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Prosecutors begin probe into secret official documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago after leaving White House

By Andrew Feinberg and Gustaf Kilander
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Department of Justice is now investigating whether former President Donald Trump or any of his aides violated federal law by mishandling classified documents which ended up at his Florida home instead of being returned to the National Archives at the end of his term.

According to the New York Times, prosecutors have issued a subpoena to obtain the documents from the archives and have requested interviews with several people who worked in the White House during the waning days of Mr Trump’s presidency.

The classified materials at the heart of the matter now under investigation with the aid of a federal grand jury were discovered by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) officials after the agency retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mr Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida residence.

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told The Times that “President Trump consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable law and regulations. Belated attempts to second-guess that clear fact are politically motivated and misguided”.

Under federal law, all records created during Mr Trump’s term were the property of the United States and should have been transferred to the archives by the time he left office on 20 January, 2021.

In February, NARA asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Mr Trump’s handling of the documents violated the Presidential Records Act. The agency told Congress at that time that following the return of the boxes to the archives, archivists discovered “items marked as classified national security information”. It was reported in April that an investigation headed by federal authorities was in its initial stages.

The subpoena that was recently sent to the archives requesting the classified documents is one of several requests made of the agency by the Justice Department for records from the Trump administration in the last few months, The Times reported.

In investigations into the handling of classified documents, charges aren’t usually brought. The Justice Department usually investigate to understand if sensitive information may have been revealed to allow the intelligence services to take steps to protect sources and methods.

The documents under investigation are believed to have been stored in the White House residence before being taken to Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump’s private Florida club and current residence.

The investigation is aimed at determining how the boxes of documents were transported to Florida, who was responsible for boxing them up, if anyone was aware that classified material was taken out of the White House in a way that was improper, and how they were stored in Florida, according to The Times.

Legal experts have said that presidents can essentially declassify any information they want while in office, making prosecution more difficult.

The documents under investigation are considered presidential records covered by federal law, meaning that Mr Trump’s legal team were notified of the request from the Justice Department. This afforded them the chance to halt the release of the documents by trying to block the subpoena in court.

Mr Trump’s attorney failed last year to prevent the National Archives from handing over presidential documents to the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol Riot on 6 January 2021.

While Mr Trump was in the White House, he was reported to have a habit of tearing up documents that aides had to tape together to comply with the law. Staff would also find torn up documents clogging a toilet in the White House, The Times reported previously.

Mr Trump is also facing investigations by a prosecutor in Atlanta looking into whether he and his associates interfered with Georgia’s 2020 election results and by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is reviewing the Trump Organization’s financial dealings.

To prove that a felony has been committed in relation to the handling of classified materials, prosecutors would have to show that a person knowingly and intentionally violated the law, meaning that the individual would have to have been made aware that it was illegal to take the information outside of safe channels of communication.

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