The Department of Justice (DOJ) is urging a federal judge to hold former President Donald Trump’s legal team in contempt of court over their failure to adhere to a subpoena that was issued earlier this year.
The subpoena, which was issued in May, required Trump to turn over all documents marked as classified that he improperly removed from the White House after his departure from the presidency, and for his legal counsel to affirm that no additional classified documents remained in his possession.
A lawyer for Trump had signed such an affirmation in June, but the DOJ later found evidence that the former president still had a significant number of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, leading to an unannounced FBI search of the property in August.
Now, in part because no member of Trump’s legal team will affirm that he no longer has such documents, the DOJ is urging U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell to hold Trump’s team in contempt of court for failing to comply with the subpoena order.
According to some reports, the primary reason that Trump’s legal team is refusing to comply with the subpoena is that nobody wants to be designated as Trump’s custodian of records, as they could potentially be held legally responsible if more classified documents are found later on. Indeed, the DOJ has said that it believes Trump is still hiding materials, and just this week, two more classified documents that Trump had taken from the White House were found in a storage facility near Mar-a-Lago.
It’s unclear if the contempt request came before or after those documents were found.
A spokesperson for Trump has decried the DOJ’s calls for his lawyers to be held in contempt of court, saying that the former president and his legal counsel “continue to cooperate and be transparent” in the DOJ’s investigation. That assertion contradicts the known timeline of events since Trump left the White House, however.
When Trump left office in January 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) tried to get Trump to return documents that agency officials knew he had taken. Trump refused to comply with their requests for almost a year, only relenting late in 2021, when the agency threatened to involve Congress in the matter.
In January 2022, after NARA retrieved some of the records from Mar-a-Lago, officials alerted the Justice Department that some of the documents were marked as classified. The DOJ filed a subpoena in May, which it executed in June, demanding that Trump turn over all classified documents he had taken from the White House and affirm that no additional materials were in his possession, which a lawyer did on his behalf.
When video surveillance and other evidence indicated that the former president was still keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the DOJ obtained a warrant to search the property, finding more than 100 additional documents in Trump’s possession, including in his personal living quarters.
If Judge Howell agrees with the DOJ’s assertion that Trump’s legal team should be held in contempt of court, Trump and his lawyers will likely be subject to some form of sanction, potentially in the form of a fine.
Some legal experts believe that the DOJ’s request is a strong indication that Trump may face additional charges in the future.
“This just reached a whole new level of seriousness,” said Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel for the Department of Defense, noting that the contempt request “adds significantly to the likelihood of indictments.”