Two employees at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate moved boxes full of papers the day before the Department of Justice (DOJ) executed a subpoena last year to retrieve classified documents from the property, a new report indicates.
Trump and his aides also carried out a “dress rehearsal” for moving the documents from his storage locker elsewhere on the estate, according to a report from The Washington Post that was published on Thursday. The report cites sources with knowledge of the DOJ’s evidence against Trump in the case involving his improper transfer of government documents from the White House, including more than 300 materials that were marked classified.
The DOJ also has evidence that Trump kept classified documents in his personal office, and that he sometimes showed them off to others. The latter detail, if true, could land him in legal trouble as he attempts another presidential run next year.
Last August, the FBI retrieved documents from Trump’s personal quarters.
The information cited in the newest report from The Post has likely been known for some time by investigators working for special counsel Jack Smith. There are strong indicators that the inquiry into Trump’s mishandling of government documents is winding down, including the fact that the grand jury investigating the case hasn’t met since May 5.
It’s not clear when Smith, who must get approval from Attorney General Merrick Garland, will make a charging decision, but legal experts believe that such a decision is imminent, and could include Espionage Act charges, as that law forbids the improper sharing of government documents.
“I expect this will result in Espionage Act charges,” said Ryan Goodman, co-editor of Just Security and former special counsel for the Department of Defense, noting that the DOJ reportedly has evidence of Trump showing materials to as-yet unknown individuals at Mar-a-Lago.
“Trump’s reported conduct of RETAINING classified documents is already more serious than [the] average case in which Justice Department DOES indict,” Goodman went on, adding, “the reported facts are now far beyond just an obstruction case.”
Norm Eisen, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, agreed.
“If the new revelations about the [Mar-a-Lago] docs case are true, Trump’s already perilous situation just got a lot worse under 18 U.S.C. 793 (Espionage Act) & 18 U.S.C. 1519 (obstruction),” Eisen said.
The reported facts of the case suggest that Trump could face, at a minimum, obstruction charges for his attempts to keep the documents even after the DOJ subpoenaed him for their return last spring. It’s also possible that the Justice Department will choose to indict the former president, a move that would be unprecedented.
The Guardian reported earlier this week that Trump’s lawyer in the case, Evan Corcoran, explicitly told the former president that classified documents had to be returned to the federal government as a result of the subpoena order last spring. Corcoran has testified to the grand jury and provided detailed notes on his conversations with Trump — an action he was able to do because a federal judge determined that Trump may have used Corcoran’s legal advice in furtherance of a crime, thereby lifting attorney-client privileges and allowing the DOJ to compel his testimony.
CNN also reported last week that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which has been seeking the documents in Trump’s possession since January 2021 (and which initially involved the DOJ in the matter), provided the grand jury with at least 16 documents indicating that Trump and his aides were aware that he couldn’t declassify documents on his way out of the White House by simply declaring them declassified, dismantling one of Trump’s key defenses since it became public knowledge that he was storing hundreds of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
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