We speak with The Nation's Elie Mystal about the Justice Department's unsealed, sweeping 37-count indictment of former President Donald Trump for retaining and mishandling classified documents, including top-secret information about U.S. nuclear weapons and secret plans to attack a foreign country. Trump is the first U.S. president to face federal criminal charges. He has denied any guilt. The new indictment joins his indictment earlier this year in New York, where he is accused of committing financial fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Local and federal authorities are ramping up security outside the Federal Courthouse in Miami, where Donald Trump is scheduled to surrender to face charges Tuesday for retaining and mishandling classified documents, including top-secret information about U.S. nuclear weapons and secret plans to attack another country.
On Friday, the Justice Department unsealed the historic, sweeping 37-count indictment against Trump, who has become the first U.S. president to face federal criminal charges. Special counsel Jack Smith spoke to reporters Friday.
JACK SMITH: The men and women of the United States Intelligence Community and our Armed Forces dedicate their lives to protecting our nation and its people. Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States, and they must be enforced. Violations of those laws put our country at risk. Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice, and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.
AMY GOODMAN: The case against the former president is built in part on the secret notes of Trump’s own lawyer, as well as audio recordings of Trump where he admits he was in possession of secret information that he had not declassified. The unsealed indictment includes photographs of boxes of classified documents stored haphazardly across Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, including a bathroom, a ballroom and a bedroom.
The federal grand jury also indicted Trump’s aide Walt Nauta, who faces six charges, including conspiracy to obstruct and withholding a record.
The Trump case will at least initially be heard by Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon, who Trump had appointed. Last year, she sided with Trump’s lawyers and appointed an outside special master to review documents seized by the FBI at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Over the weekend, Trump repeatedly attacked the special counsel Jack Smith. Trump also urged supporters to come to Miami on Tuesday.
On the presidential campaign trail, several of Trump’s Republican rivals, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, criticized the indictment of Trump. DeSantis decried what he called the “weaponization of federal law enforcement.”
We’re joined now by Elie Mystal, The Nation's justice correspondent, the author _Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution_, now out in paperback.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Elie.
ELIE MYSTAL: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can start off by responding to the specific counts that we learned over the weekend, before Trump’s arraignment tomorrow, on Tuesday?
ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah. So, the thing about the indictment that stands out to me is that Trump, by his own running of the mouth, ruined his best legal defense, right? Like, the defense to “I took classified documents that I wasn’t supposed to have, and didn’t give them back when you asked,” is “I was too stupid to know they were classified documents or to know what they were. Who could tell? Not me.” Like, that’s your actual best legal defense. And Trump blows that legal defense out of the water when he says — and they have him on tape saying — that he knows the documents are confidential, he knows that he’s not supposed to be showing it to whatever staffer he’s showing it to, he knows that they’re not declassified, and he knows that he can’t declassify them now because he’s no longer president.
That section of the indictment is like ballgame. That is game, set, match on Trump’s only legal defense, Amy, which is why we see Trump going to all of these, let’s say, extrajudicial defenses, where he’s attacking the special counsel, attacking the process, calling — you know, doing the whataboutism thing and calling for his MAGA supporters to rally to his defense in Miami. He needs the MAGA supporters to rally to his defense, because the law ain’t gonna do it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, where these documents were stored — and according to the indictment, Trump was personally involved in the process of packing and moving the boxes. I mean, when you have them in that bathroom by the toilet, you wonder if there was a sign on the door: “Take a leak.” Right? When you have them in the ballroom, when you have them in places that are accessed by — I mean, this isn’t just his house. Mar-a-Lago is a resort, where scores of people, hundreds of people, have access to these spaces.
ELIE MYSTAL: Amy, you mean you don’t have a box of classified documents in your laundry room? Because I keep mine, you know, just in my walk-in closet. That’s where I — look, it is ridiculous. It is almost comical, the disregard and disrespect that Trump has for our country and for our national security, although it’s not surprising that Trump acted with wanton and blatant disrespect.
But I think what’s kind of most important about the idea that Trump was physically personally involved in packing and moving these documents is that he was hiding them from the FBI, because that’s the other part of this case, right? The legal trouble that he’s in. It is one thing, again, kind of legally, to take classified documents and not know that they’re classified, and then, when you’re informed that they’re classified, to give them back. Right? That’s what a normal human does. That’s what a normal former president or former vice president does. If they found that they took something that they shouldn’t have, they give it back. They understand it’s not theirs, it is the country’s. Trump was asked to give these documents back, and not only did he not give them back, the indictment suggests that he was packing them and moving them around and hiding them from federal investigators, and then lying to them and directing his lawyers to lie to them about where the documents were and how many he had. That’s why Walt Nauta is also indicted. That’s why his attorney, Evan Corcoran, was taking personal notes to keep himself out of trouble, because he understood that he was being asked to do illegal things. Right? So, when you look at the documents in the bathroom, on the stage, next to the gaudy chandelier, understand that this is not just a cavalier treatment of our national secrets, it’s also an attempt to hide — hide from legitimate requests from the FBI.
AMY GOODMAN: Over the weekend, the former Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake made this incendiary threat.
KARI LAKE: I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland and Jack Smith and Joe Biden — and the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up, as well, this one’s for you: If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m gonna tell you, yep, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That’s not a threat; that’s a public service announcement.
AMY GOODMAN: “Card-carrying members of the NRA,” millions of them, she said. “This isn’t a threat; it’s a public service announcement.” She was speaking in Georgia, where President Trump also spoke. Elie Mystal, your response? And the response of those who continue to support President Trump, including his opposing — you would think his opponents now in the Republican race would take full advantage of this; instead, backing off.
ELIE MYSTAL: Look, threats are all these weak, unserious, violent people have. All right? Threats are the last refuge of the bigoted white supremacists that have formed the vanguard of defending Trump. And my only response to that is that it’s not 75 million Americans. Based on January 6, it’s only a few thousand of y’all cowards that we have to deal with in our pursuit of justice. And I’m sure that Jack Smith and the FBI are prepared to do what is necessary to bring Trump to trial. So, I’m not worried about Kari Lake and her aggressive vacuuming of Donald Trump’s record. All right?
What I think is more problematic is the fact that the entire Republican Party continues to debase itself in service of Donald Trump and in service of that white supremacist base that Kari Lake is talking to, right? Like, as you point out, Amy, in a normal party, when one of your rivals indicted on 37 counts of espionage, the rest of the field is like, “Hmm, maybe you should elect me and not the guy who just got indicted.” But in the modern Republican Party, they’re all feaming, right? They’re all, like, jonesing for the next hit off of Trump’s white supremacist base, and so they can’t risk saying mean things about Trump, even though he’s just been indicted. They have to instead placate Trump even as they purport to be running against him. It is pathetic on their part. But the debasement of one of the two major political parties in the country is an ongoing problem, because as you start to kind of work through the kind of practical realities, now not just of indicting Trump, but bringing him to trial and potentially convicting him, that becomes really hard to do if during the course of this process he is crowned the Republican standard-bearer for the 2024 presidential election.
AMY GOODMAN: Elie Mystal, we’re going to continue to cover this tomorrow and Wednesday, and continue, of course, right through the trial, if there is one. Elie Mystal is The Nation's justice correspondent. He's the author of Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution.
After Trump is arraigned on Tuesday, he’s planning to give a major address, address his supporters. And also, Trump supporters are planning to load buses to head to Miami from other parts of Florida, raising concerns for law enforcement, who are preparing for the potential unrest around the courthouse, AP reports.
Next up, as Pride Month celebrations continue, we look at a revelatory documentary that’s just out, exploring the lives of intersex people. It’s called Every Body. Stay with us.