The indictment of former President Donald J. Trump that was unsealed on Friday provided compelling evidence that Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents was more cavalier, and his efforts to obstruct the government’s attempts to retrieve them more blatant, than previously known.
On nearly every one of its 49 pages, the indictment revealed yet another example of Mr. Trump’s indifference toward the country’s most sensitive secrets and of his persistent willfulness in having his aides and lawyers stymie government attempts to get the records back.
Mr. Trump will have an opportunity in court to rebut the account presented by the special counsel Jack Smith. But the evidence cited refers to records casually kept in a bathroom and on a ballroom stage at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida. There was also a description of a knocked-over stack of boxes lying in a basement storage room, their contents, including a secret intelligence document, spilled on the floor.
At one point, the indictment included an almost cartoonish image. Quoting notes from one of Mr. Trump’s own lawyers, it relates how the former president made a “plucking motion” as if to suggest that the lawyer should go through a folder full of classified materials and “if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out.”
A classic example of what is known as a “speaking indictment,” the charging document, which was filed on Thursday in Federal District Court in Miami, did far more than merely lay out seven crimes, among them obstruction of justice and the willful retention of national defense records.
The indictment also showcased the bedrock elements of the former president’s personality: his sense of bombast and vengeance, his belief that everything he touches belongs to him and his admiration of people for their underhanded craftiness and gamesmanship with the authorities.
It recounts, for instance, how Mr. Trump had only praise for an unnamed aide to Hillary Clinton who — at least in his narration of the story — helped Mrs. Clinton destroy tens of thousands of emails from a private server.
“He did a great job,” the indictment quotes Mr. Trump as telling one of his lawyers.
Why? Because, in Mr. Trump’s account, the aide ensured that Mrs. Clinton “didn’t get in any trouble.”
The startling collection of covert material referred to in the indictment included documents about U.S. domestic nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities to an attack on the homeland and plans for retaliatory strikes on foreign adversaries.
In the bluntest language possible, the indictment explained just how dangerous this was.
“The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collections methods,” the indictment said.
Though the strength of Mr. Smith’s case will ultimately be tested by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, the evidence that the special counsel and his team assembled was abundant and varied. The indictment included photographs, a transcript of a recording of Mr. Trump and, of course, the lawyer’s notes, which were obtained through a highly unusual legal tactic of working around attorney-client privilege.
All of this taken together offered an intimate glimpse into Mr. Trump’s world at Mar-a-Lago, a domain where he apparently enforced a sense of personal control.
In one anecdote in the indictment, two employees of Mar-a-Lago are described exchanging text messages about Mr. Trump asking Walt Nauta, one of his close aides, to move boxes of government records out of a business center at the property so that other workers could use it as an office. Mr. Nauta was charged with conspiring with Mr. Trump to obstruct justice in the case.
“Ok,” the indictment quotes one of the employees writing to the other, “so potus specifically asked Walt for those boxes to be in the business center because they are his ‘papers.’”
In a similar fashion, the indictment describes Mr. Trump as seeking to stonewall both the prosecutors who issued a subpoena to him for all of the classified material he had and the lawyer, M. Evan Corcoran, whom he had hired specifically to help him comply with that subpoena.
“I don’t want anyone looking through my boxes, I really don’t,” it quotes Mr. Trump as telling Mr. Corcoran. “I don’t want you looking through my boxes.”
The indictment did not merely accuse Mr. Trump of holding on to all these files. It also noted that on at least two occasions, he showed — or came close to showing — classified material to others who lacked the proper security clearances to view them.
One of those episodes took place in August or September 2021 when Mr. Trump showed a representative of his political action committee the map of a certain country, commenting that a military operation there “was not going well,” the indictment said.
It went on to describe how Mr. Trump quickly realized that he should not have been displaying the map and told the representative to “not get too close.”
The indictment also related an account of a meeting in July 2021 when Mr. Trump brandished a “plan of attack” against Iran to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
To the apparent discomfort of his aides — one of whom declared, “Now we have a problem” amid laughter — Mr. Trump admitted that he could have declassified the “highly confidential” document when he was president, but now it was too late because he was out of office.
And yet, as the indictment described in painful detail, he almost seemed unable to control himself.
“This is secret information,” it quoted him as saying. “Look, look at this.”