May 24, 2024

The new Trump indictment, and what’s new in it, explained

Special prosecutor Jack Smith unexpectedly filed a new indictment against former President Donald Trump on Thursday night — a totally different indictment from the one many close watchers of Smith thought he might file today.

The new indictment, called a “superseding indictment” because it replaces a previous court filing laying out the charges against Trump, involves allegations that Trump illegally retained classified national security documents after he left the White House and could no longer lawfully possess them. The new indictment adds another charge of illegally retaining national security information, and it also accuses Trump of attempting to destroy surveillance video that was sought by federal investigators.

This case is being heard in a federal court in Florida and is entirely separate from another prosecution Smith is widely expected to bring against Trump in Washington, DC. Smith is also investigating Trump’s attempt to overthrow President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election and Trump’s potential involvement in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Smith’s office has already informed Trump that the former president is likely to face charges arising out of that investigation.

In any event, the biggest news in the new Florida indictment is that Trump allegedly instructed members of his staff to destroy surveillance video within his Mar-a-Lago residence, after Trump learned that the DOJ sought that video as part of its investigation into the national security documents kept at Trump’s residence.

The indictment alleges that, after Trump’s lawyers learned that the DOJ would seek the surveillance footage, Trump spoke to two employees: his valet, Walt Nauta, and Carlos De Oliveira, the head of maintenance at Mar-a-Lago. These two employees then instructed a third Trump employee to delete the security footage — although it is not clear if the video was actually deleted. The indictment refers to an “attempt” to destroy security footage.

The indictment does not reveal what was said in many conversations among Nauta, De Oliveira, and Trump, but it does include a few key details linking Trump to the effort to destroy the video footage. At one point, De Oliveira allegedly told the third, unidentified Trump employee that “the boss” wanted the footage deleted. The indictment also alleges that Trump called De Oliveira and told his employee that he would get him a lawyer.

The new indictment charges Trump, Nauta, and De Oliveira — the latter of whom previously had not been charged with any crimes by Smith — with violating two different federal statutes during this attempt to destroy evidence.

The first makes it a crime if someone “corruptly … alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.” This statute should prohibit attempting to destroy video footage if that footage was being used in a grand jury investigation or similar proceeding.

The second statute, meanwhile, makes it a crime to “corruptly” try to persuade someone to alter or destroy evidence. Smith alleges that the three defendants violated this provision when they tried to get the third Trump employee to delete the surveillance footage.

The new indictment also includes a third charge against De Oliveira, alleging that he lied to the FBI when he was asked about whether he moved any of the boxes that arrived at Mar-a-Lago after Trump’s presidency.

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