Trump indictment: Pentagon upset over stolen plans for war against Iran
Trump waves around papers during a coronavirus press conference in April 2020. According to the indictments now filed against him, Trump was similarly showing off secret stolen documents to unauthorized people after leaving the White House, including ones related to Pentagon plans for a war against Iran. | Alex Brandon / AP

MIAMI—The federal government’s 37-count indictment of former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump—31 of the counts for violating the Espionage Act—is crammed with details of security breaches and other felonies by the one-term White House denizen.

One of the items most upsetting to many in Washington is that Trump made out with documents related to the Pentagon’s secret Iran war plan. No indictments have been issued, so far, against anyone at the Pentagon for plotting a war against Iran.

The indictment reveals Trump’s carelessness, his lies to the FBI, his willful hints to others about military secrets, and the conspiracy with his personal valet, Walt Nauta, to deceive federal agents. Nauta faces the same 37 counts, and an extra one for his own role.

Trump is the first former president ever to be indicted for criminal felonies. If convicted, he would face prison for, depending on the count, anywhere from five to 20 years. Trump will be formally booked at 3 pm on Tuesday, June 13, in U.S. District Court in Miami.

The indictment makes clear that the government views Trump as a security risk, even if Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, in charge of the probe, didn’t use those words when releasing the 49-page document.

The charges provide the damning details of how cavalierly Trump spirited confidential and top-secret military documents out of the White House and how he stored the information in the months since, especially once the documents arrived at Mar-A-Lago.

“The classified documents stored in his home included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries, United States nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities of both the United States and its allies to military attack and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” a key count summarizes.

A spy in the White House?

The indictment says Trump violated laws, primarily section 793 of the World War I-era Espionage Act, banning discussion and/or disclosure of sensitive defense and military documents to un-authorized people and people without top security clearances.

There are historical ironies in Smith’s extensive use of the Espionage Act. One is its initial purpose. It was passed at the start of World War I to give the government a lever to arrest and try anti-war dissidents.

Socialist Eugene V. Debs, Communist Charles E. Ruthenberg, anarchist Emma Goldman, and many others were imprisoned for supposedly violating the anti-spy law when they made speeches condemning imperialism and military conscription. President Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, cited the Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act to justify his notorious raids and deportations of left-wingers and trade union leaders.

In recent years, it has been deployed in an attempt to silence and punish individuals who received information about U.S. war operations, torture of detainees, illegal surveillance, and more from unnamed sources and published them in the public interest, such as former NSA employee Edward Snowden and Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange.

Now, with the charges against Trump, the law is being used against one of the ruling class’s own.

The plan for war against Iran

Most upsetting to the military brass is the fact that Trump held onto documents related to the Pentagon’s detailed planning for a war with what was first called an “unnamed nation,” since identified as Iran. Trump discussed the Iran war plan with four people, all of whom lacked security clearances.

It was also one of the documents Trump most bragged about stealing.

Trump pulled it from his pocket when talking with four people who lacked security clearances: The ghostwriter and the publisher of a planned book by Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and two Trump staffers. With Trump’s permission, the conversation, at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club, was recorded.

“I have a big pile of papers,” Trump admitted. “This thing just came up…This thing is highly confidential,” he said of the war plan. The ghostwriter replied, “Wow.”

“This is secret, secret information,” Trump continued. “You just attack and…” he broke off, leaving the sentence unfinished, then added: “Isn’t that incredible?”

In the talk with the ghostwriter and publisher, Trump tried to pin the war plan on Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that count says. Milley has not commented on the indictment.

“As president, I could have declassified it,” Trump says of the war plan afterwards, to one of the staffers. The staffer, laughing, replies “Yeah.”

“Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret,” says Trump. The staffer, still laughing, says, “Now we have a problem.” “Isn’t that interesting?” Trump replies.

Smith’s indictment goes on to say that when the National Archives demanded all the documents and the FBI obtained the subpoena it needed to search Mar-A-Lago, Trump “endeavored to obstruct justice” by claiming he had turned over everything, when he hadn’t.

Trump went even farther, it adds. It says conspirators “suggested Trump Attorney 1,” identified in news reports as Evan Corcoran, “hide or destroy the documents” which the FBI’s subpoena demanded.

Another cover-up charge says Trump lied to the FBI about possession of the documents and encouraged his lawyers to lie, too. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them (the FBI) we don’t have anything here?” Trump asks in one conversation cited in the indictment.

He also ordered his longtime personal aide, Nauta, to move the boxes of documents around Mar-A-Lago before the FBI searched it to keep the papers away from the agents.

Trump also disclosed possession of the documents to other unauthorized people without security clearance, including a top campaign finance committee operative. Showing that operative “a classified map related to a military operation,” Trump warned him “not to get too close.”


Besides 31 counts of Espionage Act violations, other counts include conspiracy to obstruct justice, refusal to turn over government documents, a cover-up of the document theft, and manipulation of witnesses. Not only did Trump lie to the FBI about the documents, he didn’t tell his Secret Service guards he had them, either.

“The purpose of the conspiracy was to hide and keep them [the documents] from a federal grand jury,” the indictment says.

Trump’s actions with the documents are part of a pattern. While in the White House, he repeatedly scanned classified documents, tore them up into little pieces, and tried to flush them down toilets. The indictment identifies some of the documents he didn’t tear up, such as daily presidential briefing papers from intelligence agencies on U.S. and foreign military strength, including active U.S. military interventions in other nations, and nuclear weapons data. The indictment did not name the nations where active operations occurred.

Some aides, realizing Trump’s destruction of documents broke the law, would retrieve the pieces and try to tape them back together again.

In the chaos of moving out of the White House in January 2021, later White House aides stuffed classified documents into burn bags, unless they were to be trucked away to Mar-A-Lago in cardboard boxes, the indictment says.

Smith’s indictment dryly calls Mar-A-Lago “an active social club” and “not a location for storage…of classified documents.” One storage shed for the boxes had many unlocked doors, including one leading to the estate’s swimming pool. Trump also stored boxes of documents in a Mar-A-Lago bathroom and in a shower.

Plus, there’s the coup

This indictment, of course, is not the end of Trump’s legal troubles. Smith’s other team is still investigating and presenting evidence to a D.C. grand jury about Trump’s order and incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion and attempted coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol.

In other words, Smith indicted Trump for breaking federal espionage laws, and is still probing, and telling the grand jurors, how Trump schemed to trash the U.S. Constitution, too. In that case, Smith’s team also has volumes of evidence available, and the whole country saw and heard much of it, courtesy the House Select Committee that investigated the insurrection in 2021-22.

Fulton County (Atlanta) District Attorney Fani Willis is conducting a separate wide-ranging probe into Trump’s attempt to steal Georgia’s electoral votes after Biden won them in November 2020.

Trump demanded Ga. Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger “find”—manufacture—11,780 popular votes to give Trump a one-popular-vote victory and thus the electoral votes in the key swing state. In the taped 45-minute call, Raffensperger rejected Trump’s demands.

Trump-appointed judge in charge

While Smith’s indictment is loaded with detail, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, named to hear the case, could be a barrier to prosecution. Last year, Cannon, a Trump appointee assessed and approved by the right-wing Federalist Society, threw a temporary monkey wrench into evaluating documents the FBI seized from Mar-A-Lago.

Cannon appointed a special master to decide which documents were relevant and which weren’t. That would have delayed Smith’s investigation for months. Before the master could get started, the Justice Department contested Cannon’s ruling. A three-judge panel of the conservative-dominated federal appeals court in Atlanta overruled her. Two of those judges were Trump appointees, and they said Cannon lacked the authority to appoint a special master. That court will be looking over her shoulder.

Still, Cannon, selected at random from the judicial roster in the district court, will be able to decide on everything from which evidence will be admitted to when the trial actually starts. It could open right in the middle of next year’s general election campaign. Smith said he’ll push for the trial to start as soon as possible.

Republicans line up for Trump

The indictment put top Republicans between a rock—Trump and his millions of sycophantic supporters—and a hard place: the rule of law. Led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and influential Rep. Jim Justice, R-Ohio, most have so far chosen to stick with Trump.

But three GOP presidential hopefuls didn’t: Former V.P. Mike Pence and ex-Govs.

Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey. They’re declaring Trump’s constitutionally unfit to hold high office.

In a June 10 fundraising speech in Atlanta, Trump again proclaimed his innocence, loudly and at length. He called the indictment “a witch-hunt” by Biden, adding it’s “a travesty of justice.” He didn’t answer specific counts in the indictment.

“As far as the joke of an indictment, it’s a horrible thing. It’s a horrible thing for this country,” Trump trumpeted.  “I mean, the only good thing about it is it’s driven my poll numbers way up. Can you believe it?” he asked 2,000 disciples.

Trump’s conduct with classified information—even before the National Archives and the FBI seized the stolen documents—prompted Biden to break with tradition block intelligence briefings for his predecessor. Usually, past presidents are always provided with constant updates about major intelligence or security matters.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.