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By Zachary B. Wolf and Curt Merrill, CNN
Updated July 28, 2023
Editor’s Note: This story originally published on June 9. It has been updated to reflect a new version of the indictment released by the Department of Justice on July 27.
Former President Donald Trump faces his first federal indictment for retention of classified documents and conspiracy with a top aide and an employee at Mar-a-Lago to hide them from the government and his own attorneys. Trump now faces a total of 40 counts and two employees face additional counts.
The case pits the federal government against the man who could very well win the next election to become president once again.
The detailed indictment was filed in Florida in June and updated in July. It marks the beginning of a legal process that will coincide with the Republican primary and the presidential campaign.
An annotated version of what’s known as a superseding indictment, along with shocking photos of boxes of classified material openly stored in a ballroom and in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago, is below.
Presidents can and do have access to any information the government possesses, and the government has a legitimate need to keep some secrets about intelligence gathering and defense capabilities, including its nuclear arsenal.
The US Intelligence Community is comprised of 18 distinct agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency and elements of the Department of Defense.
This new, superseding indictment adds allegations of violating a section of US law with regard to tampering with evidence.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who has paid much attention to Trump. He’s a collector of keepsakes and other things that cross his desk. As president, classified material crossed his desk. He kept it in boxes along with the rest of his mementos.
But the nonspecific details we’re given about his keepsakes is quite interesting: classified details about the US nuclear program, plans for attacks and more.
That he should not have kept this material is clear. One thing his supporters will argue is that there is nothing in this indictment that suggests the material got into the wrong hands or that the United States suffered as a result of Trump taking them.
Trump knew material was classified. The indictment details improper storage of the documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but both instances of Trump displaying them are at his summer residence: his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
One of these instances CNN has detailed. The meeting had to do with two people helping former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows with his autobiography.
The military official is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who is still the nation’s top general. The country is Iran. Trump was disputing a report that Milley worried he would try to attack Iran.
Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. The government thinks it can prove Trump intentionally tried to interfere with the investigation by having material moved.
Meet Walt Nauta. Few Americans knew the name of Trump’s aide before the indictment. Nauta is a former US Navy petty officer who served as Trump’s military valet in the White House and followed him to Mar-a-Lago. The government says he was Trump’s accomplice in hiding classified documents.
The superseding indictment added point “f,” which has to do with the deletion of security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago.
With this updated indictment, we are also introduced to a new alleged co-conspirator, Carlos De Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump often complains that other presidents who kept classified documents are not targeted for prosecution. That’s not completely true since there is a special counsel also investigating President Joe Biden.
More importantly, those officials do not generally seek to hide the material. The National Archives tried repeatedly to get documents back from Trump. The government says despite repeated attempts to get the documents, Trump failed to turn all of them over before the FBI seized them.
Nauta. You’re going to read a lot about Nauta in this indictment. Read more about him.
Mar-a-Lago. Sounds like a nice place. Here’s a look inside.
Secret Service. You can imagine that Trump will argue Mar-a-Lago was secure because he had Secret Service protection. But the government points out that protecting classified material is not their job.
SCIF. These documents are not supposed to be reviewed in a Secret Service-secured place, but in a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF.
Classified information. The government’s system for classifying material is notably confusing and varies among the many different agencies that can classify material. They frequently disagree about what should be classified.
It’s worth mentioning that the US system for classifying material is so complicated that it should probably be revisited.
Even sitting intelligence officials have admitted the problem of overclassification is a national security risk.
There are, however, legitimate secrets. Plans of attack and specifics on nuclear weapons would seem to fall into that category.
“You’ll hear probably a talking point that will emerge in defense of the former president: We have an overclassification problem,” said former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican critic of Trump, appearing on CNN after the release of the initial indictment in June. “And we do have an overclassification problem. These are not documents that are overclassified.”
Intelligence briefings. During his presidency, Trump had little interest in keeping up with daily intelligence briefings, and a CIA report detailed that the Intelligence Community struggled to keep him briefed.
There would be some incredible irony if he were to be found guilty of keeping Intelligence Community briefs when he shouldn’t have.
These are just seven of the 18 members of the US Intelligence Community, which is overseen by the director of national intelligence.
Trump’s history of promising to protect information. Here the government reminds us that protecting classified material was actually a main platform of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Remember “lock her up?” The unwritten context is that Trump was bent on criticizing Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. When classified information was found on that server, Trump’s supporters would launch into chants of “lock her up!” during rallies.
Trump was briefed on what to do. CNN has previously reported that a former career White House official, who was in charge of advising the Trump and Obama administrations on the declassification process, testified to the special counsel that Trump knew the proper process for declassifying documents and followed it correctly at times while in office.
Photos of Trump’s boxes out in the open. This is something incredible. Here are Trump’s boxes of mementos, which include classified material, literally displayed on a stage in a ballroom where events were held. The documents were in the location for months, according to the indictment.
Most of the people at Mar-a-Lago are Trump employees and club members, but there are also guests at events.
The place is far from secure, however. A simple internet search will yield multiple examples of Mar-a-Lago intruders.
Put them in the bathroom. Employees discussed where to keep the boxes after they needed more office space. They settled on keeping the boxes in a bathroom and shower.
The indictment does not say whether the bathroom was unused during the period when the documents were kept there. The trash can with a trash bag, as seen in the photo below, suggests it was in fact in use.
Like a game of Clue. The various locations where Trump allegedly stored classified documents read like a Mar-a-Lago-specific game of Clue: “in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.”
Tens of thousands of people could have had access, according to the indictment.
However, and this is worth noting, the indictment does not document any harm that came as a result of the improperly stored material.
A suspicious flood. It’s not mentioned in the indictment, but CNN has reported that a Mar-a-Lago employee drained the resort’s swimming pool last October and ended up flooding a room where computer servers containing surveillance video logs were kept.
Five Eyes documents spilled on the floor and then were photographed. The documents that spilled onto the floor included the marking “FVEY.”
The Five Eyes are the United States and its closest allies — the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They share some of the most sensitive information with each other.
Laughter. Trump appeared to be joking around in the recording as he discussed the Iran war plans that he said refuted a story in The New Yorker about Milley.
“I just found, isn’t this amazing? This totally wins my case, you know.”
Expands on CNN’s previous reporting on the audio recording. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Hannah Rabinowitz note that the audio recording was “recorded with Trump’s knowledge and consent,” according to the indictment. And as soon as he greeted the two people writing the Meadows autobiography and two staff members, he told them to read it.
“Look what I found, this was (Milley’s) plan of attack, read it and just show … it’s interesting,” the indictment says Trump said.
“Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.” Trump asked a staffer if the war plans could be declassified. He clearly knew that he had lost the ability to declassify things now that he’s no longer president.
Country B. We know that Country A is Iran. We do not yet know who the PAC official is or which country is represented in the classified map Trump showed off.
Warnings. In the months after he left the White House, Trump went back and forth with the National Archives and Records Administration about missing records. Losing patience in June 2022, they warned him repeatedly that if he did not turn the documents over, they would refer the case to the Department of Justice.
Trump was actively involved. Nauta corresponded with another employee by text message about the boxes, and apparently Trump was shown a photograph of where they were being stored.
The suggestion here is that he kept some boxes in his residence and others in the Mar-a-Lago storage room. He is referenced as discussing the boxes both with Nauta and “Trump Employee 2.” Trump appeared to be going through the boxes one by one.
Going through the boxes during the standoff with NARA. As Trump went through the boxes, his representative went back and forth with the National Archives. There seemed to be some urgency between the representatives and how fast Trump was going through the boxes.
Nauta’s FBI interview. CNN’s Jeremy Herb notes that prosecutors allege that Nauta lied to investigators when he was interviewed by the FBI in May 2022.
The indictment alleges that Nauta falsely said he was not aware of boxes being brought to Trump’s residence for his review before Trump provided 15 boxes to the National Archives in 2022. But Nauta himself had helped move boxes from the storage room to Trump’s residence, according to the indictment.
“Nauta did in fact know that the boxes in Pine Hall had come from the Storage Room, as Nauta himself, with the assistance of Trump Employee 2, had moved the boxes from the Storage Room to Pine Hall; and Nauta had observed the boxes in and moved them to various locations at The Mar-a-Lago Club,” the indictment states.
Asking lawyers to lie about “my boxes.” CNN’s Tierney Sneed notes that when lawyers for Trump met with him to discuss how to respond to a May 2022 subpoena seeking documents marked as classified at Mar-a-Lago, Trump allegedly suggested to them they should tell the Justice Department that they had no materials that needed to be turned over, according to the indictment.
“I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes,” Trump said, as recounted by the indictment, which cited how one of the attorneys had “memorialized” the conversation.
While the Trump team ultimately turned over some documents in response to the May subpoena, weeks later the FBI conducted a search of Mar-a-Lago and found about 100 more records with classified markings.
One question. When the attorney is said to have “memorialized” the conversation, is that a recording? Notes?
Hiding material from his own attorneys. After meeting with attorneys and setting a date to go through the boxes, Trump delayed his trip to Bedminster, New Jersey, to be present.
But between the meetings, the indictment suggests Trump directed Nauta to move around 64 boxes out of the storage room and into his private residence.
No room on the plane for all those boxes. A female family member talked to Nauta about not taking boxes on a plane to Bedminster, New Jersey. Meanwhile, Nauta moved 11 boxes from the storage room.
Trump talked to his attorney about complying with the subpoena. The attorney presumably did not know that Trump and Nauta had been moving boxes out of the storage room.
Minute-by-minute box movement. CNN’s Sneed notes that the indictment lays out, at some points in detail by the minute, how Trump allegedly directed Nauta to move documents to and from the Mar-a-Lago storage room in the days before Trump’s attorney was set to search that room for classified documents being sought in a May 2022 grand jury subpoena.
All told, in the days leading up to the attorney’s search for the documents, Nauta moved 64 boxes from the storage room to the residence and then brought back to the storage room only 30 boxes, the indictment said.
Enter Evan Corcoran. “Attorney 1,” who is not named in the indictment, tracks with the role Corcoran played in searching for Mar-a-Lago for documents responsive to the May 2022 subpoena.
Trump had another conversation with his attorney on June 1, 2022, ahead of the attorney’s search for the documents slated to take place on June 2, 2022. After that conversation, Nauta and an unidentified employee of Mar-a-Lago moved 30 of the boxes that were in the residence back to the storage room, prosecutors say.
“Attorney 1” was not told that Trump had Nauta move boxes out of the storage room. But he did put the 38 classified documents he found in the storage room in a folder and duct-taped it.
A suggestion to “pluck” documents. CNN’s Sneed notes that after the attorney had done the search for the documents, according to the indictment, Trump discussed with the attorney what to do with 38 documents marked as classified that the attorney had found and placed in a folder.
“Did you find anything? … Is it bad? Good?” Trump allegedly said, and they discussed whether the attorney should bring the documents to his hotel room to keep them safe.
Trump allegedly made a “plucking motion” during the conversation, which the attorney memorialized as meaning: “okay why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out.”
“Attorney 1” certified something that wasn’t true. When he certified that he had complied with the subpoena to search Trump’s records, “Attorney 1” unwittingly said something that wasn’t true if he truly did not know that Trump and Nauta had moved boxes to Trump’s residence. Some of the boxes from Trump’s residence were crammed onto the full plane and flown to Bedminster, New Jersey.
De Oliveira. His name is added, along with Nauta “and others” from the original indictment.
This is an entirely new set of allegations, added in the superseding indictment.
Essentially, FBI agents noticed and then subpoenaed security camera footage. Trump talked to De Oliveira on the phone for around 24 minutes. Nauta changed travel plans from Illinois to Palm Beach, Florida. He gave shifting explanations to co-workers for this change of plan.
Before traveling to Palm Beach, Florida, from Bedminster, New Jersey, Nauta made sure the IT director at Mar-a-Lago would be in town. The unnamed employee said he would be, but that he was entertaining some out-of-town guests. Nauta tried to keep his trip quiet, according to the indictment.
CNN has reported that “Employee 4” is Yuscil Taveras, an IT worker who oversaw security footage at Mar-a-Lago.
De Oliveira ultimately took the IT director aside and asked him to delete the security footage, which was usually kept for around 45 days. The IT director said he didn’t know how and didn’t have the rights to do that, but De Oliveira was insistent that “the boss” wanted it done. Is “the boss” Trump? Nauta?
De Oliveira is referred to as walking through bushes to meet Nauta on an adjacent property. Is this an implication that Nauta was trying not to be seen?
What was recovered in the August 2022 FBI search? Realizing Trump had not turned over all of the documents, the FBI ultimately asked for a search warrant and went into Mar-a-Lago last August.
CNN’s Devan Cole notes FBI agents seized 27 documents from Trump’s office, according to the indictment. Of those, six were marked “Top Secret,” 18 were marked “Secret” and three were marked “Confidential.”
A total of 75 documents were seized by FBI agents from the storage room at the estate. Of those, 11 were marked “Top Secret,” 36 were marked “Secret” and 28 were marked “Confidential.”
This is another addition in the superseding indictment. Nauta asked around about De Oliveira’s loyalty and Trump apparently offered to get De Oliveira a lawyer.
An additional count is added in the “willful retention of national defense information” portion of the superseding document. CNN has reported it is the Iran attack plan Trump boasted of earlier in the indictment. More on that below.
Trump-only charges. That’s a total of 32 counts of “willful retention of national defense information” directed only at Trump. In theory, each could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Getting more specific. Here is a more specific itemized list of what the FBI recovered, but it lacks details about what is in the documents.
On item No. 3, a “document concerning military capabilities of a foreign country and the United States,” one wonders if the “handwritten annotation in black marker” is Trump’s personal note. He’s known to use sharpies.
ORCON and NOFORN. CNN’s Zachary Cohen notes that the indictment says Trump retained documents related to national defense that were classified at the highest levels, and some so sensitive they required special handling.
That includes one “Top Secret” document, dated June 2020, “concerning nuclear capabilities of a foreign county” found at Mar-a-Lago, according to the indictment.
This document was not only classified as “Top Secret” but included additional restrictions of “ORCON” and “NOFORN.”
Documents designated as “ORCON” cannot be disseminated outside of the department issuing it without approval. Those labeled “NOFORN” cannot be shared with foreign nationals.
Why keep this stuff? What’s not clear in any of this is why Trump was so bent on keeping some of this information.
Details would help, but was it nostalgia? Was he hoping to write a book? Why mislead his own attorney and the FBI to keep this specific stuff? Is there a purpose we don’t understand?
Drilling down on what these documents might cover. Searches of CNN news stories suggest what some of these documents might concern.
A document dated from March 2020 is concerning “military operations against United States forces and others.” That month, two Americans and a British soldier were killed in a rocket attack in a base in Iraq, according to a CNN report at the time. The United States blamed Iran for the attack.
Other documents are undated, such as one “concerning nuclear weaponry of the United States.”
Conspiracy. These are the charges focused on Trump and Nauta. And this is a restatement of much of what we’ve learned already, which is that the government says Trump and Nauta worked to hide and conceal documents to keep them from the government, which owned them.
De Oliveira was added to this portion in the superseding indictment. Another addition is violation of a portion of the criminal code that deals with encouraging a person to destroy something necessary to an official proceeding, presumably the security footage.
What is not shown in the indictment is that the documents fell into the wrong hands or that the United States was injured — other than its secrets were improperly handled.
The item about deleting security footage was added in the superseding indictment.
Withholding documents from Corcoran. More charges are listed here directed at both Trump and Nauta for misleading Trump’s attorney.
Nauta’s FBI interview. The transcript of the FBI’s interview with Nauta could be seriously problematic for Trump’s aide if the video of him moving boxes actually exists.
“When asked whether he knew where Trump’s boxes had been stored, before they were in Trump’s residence and whether they had been in a secure or locked location, Nauta falsely responded, ‘I wish, I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. I don’t — I honestly just don’t know,’” the indictment said.
This is a new charge in the superseding indictment. It accuses Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira of encouraging the Mar-a-Lago IT director to delete security footage.
This is another new charge in the superseding indictment. It accuses Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira of being responsible for the deletion of the footage.
More new charges in the superseding indictment. De Oliveira is accused of lying to the FBI about whether he knew about the boxes of documents.
Redacted names, public names. The name and signature of the jury foreperson are redacted. Hopefully those people are spared any harassment. One name everyone will now know is special counsel Jack Smith, who signed this first federal criminal indictment of a former president.
It was a break with protocol for Smith to release the initial indictment publicly and also for him to hold a brief appearance before cameras in June explaining the severity of the charges. He also noted that Trump is innocent until proven guilty in court.
Smith thinks it will take 21 days to try this case.
These penalty sheets are interesting. Ten years is the maximum term of imprisonment for a charge of retaining classified data. Other charges can carry a 20-year penalty.