Of all the chapters in the Donald Trump story, and there have been many, this moment is compelling. 

For his supporters and detractors it is deeply troubling, but for starkly different reasons.

Is he a crook who conspired to steal top secret documents, or is he the victim of a conspiracy to bring him down?

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Trump kept documents in bathroom

From the perimeter of his exclusive New Jersey golf club, it was hard to judge his mood.

In the distance, we watched him teeing off just an hour before the extraordinary indictment against him was unsealed for all to see.

49 pages, 37 felony counts, federal charges, the potential of years in jail if found guilty – make no mistake, this is a huge moment, legally and politically.

The revelations in the unsealed indictment can be broken down into several areas.

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What has Trump been charged with?

What did the documents relate to?

Point three of the indictment details this as much as it can without revealing state secrets.

It states: “The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defence and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programmes; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack.”

Where were the documents found?

We now know where the boxes containing the documents were stored. Unsealed images taken at Mar-a-Lago show them in boxes in a bathroom, in a store room, and in a ballroom.

The indictment says: “The Mar-a-Lago club was not an authorized location for storage, possession, review, display or discussion of classified documents. Nevertheless, TRUMP stored his boxes containing classified documents in various locations at the Mar-a-Lago club”.

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Trump indictment: ‘Laws apply to everyone’

Obstructing the investigation

We have known for months that the National Archives and the FBI made numerous attempts to retrieve the documents from Mr Trump’s possession.

The indictment details multiple attempts at obstruction.

Mr Trump is alleged to have told his attorney to inform the FBI that he “did not have documents.”

It’s alleged Mr Trump conspired in “the moving of boxes of documents to conceal them”.

And Mr Trump is alleged to have suggested to his attorney that he “hide or destroy documents”

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‘I’m an innocent man,’ Trump says

Undermining his own defence

Ever since news first emerged that Mr Trump had retained secret documents he has claimed that he had declassified them before leaving office.

But the indictment reveals the existence of a recording of a conversation made at Trump’s New Jersey golf club in July 2021 months after he left office.

“TRUMP showed and described a ‘plan of attack’ that TRUMP said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. TRUMP told the individuals that the plan was ‘highly confidential’ and ‘secret.’ TRUMP also said, ‘as president I could have declassified it,’ and, ‘Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.'”

The recording appears to prove he knew he had retained secret documents.

Remember that all this evidence has been examined in detail by what’s known as a Grand Jury.

Made up of ordinary Americans, its work is similar to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service – they decide if there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution.

They concluded there is a case for Mr Trump to answer.

Read more:
Donald Trump ‘kept classified documents in shower’
Allegations against Trump ‘entirely different level to what we’ve seen before’

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What next?

This weekend, Mr Trump will attend two rallies, in Georgia and North Carolina.

Remember, he is far and away the favourite to be the Republican candidate for the presidency, and a trial may not conclude before the election.

It is the voters who will drive the direction of all this. Their reaction will be critical. Watch the polls, to the extent that they can be trusted.

This will test America – politically, legally and socially. The divide will deepen.

The split is between those who want Trump in court and those who believe this an attempt by Joe Biden to remove his likely opponent rather than face him at the ballot box.

Brace for jeopardy and turbulence ahead.

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