Trump indictment timeline: How the ex-president’s second criminal case unfolded

Ex-president Donald Trump was arrested on 37 federal charges over his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 21 July 2023 15:42 BST
Why has Donald Trump been indicted again?

Donald Trump has now been arrested and formally charged with a string of federal charges relating to the storage of classified national defence documents dating from his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.

The 45th president of the United States appeared in federal court in Miami on 13 June where he pleaded not guilty to all 37 counts. Should he ultimately be convicted, he could face a maximum combined sentence of 100 years in prison.

His resort home was raided by the FBI in August 2022 as part of a hunt for search papers and other government records that should never have left the White House when his presidency ended in January 2021, a dramatic move that came as a surprise to the general public.

However, legal filings have since shown that the investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act that triggered that unprecedented action was months in the making.

The documents made clear that Trump had ample opportunity to return the material the government requested — and then subpoenaed — and revealed the sheer quantity of highly-sensitive documents he was keeping at the club.

A 49-page, 37-count indictment unsealed on 9 June revealed Mr Trump allegedly showed highly-classified documents to unauthorised persons on two separate occasions.

Here is a timeline of notable developments in the case so far.

20 January 2021

Then-president Donald Trump left the White House for Florida ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. According to the General Services Administration (GSA), members of Trump's transition team were responsible for packing items into boxes, putting boxes on pallets and shrink-wrapping those pallets so they could be transported.

Prior to shipping, GSA said it “required the outgoing transition team to certify in writing that the items being shipped were required to wind down the Office of the Former President and would be utilised as the Office transitioned to its new location in Florida.”

GSA did not examine the contents of the boxes and “had no knowledge of the contents prior to shipping,” according to an agency spokesperson. GSA was also not responsible for the former president’s personal belongings, which were transported by a private moving company.

May 2021

After the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) realised that documents from Trump’s presidency were missing from the material that it received as he left office, the agency requested the records from Trump on or about 6 May 2021.

December 2021

NARA “continued to make requests” for records it believed to be missing for several months.

Around late December 2021, a Trump representative informed the agency that an additional 12 boxes of records that should have been turned over had been found at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence and were ready to be retrieved.

18 January 2022

NARA received 15 boxes of presidential records that had been stored at Mar-a-Lago — 14 of which, it would later be revealed, contained classified documents. The documents were found mixed in with an assortment of other material, including newspapers, magazines, photos and personal correspondence.

In total, the boxes were found to contain 184 documents with classified markings, including 67 marked confidential, 92 secret and 25 top secret.

Agents who inspected the boxes also found special markings suggesting they included information from highly sensitive human sources or the collection of electronic “signals” authorised by a court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

9 February 2022

The special agent in charge of NARA’s Office of the Inspector General sent a referral to the Justice Department (DOJ) via email after a preliminary review of the boxes revealed numerous classified documents.

“Of most significant concern," they wrote, according to a heavily-redacted affidavit, “was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified."

After an initial review of the NARA referral, the FBI opened a criminal investigation into the matter.

10 February 2022

Trump’s Save America PAC released a statement insisting the return of the documents had been as “routine” and “no big deal.”

Trump insisted the “papers were given easily and without conflict and on a very friendly basis” and added: “It was a great honor to work with NARA to help formally preserve the Trump Legacy.”

18 February 2022

NARA revealed in a letter to a congressional oversight committee that classified information was found in the 15 recovered boxes and confirmed the Justice Department referral.

Trump’s Save America PAC released another statement insisting: “The National Archives did not ‘find’ anything” but “were given, upon request, Presidential Records in an ordinary and routine process to ensure the preservation of my legacy and in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

12 April 2022

NARA informed Trump of its intent to provide the documents to the FBI, at the request of the Justice Department. A Trump representative requested an extension until 29 April.

Donald Trump has continued to protest his innocence throughout the affair (AP)

29 April 2022

The Justice Department sent a letter to Trump’s lawyers seeking immediate access to the material citing “important national security interest”.

“Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps,” the department wrote.

Trump’s lawyers requested an additional extension.

10 May 2022

NARA informed Trump’s lawyers that it will provide the FBI access to the records as soon as 12 May.

11 May 2022

The Justice Department issued a subpoena for additional records.

3 June 2022

Three FBI agents and a DOJ attorney went to Mar-a-Lago to collect additional material offered by a Trump attorney in response to the subpoena. They were given “a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents,” according to a 30 August filing.

That envelope, it was later found, contained 38 documents with classification markings, including five documents marked confidential, 16 marked secret and 17 marked top secret.

During the visit, the filing said: “Counsel for the former President offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records, including 38 documents with classification markings, remained at the Premises nearly five months after the production of the Fifteen Boxes and nearly one-and-a-half years after the end of the Administration.”

Trump’s lawyers also told investigators that all of the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location — a Mar-a-Lago storage room. Investigators were permitted to visit the room, but were “explicitly prohibited” from opening or looking inside any of the boxes, they reported, “giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained”.

The Justice Department was also given a signed certification letter stating that a “diligent search” had been completed and that no documents remained.

8 June 2022

The Justice Department sent a letter to Trump’s lawyer requesting that the storage room be secured and that “all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until farther notice”.

5 August 2022

The Justice Department filed an application for a search and seizure warrant of Mar-a-Lago, citing “probable cause" that additional presidential records and records containing classified information remained in various parts of the club.

“There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction” would be found, read a heavily-redacted copy of the affidavit laying out the FBI’s rationale for the search.

The Justice Department also revealed in the 30 August filing that it had found evidence “that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

US magistrate judge Bruce Reinhart in South Florida approved the application that same day.

8 August 2022

The FBI executed the search at Mar-a-Lago, seizing 36 items of evidence, including boxes and containers holding more than 100 classified records, an order pardoning Trump ally Roger Stone and information about the “President of France.”

Agents found classified documents both in the storage room as well as in the former president’s office — including three classified documents found not in boxes, but in office desks.

They included items so sensitive that, “In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.”

“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the 3 June certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter,” the Justice Department wrote.

Trump and his allies, meanwhile, cast the search as a weaponisation of the criminal justice system aimed at damaging him politically as he prepares for another potential White House run.

Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida (AP)

12 August 2022

Judge Reinhart unsealed the warrant that authorized the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago, which details that federal agents were investigating potential violations of three federal laws, including the Espionage Act.

26 August 2022

A highly redacted version of the affidavit laying out the FBI’s rationale for searching Mar-a-Lago was released.

30 August 2022

The Justice Department responded to Trump's request for a special master in a filing that included new details about the investigation, including an assertion that classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago as part of an effort to obstruct the probe.

It included a photograph of some the material found at the club, including cover pages of paperclip-bound documents — some marked as “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders and one marked as “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-colored border — splayed out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago.

“Terrible the way the FBI, during the Raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see,” Trump responded. “Thought they wanted them kept Secret?”

6 September 2022

US district judge Aileen Cannon grants Trump’s request for a special master over DOJ objections, an action that delays the investigation. Senior US district judge Raymond Dearie of Brooklyn is later named to run that third-party review.

15 September 2022

The Justice Department seeks to access the classified materials taken in the search. Cannon rejects the bid, but the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals later allows DOJ to review the documents.

16 November 2022

Trump announces he will run for the Republican nomination in the 2024 US presidential election.

22 November 2022

US attorney general Merrick Garland appoints US special counsel Jack Smith to preside over criminal matters relating to Trump, including the classified documents investigation.

Trump addressing his supporters (AFP/Getty)

1 December 2022

A federal appeals court reverses Judge Cannon’s appointment of a special master in the case, finding she lacked the authority to appoint one. The ruling gives the Justice Department access to all materials seized in the search of Trump’s property.

7 December 2022

At least two classified records are found during a further search of Trump’s properties, a source says.

December 2022

Trump lawyer Tim Parlatore appears before a federal grand jury in Washington to describe efforts to search Trump properties for any remaining government documents.

24 March 2023

Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran appears before a federal grand jury in Washington after a federal judge finds Smith’s team made a sufficient showing that Trump may have deceived his attorneys in furtherance of a crime.

17 May 2023

Parlatore confirms he has left Trump’s legal team. He later says on CNN that he exited over disagreements with others over handling of the probe, claiming Trump aide Boris Epshteyn prevented attorneys from properly defending the former president. A Trump spokesperson denies the claims.

8 June 2023

Trump fumes on Truth Social that he has been indicted over the case, insisting: “I am an innocent man.”

“The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” he seethed in a separate post.

9 June 2023

The 37-count indictment against Mr Trump is unsealed, revealing he allegedly showed classified documents to unauthorised individuals on two separate occasions.

The charges include: willful retention of national defence information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal, and false statements and representations.

12 June 2023

Mr Trump travels to Miami to spend the night at his Doral resort ahead of his arraignment the following day.

13 June 2023

Mr Trump surrenders to authorities in Miami to formally face charges. He is arrested and arraigned in federal court where he enters a not guilty plea. Following his court appearance, he flies back to his Bedminster golf club where he gave a post-arraignment speech railing against the charges, Joe Biden and Jack Smith.

27 June 2023

CNN broadcasts the audio recording of Mr Trump speaking at Bedminster in July 2021 about holding secret documents he did not declassify, a crucial conversation for Mr Smith’s investigation. First played on Anderson Cooper 360, the tape reveals the former president discussing a top secret Pentagon attack plan pertaining to Iran with others in the room and joking about Hillary Clinton’s incaution in handling sensitive materials.

Mr Trump had been interviewed by Bret Baier on Fox News a week earlier and said of the discussion: “There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things. And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn’t have a document, per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”

21 July 2023

Judge Cannon announces a trial date for the classified documents case, scheduling it for 20 May 2024.

Additional reporting by agencies

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