Trump indictment: Give it up for special counsel Jack Smith, and yes, he’s just getting started

OPINION: Donald Trump faces seven counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, making him the first former president to face federal criminal charges. And Trump may face even more charges as Smith continues his investigation into Trump's role in the Jan. 6. insurrection.

Trump CNN town Hall, Trump indictment,
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association Convention in Indianapolis, on April 14, 2023.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Be honest, did you do a happy dance like Elie Mystal when you heard that Donald Trump officially became the only twice-indicted, twice-impeached, one-term, failed ex-president in history? You’re not alone.

After nearly seven months of probing Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and his refusal to comply with repeated requests and subpoenas from the FBI and the National Archives, Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury investigation has yielded federal charges against Trump. Indictments are still under seal, but according to multiple sources, Trump faces seven counts, including willful retention of national defense information; conspiracy to obstruct justice; withholding a document of record; corruptly concealing a document or record; concealing a document in a federal investigation; scheme to conceal; and false statements and representations. While we wait for the official documents to be unsealed, we should all take a moment to appreciate the artistry known as Jack Smith’s investigatory work. 

Don’t be fooled by his somewhat generic name, because Smith’s impact and intentions are anything but that. In one fell swoop, Smith has turned the exact same Department of Justice that Trump used to leverage as his own personal law firm into the former president’s worst nightmare. Smith has unearthed evidence from the District of Columbia to Florida, including a tape of Trump admitting that he didn’t declassify documents, and he has backed Trump into a corner that’s so uncomfortable that Trump’s been posting non-stop on his knockoff Twitter app. And Trump actually told the truth about the indictment this time. Remember, the last time Trump claimed he was going to be arrested, it was just a lie to rile up his base of MAGA extremist Republican supporters. They’re the same Republicans who are committed to voting for him in 2024 no matter what, and naturally that includes most of the GOP primary candidates running against him — save for Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson.

And before you latch onto the notion that this levity and praise for Smith are premature, let’s appreciate the reality that Trump is the first former president ever to be indicted on federal criminal charges and that this case is merely one of two on Smith’s to-do list. It’s been Smith’s methodical approach to this investigation that has warranted explicit sign-off from Attorney General Merrick Garland every step of the way and amassed the trove of evidence that is more than likely going to be devastating to Trump. According to reporting by CNN, Smith and his team relied on lower-level Trump staffers and employees to build the foundation of this case and the charges related to conspiracy and obstruction of justice. These lower-level staffers are the people who probably saw the most and were treated the worst by Trump and his leadership team, so the possibility of them flipping is pretty high. 

On top of those staffers, Smith has also zeroed in on Trump’s lieutenants, like Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and Taylor Budowich, a former aide to Trump who now leads the Super PAC, MAGA Inc. Both Meadows and Budowich testified last week, and considering that Meadows’ attorneys told reporters, “Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so,” there’s a chance that they are fully cooperating, too. So, strategic Mar-a-Lago pool flood or not, the FBI and the DOJ have gathered extensive evidence, and for the grand jury to issue an indictment on seven federal charges for the former president, that evidence has got to be ironclad. 

Of course, Trump will spend every cent that he can on his defense team to fight this, but he should brace for double impact. Yes, double. Because while this first federal grand jury has yielded an indictment and federal charges, Smith’s Jan. 6 investigation is percolating in the background with former Vice President Mike Pence testifying for 10 hours last month, Newt Gingrich testifying in recent days and Steve Bannon on deck with a fresh subpoena

Jack Smith is not playing games. And there is a very real chance that by the end of the summer, we may be looking at not only another federal grand jury indictment for Trump but also indictments in four separate locations between Florida, New York, Georgia and Washington, D.C. 

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast, and an MSNBC political analyst.

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