Former US president Donald Trump faces 37 felony charges related to wilfully retaining US national defence information, obstructing justice and making false statements, an indictment showed on Friday.
It was the Justice Department's first confirmation of a criminal case against the former president after an investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified documents he kept after his presidency ended in 2021.
Officials said such documents were improperly stored at his Florida home, some of them kept in shower rooms and toilets.
“Today, an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J Trump with felony violations of our national security laws, as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice,” special counsel Jack Smith – who was assigned to independently oversee federal investigations into Mr Trump after he announced his 2024 presidential campaign – said in a press briefing on Friday.
The classified documents stored inside the boxes at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, included information on US and foreign defence capabilities, nuclear programmes, potential vulnerabilities to military attack and plans for possible retaliation in response to an attack, the indictment said.
Federal prosecutors said unauthorised disclosure of the documents could risk the security of the US, foreign relations and human sources.
“Our laws that protect national defence 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,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Trump took to his Truth Social platform on Friday to double down on claims of a political witch hunt against him and sought to deflect attention to President Joe Biden, who also had classified documents in his home from his time as vice president and US senator.
A Justice Department investigation into Mr Biden's handling of government files is still ongoing.
“Biden had records for years, totally unsecured, even stolen when he was a Senator … There was no crime, except for what the DOJ and FBI have been doing against me for years,” Mr Trump wrote in a post.
He also called Mr Smith a “deranged lunatic” and a “psycho” who is married to a “Trump hater”.
Investigators seized about 13,000 documents in a court-approved FBI search of Mr Trump's Florida home in Mar-a-Lago last year. The vast majority were not classified.
Mr Trump allegedly retained records from the CIA, Department of Defence, Department of State, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and other federal departments.
In the unsealed indictment, Mr Trump is accused of describing a Pentagon “plan of attack” and sharing a classified map related to a military operation.
Another document included information on a foreign country's support of terrorism against American interests.
The Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, was not an authorised location to store or review classified documents after Mr Trump left office in January 2021. But hundreds of classified documents were stored throughout the property, including in a bathroom and shower, prosecutors said.
Tens of thousands of Mar-a-Lago visitors and guests visited the estate in the months after Mr Trump left the White House, prosecutors said, potentially risking documents being seen by unauthorised people.
“Trump endeavoured to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations and conceal his continued retention of classified documents,” the indictment said.
It added that Mr Trump allegedly suggested documents be hidden or destroyed, that his lawyer make false statements and directed an aide to move boxes.
That aide, Waltine Nauta, faces 38 federal charges.
Mr Trump was scheduled to appear in a US District Court in Miami on Tuesday.
US District Judge Aileen Cannon has been assigned to initially oversee the case, news reports said on Friday.
ABC News and The New York Times said it was probable the Trump-appointed judge was randomly assigned to the case.
Her assignment has piqued interest as legal experts say she issued rulings favourable to Mr Trump during legal proceedings shortly after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. A federal appeals court later said Ms Cannon acted out of her jurisdiction.
Mr Trump, currently the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 election, maintained his innocence in a series of Truth Social posts on Thursday night.
“We are failing nation … I am an innocent man,” he said in a four-minute video posted on the social media platform.
He is the first former president to face federal criminal charges.
In April, Manhattan prosecutors charged Mr Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records.
He faces additional investigations in Atlanta and Washington.