The Department of Justice (DOJ) has initiated an investigation into the 15 boxes that former President Donald Trump removed from the White House and transported to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, after he left office last year.
Trump’s actions may have been illegal and in violation of federal law that dictates how presidential records should be handled.
According to sources with knowledge of the boxes, some of the records contained sensitive and classified information, and had been given a “top secret” designation by the government.
The investigation into the handling of the presidential documents is still in its early stages, sources told The Washington Post. It’s currently unclear whether interviews of people with knowledge of the transfer or who helped handle the moving of the documents have begun, or whether the DOJ has started looking into exactly what the boxes contained.
Some Democrats in Congress have been critical of the Justice Department’s investigation so far — including House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), whose committee is also looking into the transfer of documents. While both sides are seeking a clearer understanding of the situation, Maloney said, the DOJ is refusing to allow the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to share information on the 15 boxes with her committee.
“By blocking NARA from producing the documents requested by the Committee, the Department is obstructing the Committee’s investigation,” Maloney wrote in a letter to the DOJ.
The boxes that Trump took from the White House were retrieved by the National Archives in February. Immediately afterward, the agency requested that the Justice Department investigate the manner in which the documents had been transported, and whether or not the materials should have been in the former president’s possession after his term expired.
Trump’s actions may have been in violation of the Presidential Records Act, a federal law that requires all presidents to adhere to strict standards when it comes to handling presidential documents. Violations of the law can result in fines and even prison sentences, although experts say that the statute doesn’t have much of an enforcement mechanism for former presidents.
Earlier this year, Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich defended Trump’s removal of the documents, saying that the transfer was a “normal and routine process” for presidents, and that his action was “being weaponized by anonymous, politically motivated government sources to peddle Fake News.”
There have been minor violations of the Presidential Records Act by presidents prior to Trump, but experts have noted that the number of records Trump took from the White House was higher than previous infractions.