A Criminal Law Expert Explains the Indictment of Trump

Donald Trump Indicted on National Security Charges: A Criminal Law Scholar’s Take

On June 9, 2023, federal prosecutors unsealed a 49-page indictment against former President Donald J. Trump, detailing his alleged violations of national security laws and obstruction of justice. The indictment includes 38 felony charges, with 31 counts relating to the withholding of national defense information, five counts for concealing possession of classified documents, and two counts for giving false statements.

Trump’s alleged criminal activity includes keeping classified government documents scattered in boxes across his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after his presidency ended in 2021 and sharing classified national defense information with individuals without any security clearance. US special prosecutor Jack Smith, appointed to oversee the investigation, seeks a speedy trial consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused.

The Personal Involvement of Donald Trump

One striking detail in the unsealed indictment is Donald Trump’s extensive personal involvement in the alleged activity, taking on tasks usually reserved for professionals. Criminal law scholar Gabriel J. Chin notes that this personal involvement may pose challenges to prosecutors given the need to hold Trump responsible for an affidavit that included untrue statements about not having the documents that the government was asking him to return.

Conspiracy Charges Against Trump and Aide Walt Nauta

Another interesting aspect of the indictment is count 32, which focuses on conspiracy and charges against Trump, his aide Walt Nauta, and “others known and unknown to the grand jury.” According to Chin, the US attorney general may reserve the right to name other conspirators who assisted Trump in his activities. The question remains whether these other individuals were innocent dupes or knowing participants in the criminality.

Why Focus on Movement of Boxes?

The movement of boxes that held classified information at Mar-a-Lago is central to the charges, as all of the counts require some sort of intent on Trump’s part. Prosecutors must demonstrate that Trump’s actions were intentional and calculated. Prosecutors want to explain why the charges are justified and show that this is not a situation where a few documents accidentally got mixed in.

Felony Charges and Sentencing Guidelines

The sentencing guidelines may lead to a relatively short sentence or no incarceration at all, but Trump could potentially be sentenced to the maximum on each count. If Trump were to be convicted on all counts and receive the maximum sentence on each count to run consecutively, he could face a sentence of up to 400 years. However, Chin believes such a sentence is unlikely given the judge’s discretion.


In summary, the unsealed indictment against Donald Trump alleges multiple violations of national security laws and obstruction of justice, with his extensive personal involvement in the alleged activity standing out as a key aspect. Conspiracy charges against Trump and his aide raise questions for prosecutors, while the focus on the movement of boxes underscores the need to prove intent. Sentencing guidelines may result in a relatively short sentence or no incarceration at all, but the judge ultimately holds significant power in sentencing a case like this.

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