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Here’s what to know about the Mar-a-Lago documents case

This photo from the US Justice Department shows boxes of classified documents stored in a bathroom and shower in the Mar-a-Lago Club. - US Department of Justice

A longtime Mar-a-Lago employee who is a central witness in the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents, aka – “Trump Employee 5” – spoke publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with CNN.

The classified documents case is one of four criminal cases Trump is facing, although it’s unclear when it will go to trial.

Here are some basic facts about the case:

What’s the case about?

The case centers around Trump’s handling of classified documents after his presidency and his resistance to the government’s attempts to retrieve the materials he took to Mar-a-Lago from the White House.

Trump’s personal aide, Walt Nauta, and Carlos de Oliveira, Mar-a-Lago’s property manager, have also been charged. All three have pleaded not guilty.

What happened before charges were brought?

Before the initial charges against Trump were brought in June 2023, officials had tried – and failed – throughout 2021 and 2022 to get back the documents in Trump’s possession. The National Archives, charged with collecting and sorting presidential material, said in early 2022 that at least 15 boxes of White House records were recovered from the estate, including some that were classified.

The government’s efforts culminated in the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022, in which federal agents seized thousands of documents, about 100 of which were marked as classified.

Jack Smith was made special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into both the documents matter and Trump’s efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election.

What charges are the defendants facing?

Trump was initially charged with 37 felony counts, alleging he illegally retained national defense information and that he concealed documents in violation of witness-tampering laws. At the same time, Nauta was charged with six counts, including several obstruction- and concealment-related charges stemming from his alleged conduct.

Weeks later, Smith brought several new charges against both men and also charged de Oliveira for the first time. The property manager was charged with four counts, with Smith accusing him of working alongside Trump and Nauta to obstruct the investigation by attempting to delete Mar-a-Lago security footage sought through a grand jury subpoena.

What did the documents at issue concern?

The indictment unveiled in June claims that Trump retained documents related to national defense that were classified at the highest levels and some so sensitive that they required special handling.

DOJ has singled out 31 documents – one for each of the 31 willful retention counts that Trump is facing. Several of the records concern the military capabilities of various countries, prosecutors say.

Where does the case stand now?

The case is at a critical juncture.

Judge Aileen Cannon is reconsidering the trial start date, which was initially set for late May. At a hearing earlier this month, attorneys for Trump told the judge that the case should wait until after the 2024 election. Part of Trump’s strategy in his federal criminal cases has included attempting to delay trials until after the election. If he wins the presidency, he could order DOJ to drop the federal charges.

For their part, prosecutors want Trump to go to trial on July 8.

Meanwhile, Trump is attempting to get the entire documents case tossed out. His lawyers are pushing a series of arguments for why Cannon should order the case to be dismissed, including that he’s shielded by presidential immunity and that his handling of the classified material is allowed under the Presidential Records Act.

Prosecutors have pushed back forcefully on all of his arguments, and Cannon is set to consider some of those so-called motions to dismiss during a hearing later this week.

What other criminal cases does Trump face?

Trump is facing three other criminal cases. Smith separately charged the former president last August with four crimes over his efforts to reverse the 2020 election results. That case is currently on hold as the Supreme Court weighs Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in the matter. The justices will hear oral arguments in the case next month.

A similar election subversion case has been brought against Trump and others by state prosecutors in Georgia. A trial date has not yet been set in that case, which is also in limbo while Trump and several of his co-defendants try to disqualify the Atlanta-area district attorney who brought the charges.

The former president’s first criminal trial is scheduled to take place later this month in New York, where he faces state charges stemming from his alleged falsification of business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to every charge in these cases.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz, Holmes Lybrand and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.

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