FBI Investigation Reveals Trump Could Face Harsh Punishment
Washington – FBI investigators who searched a property owned by Harold Martin in Maryland in the fall of 2016 found a collection of sensitive documents, including top-secret material, scattered throughout his home, car, and storage shed. Unlike former President Donald Trump, who consistently denied allegations against him, Martin admitted his guilt in 2019, acknowledging that his actions were unlawful and highly questionable. Despite his contrition and guilty plea to a single count of willful withholding of national defense information, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
A Foreboding Precedent
The resolution of Martin’s case serves as a chilling example for Trump, who currently faces 37 felony charges, 31 of them under the Espionage Act statute. Martin, along with other defendants accused of illegally withholding classified documents, received prison terms of several years after accepting responsibility for their crimes. “When they decide to bring a case of intentional mishandling, it is to send a message: that we take these cases very seriously,” says Michael Zweiback, a defense attorney and former Justice Department prosecutor. Prison terms are almost always sought in such cases.
Potential Prison Time for Trump
The potential prison sentence for the former president, if convicted, remains uncertain. The decision will lie with the trial judge, who was appointed by Trump himself and has already demonstrated a favoring tendency towards him. Additionally, the logistical and political challenges of imprisoning a former president could further complicate the matter. While violating the Espionage Act can lead to a maximum of 10 years in prison, first-time federal offenders rarely receive the maximum penalty. However, prosecutors have identified numerous aggravating factors in Trump’s alleged impropriety, including obstruction of justice, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Previous Espionage Act Cases
The Justice Department has employed the Espionage Act in recent years against various defendants. For instance, Elizabeth Jo Shirley, a West Virginia woman, received an eight-year prison sentence for withholding an NSA document from a foreign government. Similarly, Robert Birchum, a retired Air Force intelligence officer, was sentenced to three years in jail for keeping classified files. It is worth noting that not all defendants who pleaded guilty have gone to prison. Trump, who also faces bribery-related charges in a New York state court, has shown no interest in pursuing a plea deal, vehemently maintaining his innocence and launching personal attacks against Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.
Challenging the Charges
Trump has various avenues to challenge the charges against him. The former president appealed to Judge Aileen Cannon, who previously ruled in his favor regarding the appointment of a special auditor for reviewing seized classified documents. However, the ruling was overturned unanimously by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Judge Cannon’s upcoming decisions regarding the trial, including its pace and admissibility of evidence, will shape its course. Additionally, prosecutors face the challenge of selecting a jury in Florida, where Republicans have gained ground in recent years.
Predicting Trump’s Defense Strategy
Legal experts anticipate that Trump’s lawyers will seek to dismiss the case by arguing that he had the right to access the documents and that he is a victim of prosecutorial overreach. They may also attempt to block the use of certain key evidence, such as notes from Trump’s lawyer detailing conversations with him. If the case proceeds to trial, Trump’s defense team might aim for a “jury nullification,” persuading jurors that their client should be acquitted based on their belief that the alleged violation is insufficient to justify criminal charges or that he is being unfairly targeted.
The Possibility of Delay
In light of overwhelming evidence and the potential for lengthy imprisonment, Trump’s defense strategy may heavily rely on delay tactics. Cheryl Bader, a former federal prosecutor and director of the Defense Department Criminal Law School at Fordham University, suggests that Trump’s best hope might be to prolong the case until the next election cycle, allowing him to potentially regain control of the Department of Justice before the trial. However, a full acquittal seems unlikely given the substantial evidence against him.