The formal charges against former US president Donald Trump, which were announced on Thursday, centre on his handling of classified national security documents which were taken to his home in Florida after he left the White House in January 2021.
The records of presidents when they leave office are supposed to be sent to the US national archives. However boxes of documents relating to Trump’s term in the White House were shipped to Mar-a-Lago, his home and club in Florida.
Here is a timeline of events leading up to the charges:
May 2021: The US National Archives – which preserves and documents government records – contacts Trump’s team to say that some high-profile records appear to be missing. Further approaches are made in subsequent months.
December 2021: A lawyer for Trump tells the US National Archives that some missing documents have been identified, including correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
January 2022: The archives US National Archives collects 15 boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago.
February 2022: After going through the boxes, the US National Archives discovers documents marked as classified which are intermingled with more mundane material such as copies of news articles. The archives subsequently makes a formal referral to the US department of justice about the possible mishandling of classified material.
April 2022: The department of justice tells a Trump lawyer that it understands there were at least 100 classified documents in the boxes returned to the archives, some of which had “the highest levels of classification”.
May 2022: A grand jury – which hears evidence presented by a prosecutor and determines whether there is enough evidence to prosecute a person and whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed – issues a subpoena seeking all “documents bearing classification markings” that are still in Trump’s possession.
June 2022: A lawyer for Trump contacts the department of justice and says it can visit Mar-a-Lago and pick up classified documents related to the subpoena. The department of justice received a single folder that included 38 documents bearing classification markings, including five marked as confidential, 16 marked as secret and 17 marked as top secret. It later received CCTV video from Mar-a-Lago which indicated that boxes were moved around after the subpoena had been issued.
August 2022: The FBI searches Trump’s property after receiving a warrant from a judge. A subsequent court filing indicates the FBI seized more than 100 documents marked classified, ranging from confidential to top secret level. More than 70 were found in a storage room. Others were found in Trump’s office, including three documents found in the drawers of desks.
November 2022: Trump announces he is running again for president. Days later US attorney general Merrick Garland appoints Smith as special counsel to oversee the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents.