Donald Trump

Trump Indicted, Faces Federal Criminal Charges Under Espionage Act

Plus: FIRE investigates "woke" Florida professor's dismissal, inequality index finds progress across multiple dimensions, and more...


Donald Trump has been indicted on federal charges…and everything about it is annoying. The former president is accused of keeping classified documents after he left office and obstructing government efforts to get them back.

The FBI found the documents during a raid of Trump's Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, last summer. Now, Trump has reportedly been charged with seven federal criminal counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements, and unauthorized retention of national security documents.

The former president's response has been annoying, albeit typical for Trump. Here's the first paragraph of Trump's statement from yesterday:

The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 Boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more Boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is "secured" by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time.

Trump insists that the charges are part of a politically motivated witch hunt and is trying to deflect blame to Democrats, in this case, President Joe Biden.

While the indictment is not yet public, what we know about the charges suggests that they are also annoying. Unauthorized retention of national security documents violates the Espionage Act of 1917, but it beggars belief that Trump's behavior amounts to espionage. The Espionage Act charge could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison per offense.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum noted last August, "there is some evidence to support the inference that Trump's alleged mishandling of classified material was 'intentional and willful'" or, at minimum, "a pretty reckless way to handle sensitive material." And according to the Justice Department, documents found at Mar-a-Lago included sensitive information "relating to nuclear weapons."

Granted, the offense Trump is reportedly charged with—illegally retaining "national defense information"—needn't involve a plan to give or sell that information to a foreign country.

The Espionage Act charges have raised eyebrows on the pro-Trump right and from libertarians and folks on the left. On the one hand, it represents Trump being treated just like ordinary citizens. On the other, maybe ordinary citizens should face fewer Espionage Act charges, too.

"I'm categorically opposed to charging anyone under the Espionage Act, even those who seem obviously to have engaged in espionage," tweeted former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash. "It has a terrible history of abuse. Government has employed it to avoid scrutiny and chill free speech, and it violates basic tenets of due process."

The Intercept's Ryan Grim noted that Daniel Ellsberg—who leaked the Pentagon Papers to news outlets in 1971 and was charged under the Espionage Act—"has been arguing for years that the Espionage Act is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment." 

"If a govt official mishandles classified info they can be administratively punished, fired, etc, but it's not a crime," tweeted Grim. "That's his argument and I think it's a good one."

Trump and his team have argued that Trump declassified whatever documents he retained before leaving office.

If true, that would of course preclude charges related to mishandling classified documents—and could point to one reason why the Espionage Act is being invoked here. As the Times points out, "prosecutors would not technically need to prove that [the documents at Mar-a-Lago] were still classified because the Espionage Act predates the classification system and does not refer to it as an element."

There's a lot we still don't know. But it's a good bet that, regardless of how this turns out, it will still be annoying.


"A trustee publicly stating that faculty are losing their jobs for exercising their First Amendment rights will itself chill campus speech." The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is looking into New College of Florida trustee Christopher Rufo's public comments about the dismissal of a visiting history professor:


Inequality index finds progress across multiple dimensions. The Cato Institute's Inequality of Human Progress Index (IHPI) looks at international inequality across a range of dimensions. "By analyzing inequality in a multidimensional way, the IHPI takes inequality more seriously than those indexes that focus on income inequality alone," Cato states:

The IHPI considers material well‐​being and seven additional metrics: lifespan, infant mortality, adequate nutrition, environmental safety, access to opportunity (as measured by education), access to information (as measured by internet access), and political freedom. Across all but two of those dimensions, the world has become more equal since 1990. Globalization and market liberalization over the past few decades have not only raised absolute living standards but also reduced overall inequality.

More here.


• Abortion providers are suing over Kansas laws that require patients to wait 24 hours to get an abortion after first seeing a doctor and that require doctors to tell patients that pill-induced abortions can be reversed. "The lawsuit, filed in state district court in Johnson County in the Kansas City area, argues that Kansas has created a 'Biased Counseling Scheme' designed to discourage patients from getting abortions and to stigmatize patients who terminate their pregnancies," notes the Associated Press.

• "City officials in Orem, Utah, have banned its public library from setting up displays highlighting Pride Month, Black History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month, along with other heritage-themed holidays," and then banned employees from talking about the ban.

• Following in the footsteps of Utah and Arkansas, Louisiana has passed a bill requiring all sorts of online services, including social media and gaming platforms, to get parental consent before minors can create an account.

• The Supreme Court has sided with Jack Daniel's in its copyright dispute with a dog toy manufacturer.

• Regulators are coming for pool sharing.

• A free state project for biohackers and longevity enthusiasts?