.C. § 1001 was used to charge Trump.

According to the Department of Justice, terms for this statute are violated if someone:

  • Falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme or device a material fact
  • Makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations
  • Makes or uses any false writing or document, knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry

What has to be proven in a false statement charge, the DOJ says, is that the person did so willfully for the purpose of influencing the actions of enumerated agencies and organizations.

“Actual damage or reliance is not an essential element of the offense,” the DOJ wrote.

Withholding a Document or Record

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 20 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

Section 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (b)(2)(A), which was cited in the indictment, states that “whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person…or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to cause or induce any person to withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding” can get up to two decades in prison.

Corruptly Concealing a Document or Record

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 20 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

Section 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (c)(1) states that one cannot alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal a “record, document, or other object” with the intent to impair the its integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.

Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 20 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States…shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both,” Section 18 U.S.C. § 1519 states.

Scheme to Conceal

Maximum Term of Imprisonment: 5 years

Maximum Fine: $250,000

Under Section 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a) (1), anyone who “falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact” shall be sentenced to a maximum of five years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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