Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in February and was updated after the FBI raided Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 2022.
Reports that former US President Donald Trump may have mishandled federal documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort have legal experts wondered: Can Trump accused?
Some were quick to speculate yes, although it’s not clear that a former president could be charged by the Justice Department with mishandling documents, even classified information.
A former Trump adviser said there was a good chance no criminal case would happen, but added, “If I were Trump, I would take it seriously.”
The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8.
There are clear laws protecting federal records – with varying degrees of viability in their applications.
Here’s what legal experts told CNN:
CAN TRUMP KEEP OR STATE GOVERNMENT RECORDS AFTER LEAVING THE WHITE HOUSE?
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 outlines the ways in which official records are kept during the presidency and delivered at the end of an administration.
Based on reporting by CNN and others, it appears that some of the requirements of the act may have not been complied with during the Trump presidency. Instead, official White House records were ripped up or flushed down the toilet, and at least 15 boxes of files were shipped to Mar-a-Lago. According to The New York Times, some documents recovered in February from Mar-a-Lago contain records that the National Archives believes have been classified.
Legal experts told CNN that any unauthorized retention or destruction of White House documents raises a red flag under criminal law that prohibits the deletion or destruction of official records of the White House. government.
But for a charge like this to be valid, prosecutors would need to prove that Trump “intentionally” broke the law – a high level, though one that prosecutors could face due to regular efforts in the White House to try to protect the Trump profile. will usually crop.
Furthermore, other criminal laws may also come into force, if a Justice Department investigation is conducted.
“If the intent is ‘Let me take these documents out because they look bad, they could harm me in an investigation, in a lawsuit’, then you’re talking about potential obstruction of justice. So, CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig said.
ARE OTHER RULES WITH TEETH?
A criminal law prohibits the destruction of government property – provided the accused person knowingly broke the law.
As a former officer of the United States, Trump also has an ongoing obligation to protect the classified information he receives as president.
When he was in office, he had the ability to declassify and decide for himself. But that power ended when he left the presidency, and it is unclear whether he declassified any records kept at Mar-a-Lago while he was still in office.
Honig told CNN: “If there was willful, knowing destruction of classified documents, it’s a federal crime.
President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, has been indicted for removing classified documents from the National Archives by stuffing them in his pants during the 9/11 Commission investigation. .
Even so, the case of mishandling national security secrets can get complicated quickly. That’s because there’s no central system in the federal government that standardizes what’s classified, and different agencies can have different views and make judgment requests about the classification.
A Justice Department investigation will likely look into the various agencies’ decisions on the record. According to a legal expert who has handled categorical matters in government, Trump’s defender will be the president and run it all.
WHAT HAS TRUMP TO DO TO DECLARATION?
The issue arose in court during Trump’s presidency, as news organizations pursued classified records related to the Russia investigation after the White House or Trump had publicly talked about declassification. they.
In one case, Justice Department official Brad Weinsheimer said no orders were made to declassify Carter Page’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications, which were sought-after documents, even after official statements that they may be published.
In another meeting, then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Trump’s two comments about the declassification of the documents were not “self-executing declassification orders”, and instead, the decision rests with a federal agency under Trump, according to court records. .
Brad Moss, an attorney who has unsuccessfully tried to declassify Page FISA’s subpoenas in court, said declassifying the President’s information requires his decision in writing. That could be as simple as crossing out “categorized” marks at the top of pages or as formal as filing documents with the White House Counsel’s Office, Moss said.
Moss said the questions that remain about the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago are “Did he know?
CAN ACTION PROMOTION PROCEDURE PROMOTION?
Attorneys don’t have a criminal enforcement mechanism, so it’s in fact “unprofitable,” said George Clarke, a Washington-based attorney who has filed two lawsuits over the practices. record keeping of the Trump White House in recent years, said.
In his lawsuits, jointly pursued by government watchdog group Citizens for Accountability and Ethics in Washington, Historians and archivists complain that notes and translations of Trump’s meetings with foreign powers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, do not exist or are not kept, and that House staff White used the encrypted messaging system for official work. But the courts dismissed the cases, finding that the judges had no authority to run the presidency.
“It was frustrating,” Clarke said, looking back at his lawsuits. “All the cases we’ve come up with show how bad record keeping is and how many times they’ve been violated. The courts don’t bite.”