Donald Trump has once again made history by becoming the first former president indicted for federal crimes in the history of the United States (no president has been in office). The tycoon himself announced it this Thursday through his social network, but without specifying the crimes of which he is accused. The charges are not yet known in detail, but there are some concrete indications in this regard from his legal team. The lawyers have discussed seven charges and mentioned crimes with potentially serious prison sentences such as obstruction of justice or violation of espionage law. Some of these crimes correspond to those that were already being investigated in the registry of Mar-a-Lago, his mansion in Palm Beach (Florida). Others were not known until now.
Jim Trusty, Trump’s lawyer, has explained in an interview on the CNN news network that he does not yet have the accusation with the detailed accusations: “The accusation has not yet been provided to us. What we have now is essentially a subpoena, which is a substitute for an order, correct? Charges are usually accompanied by a warrant when there is an arrest. Here we have received a summons from the Department of Justice asking us to be in court on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. ”, he said.
Trusty has briefly explained what this summons contains and how many crimes it refers to. “Again, it doesn’t perfectly reflect an indictment, but it does have some language that suggests what the seven charges would be,” she said. “It’s not 100% clear that these are all separate charges, but they basically fall into one Espionage Act charge, which is ridiculous on the facts of this case and I can certainly explain it, and several obstruction, and then the false statement charges that are actually, again, some kind of crazy exaggeration of the facts that we know.”
Is there one on intentional retention of documents? “That is. We are talking about 18 USC 793 [un apartado del Código de Estados Unidos, una compilación de legislación federal]. And then there are various 18 USC 1512 1519 ., but the bottom line is that it comes down to withholding charges [de documentos]as you call them, obstructions [a la justicia] and false statements”, he has said, to admit that there is also apparently an accusation of conspiracy. “Again, this is not the Bible, because I am not looking at a charging document. I am looking at a summary sheet. So there is language in there that could actually be reflecting one charge which is two, but I think there was a conspiracy charge as well.”
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Those codes and figures that are not very televised to which Trusty has referred were already known on the occasion of the search warrant for the Mar-a-Lago mansion, where some of them were indicated. Numbers are articles of the US code (USC), the United States Code or Federal Code, which is a compilation of the federal laws in force in the country. The precepts of the Code come, therefore, from different laws approved by Congress, even in very distant times. The articles cited are from title 18 of the USC, which includes crimes. Equivalent to the Penal Code.
The 793 is a long article with eight sections that go from sections a) to h) and that it is part of the Espionage Law. Its casuistry is extensive and punishes, for example, those who steal secrets from the United States to deliver them to another country. Trusty has not specified which section Trump is suspected of violating, but section d) punishes “who, lawfully having possession, access or control of any document (…) or information related to national defense whose information the possessor has reasonable to believe that it could be used to the detriment of the United States or to the benefit of any foreign nation (…), intentionally withholds it and fails to deliver it at the request of the official or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.” It would therefore be the fraudulent retention of national security documents. For any of the sections of article 793, the penalties provided are a fine and/or imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years.
The Espionage Law was passed in 1917, during World War I, decades before the current document classification system existed (top secret/sensitive, top secret, secret, confidential…). Therefore, although Trump claims that he had declassified the documents, that does not automatically free him from having committed that possible crime.
obstruction of justice
Article 1,519 of the Penal CodeFor its part, it punishes the “destruction, alteration, or falsification of documents in federal investigations and bankruptcies,” which is known as obstruction of justice. It has a single paragraph, which reads: “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, conceals, falsifies, or makes a false notation in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or the proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case brought under title 11, or in connection with or in contemplation of any matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. It also appeared on the search warrant.
The one that was not there is another article that Trump’s lawyer has cited is USC Title 18 1512. It falls under the category of obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence, but it is a very long article. It punishes as crimes everything from killing a witness to other less drastic ways of trying to disrupt an investigation. For example, in one of its sections, it punishes with sentences of up to 20 years “any person who knowingly uses intimidation, threatens or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or adopts deceptive conduct towards another person, with the intent to (1) influence, delay, or impede the testimony of any person in an official proceeding; (2) cause or induce any person to (A) conceal testimony, or conceal a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; (B) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals an item with the intent to impair the integrity of the item or its availability for use in an official proceeding; (C) evade legal process that requires you to appear as a witness or to produce a record, document or other object in an official proceeding; or (D) is absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been subpoenaed by legal process; or (3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a federal crime.”
Without citing the article, Trusty has acknowledged that Trump is also accused of conspiracy. According to article 371 of the Code, “if two or more persons conspire to commit any crime against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons performs any act in furtherance of the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. The peculiarity of this crime is that Trump cannot commit it alone, but he must have participated in the conspiracy with someone else. The former president’s lawyer has indicated that he is not aware of anyone else who is accused. It’s another new charge that wasn’t listed on the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
Another crime of which the former president is accused, as his lawyers have recognized, is falsehood, regulated in article 1001 of title 18 of the USC: “Unless otherwise provided in this section, any person who, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the United States Government, knowingly and willfully (1) falsify, conceal, or conceal by any trick, ruse, or artifice a material fact; (2) make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) make or use any false writing or document knowing that it contains any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or notation; shall be sentenced to a fine under this title, [y/o] to a prison sentence not exceeding 5 years”, it establishes.
Although the lawyers have not referred to this crime now, at the time the search warrant also included the article 2.071 of title 18 of the Federal Code. In section b) it says that “whoever, having custody of any record, procedure, map, book, document, paper or anything else, intentionally and illegally hides, eliminates, mutilates, erases, falsifies or destroys them, will be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than three years, or both; and he will lose his position and be disqualified from holding any office in the United States ”.
It is not clear from the statements of Trump’s lawyers whether they are referring to seven different crimes, each of which can bring multiple counts, or seven counts, with a smaller number of crimes. Apparently, even they don’t know for sure. We will have to wait until Tuesday to find out the specific accusations and much more, perhaps even beyond the 2024 presidential ones, so that Trump sits on the bench to be tried and it is known what penalty the prosecutor is asking for and what verdict the jury sentences.
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