Wyoming, GOP Leaders Rush to Defend Trump After Classified Documents Indictment

Former president faces 37 criminal counts over his alleged withholding and sharing of state secrets

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jun 09, 2023

Former president Donald Trump faces 37 felony counts pertaining to his alleged mishandling of classified documents. (Photo via DOJ)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump was indicted on Thursday on federal criminal charges over his alleged mishandling of classified documents and attempts to obstruct the investigation into the matter, the first such charges against a former president in American history.

The indictment, unsealed Friday, charges Trump with 37 counts of criminal activity: 31 counts of violating the Espionage Act by “willfully” retaining classified information, and six counts pertaining to alleged attempts to obstruct the investigation by directing associates to lie on his behalf and conceal materials from investigators.

Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents according to an indictment unsealed on Friday. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In a brief statement to the media Friday afternoon, Special Counsel Jack Smith, who led the investigation, commented publicly on the matter for the first time.

“The men and women of the United States intelligence community and our armed forces dedicate their lives to protecting our nation and its people,” Smith said. “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.”

News of the indictment first came from Trump himself, who posted publicly on his “Truth Social” platform that he had been informed that he would officially face charges. It’s typical practice in federal investigations for the targets of such inquiries to receive notice that they had been indicted before the charges are made public.

Immediately — well before the 37 counts had been unsealed — many in the GOP rushed to Trump’s defense, Wyoming representatives among them.

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.), who owes her victory over Liz Cheney last year in no small part due to Trump’s support and has remained a loyal defender of him, released a statement decrying the indictment as an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial power.”

“The case against President Trump is ridiculously weak,” Hageman wrote, despite the fact that the specific crimes he was alleged to have committed had not yet been released publicly.

Hageman went on to claim unfair application of justice, given that President Joe Biden retained classified documents after his time as Vice President. Investigators say Biden’s case — and a similar matter involving former Vice President Mike Pence — are different, as both men were fully cooperative with investigators and never disclosed the material to others.

“[L]ike all the other attempts to trip up President Trump, it will only make him stronger,” Hageman’s statement concluded.

And on Friday morning, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) became the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate to comment on the indictment, releasing his own statement claiming the charges “certainly looks like an unequal application of justice.”

Again commenting before the indictment itself had been unsealed, Barrasso wrote that it “feels political, and it’s rotten.”

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) in a Friday afternoon statement to the Wyoming Truth claimed the Justice Department “should never be weaponized to target President Biden’s political opponent.”

Though she went on to note she has “serious concerns with classified documents being handled improperly in this case,” she, too, pointed to instances where classified materials were recovered in other former leaders’ homes. “[T]he question is, will [Biden] be held to the same standard as President Trump?” she posed.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing to examine the federal response to escalating wildfires and to evaluate reforms to land management and wildland firefighter recruitment, Thursday, June 8, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Inside the indictment

Though many Republicans were quick to defend Trump, the allegations he faces are damning.

According to the 49-page indictment, the former president intentionally held onto hundreds of pages of classified documents containing some of the nation’s top secrets: information about the nuclear capacity of the U.S. and foreign nations; defense and weapons capabilities of various nations; potential vulnerabilities of America and its allies to foreign attacks; and other information that “put at risk the national security of the United States.

After the conclusion of his presidency, Trump directed “scores” of boxes to be transported to his Mar-a-Lago club, many of which contained classified information. At the beach estate, the documents were stored throughout the club — in a ballroom, office, bedroom, storage room, and even bathroom and shower, investigators said.

At least twice in 2021, Trump showed classified information to individuals not authorized to see it, one time discussing a secret “plan of attack” against an unnamed foreign nation with writers, a book publisher and several associates, the indictment claims. Trump, according to a recording obtained by investigators, told the individuals the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.”

Later, as federal authorities became aware of the missing information and sought its return, Trump allegedly attempted to hinder their investigation, suggesting that his attorneys lie to investigators and directing them to move boxes of documents to conceal them from federal agents.

According to notes from one of Trump’s former attorneys obtained by investigators, the former president asked if it would “be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” and later suggested that the lawyer “pluck” out any classified documents from materials investigators were scrutinizing. Such information is expected to be key to the government’s case that Trump intentionally sought to deceive investigators throughout the inquiry.

A test for the GOP

Wyoming’s Washington representatives were not alone in their defense of the former president.

Republican leaders ranging from Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to many of Trump’s GOP presidential rivals accused the FBI of overreach. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) have notably remained silent thus far.

Yet many of the former president’s defenses of his conduct may be undercut by his own words.

Trump has repeatedly claimed he, as president, had unilateral authority to declassify information, alleging that even if he were to have wrongfully retained secrets, he must have previously removed any restrictions on his capabilities to do so. In her statement, Hageman pointed to such defenses, claiming Trump as president “had broad authority to decide what documents remained classified.”

But prosecutors obtained a recording in which Trump acknowledged he had the authority to declassify information as president but failed to employ it. “See as president I could have declassified it,” Trump was recorded saying, as he discussed a “highly confidential” attack plan on a foreign nation.

“Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret,” Trump added.

Though the political implications of the indictment are still reverberating throughout Washington and Wyoming, Trump’s more immediate concern is no doubt the indictment itself. Should he be found guilty of even just a few of the charges, he could face dozens of years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Early on Friday, Trump announced a change in his legal strategy, as several attorneys who previously represented him resigned. He’s now being represented by Todd Blanche, a lawyer also helping him with a matter pertaining to his 2016 “hush money” payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels.

In perhaps the only bit of good news Trump has received in recent days, his case was randomly assigned to Florida Federal Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who previously sided with him during disputes with the FBI over the classified documents investigation.

But regardless of who will be overseeing the eventual trial, the government has signaled they intend to prosecute Trump to the full extent of the law — and on his own home turf, bringing the charges in Florida rather than Washington.

“The defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Smith, the special counsel, said, noting he intended to seek a “speedy trial.”

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