Photo By Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons: Former President Donald Trump was indicted on 37 counts for allegedly hoarding classified documents after leaving office, mishandling them, and trying to hide them from investigators. He is shown here in a rally in 2020.
By Lillie Boudreaux/Cronkite News
WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers’ reaction to the historic indictment of former President Donald Trump for allegedly hoarding classified intelligence documents was swift – and partisan – Friday.
While Democrats said the legal process should be allowed to play out, Republicans flew to Trump’s defense, calling the indictment politically motivated.
“We have now reached a war phase,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, tweeted Friday. “Eye for an eye.”
But Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, said the country “is setting important history with this indictment.”
“The unprecedented announcement of federal criminal charges against former President Donald Trump demonstrates that our democracy and independent judicial system are strong and will not waiver in the face of corruption and abuses of power,” Grijalva said in a press release.
The indictment was handed up Thursday by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida and first announced by Trump on social media – along with appeals to donate to his defense.
The 37-count indictment includes 31 counts of “willful retention of national defense information” for failure to turn over classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort that are related to national defense. It also includes counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, concealing documents, and making false statements.
The indictment, which was unsealed Friday, includes a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Trump showed a writer, a publisher, and two Trump staffers, none of whom had security clearance, a classified document. That document outlined what the indictment called plans of attack on a foreign country, plans that Trump told his visitors were “secret” and “highly confidential,” according to the indictment.
It also includes text conversations in which employees discuss moving boxes of documents to different rooms around Mar-A-Lago, which was open to thousands of visitors during the time the boxes were there. Photos included with the indictment show dozens of boxes in various rooms at the resort, including some stacked in a bathroom.
A grand jury subpoena in May 2022 demanded that Trump produce all classified documents in his possession. But attorneys who worked for Trump at the time were cited in the indictment as saying he did not want anyone looking through the boxes and asked what would happen if they lied about possessing any documents.
The indictment said Trump directed an aide, Walt Nauta, to bring boxes from storage to his residence before they could be inspected. It said Nauta took about 64 boxes to the residence but returned only about 30 boxes before Trump’s attorney searched them on June 2, when he found 38 classified documents.
Nauta, who had worked for Trump in the White House, was also indicted Thursday in connection with the handling of documents.
After surveillance video showed staff moving boxes of documents throughout Mar-A-Lago, the FBI executed a search warrant in August 2022 that turned up 102 additional classified documents. Of those, 17 were top secret – meaning “the unauthorized disclosure of that information reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” the indictment said.
Trump could face decades in prison and more than $1 million in fines if convicted on all counts. He said he is scheduled to appear in federal court in Miami for an initial appearance Tuesday.
In a tweet before the indictment was unsealed Friday, Rep. Eli Crane, R-Oro Valley, said the charges against Trump are bogus and called the investigation a political witch hunt. That was a theme repeated by many of the Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
“Another phony indictment to try and take down the Democrats’ greatest threat to their woke ideology and mob mentality,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Bullhead City, said in a statement.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and others accused the Justice Department of failing to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by President Joe Biden.
That includes the fact that Biden – and former Vice President Mike Pence – were also found to have classified documents in their possession after they left office. Both Pence and Biden cooperated with federal officials, however, and returned the documents once they were discovered.
The reaction from Arizona Democrats was more measured.
“This is now in the hands of the judiciary system. We need to preserve and enhance the rule of law,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “The president (Trump) has a right to due process and we should, as politicians, step back and let the judiciary process take over at this point.”
That was echoed by Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who emphasized the rule of law.
“Any charges against a former president are serious and must be reviewed with the scrutiny required by our Constitution and laws to ensure justice,” Kelly said in an emailed statement. “The justice system must remain independent and free of political interference.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, both said they will not comment on an ongoing case.
Grijalva pushed back against Republican claims that Trump’s handling of classified documents is the same as Biden’s or Pence, saying the “allegations stand in stark contrast.”
“The former president will receive the same constitutional rights as everyone else to have his case heard by a judge and jury of his peers,” Grijalva said.