Key takeaways from the Justice Department indictment of Donald Trump

The Department of Justice made history on Friday, unsealing a 37-count indictment against former President Donald Trump related to his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.

No other president has ever faced federal charges, let alone the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence if convicted (an aide, Walt Nauta, was also charged with helping Trump conceal records).

Trump’s first court appearance in the case is scheduled for Tuesday in Miami; a trial could begin as he is in the midst of his third presidential run. Trump currently leads the Republican field by a wide margin.

The 49-page indictment was prepared by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed last year by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Smith had made no public statements until a press conference Friday, at which he accused Trump of “felony violations of our national security laws, as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice."

Here’s what you need to know about his indictment.

Read more from our partners: Indictment Brings Trump Story Full Circle

National security risk

Former President Donald Trump forces a smile, with flags draped behind him.
Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

When he left the White House in 2021, Trump took boxes of sensitive documents with him to Mar-a-Lago, his South Florida golf resort and residence. Those documents should have been turned over to the National Archives.

Trump’s seeming inability or refusal to grasp the necessity of protecting classified information is at the heart of Smith’s case, as the indictment makes clear:

“The classified documents TRUMP stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.

“The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods,” it continued.

Read more from our partners: How Trump’s Classified Documents Case Differs From Those Of Clinton, Biden And Pence

Careless storage and disclosure

The contents of a box including copies of the Washington Post is tipped onto the floor.
This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records on Dec. 7, 2021, in a storage room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. (Justice Department via AP)

Smith’s indictment is all the more damning because it includes photographs of the boxes in question stacked in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, or on a ballroom stage.

In one photograph, documents are seen spilling out of a box that has fallen over. What appear to be a clothes rack and guitar case loom in the background.

Trump also discussed classified materials with visitors. Smith obtained a recording of Trump talking with a visitor to his Bedminster, N.J., golf club:

TRUMP showed and described a “plan of attack” that TRUMP said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. TRUMP told the individuals that the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” TRUMP also said, “as president I could have declassified it, and, “Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.”

That recording undercuts claims that Trump did not know the documents in his possession were secret. On the contrary, he seemed to revel in that very fact.

Read more from Yahoo News: How Trump's GOP rivals reacted to his indictment in classified documents case

Effort to conceal

This image, included in the indictment, shows boxes of records piled in a stack eight boxes wide and seven boxes deep.
This image, contained in the indictment against Trump, shows boxes of records stored in the Lake Room at Mar-a-Lago. (Justice Department via AP)

According to the indictment, Trump tried to avoid having to turn over records even after the FBI issued a subpoena.

“Wouldn’t it be better,” he asked one of his attorneys in 2022, “if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”

Trump’s supporters have argued that his behavior was not materially different from that of other officials, including President Biden, who have been less than scrupulous in handling classified documents.

Smith, however, argued that a malicious intent was at work: “The purpose of the conspiracy was for TRUMP to keep classified documents he has taken with him from the White House and to hide and conceal them from a federal grand jury.”

Read more from our partners: How Trump’s Classified Documents Case Differs From Those Of Clinton, Biden And Pence

What comes around...

Hillary Clinton participates as a speaker at the main event of the 50th anniversary of the CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs), at the Capella del MACB.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at an event in Barcelona on June 2. (Photo By David Zorrakino/Europa Press via Getty Images)

During his 2016 campaign, Trump assailed his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, who had sent some 33,000 emails from a private email server during her time as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

The emails inspired elaborate conspiracy theories but also seemed at the time to legitimate long-standing concerns about Clinton’s trustworthiness.

Trump promised a more competent, professional regime. “In my administration, I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information,” he said at an August 2016 rally. “No one will be above the law.”

In the indictment, however, Trump praised the Clinton staff member he credited with deleting Clinton’s emails.

Read more from Yahoo News: Who is Jack Smith, the special counsel who secured an indictment against Trump?

A speedy trial?

Special counsel Jack Smith stands in front of the U.S. flag.
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“My office will seek a speedy trial in this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused,” Smith said at Friday’s press conference.

For now, the case has been assigned to Florida district judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump nominated to the federal bench in 2020. Some legal observers say she should recuse herself, but it is not clear that she has any intention of doing so.

That trial could begin as Trump tries to cement his position as the Republican nominee for president in next year’s election.

Read more from Yahoo News: Why critics are upset that Judge Aileen Cannon will preside over Trump's new criminal trial