Prosecutors are investigating Trump’s handling of classified material

Prosecutors are investigating Trump’s handling of classified material

Federal prosecutors have launched a grand jury probe into whether classified White House documents that ended up in the Florida home of former President Donald J. Trump were mishandled, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The intensifying investigation suggests the Justice Department is investigating the role of Mr. Trump and other officials in his White House in handling sensitive materials in the final stages of his tenure.

In recent days, the Justice Department has taken a number of steps that show its investigation has progressed beyond the initial stages. According to the two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, prosecutors issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration to obtain the boxes of classified documents.

According to one of the people, authorities have also directed interview requests to people who worked in the White House during the final days of Mr Trump’s presidency.

The investigation focuses on the National Archives’ discovery in January that Mr Trump had brought 15 boxes from the White House containing government documents, memorabilia, gifts and letters to his home in the resort town of Mar-a-Lago at the end of his term.

After the boxes were returned to the National Archives, its archivists found documents containing “items marked as classified national security information,” the agency told Congress in February. In April it was reported that federal authorities were in the early stages of investigating how the classified information was handled.

The subpoena, which was sent to the National Archives for the classified documents in recent days, is among a series of requests the Justice Department has made to the Trump Administration Records Agency in recent months, the two people said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment. The National Archives Office of Public Affairs did not respond to an email requesting comment. A spokesman for Mr Trump, Taylor Budowich, said: “President Trump has consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Belated attempts to question this clear fact are politically motivated and misguided.”

Charges are rarely brought in investigations into the handling of classified documents. But the Justice Department usually conducts them to determine whether potentially highly sensitive information has been disclosed so intelligence agencies can take steps to protect sources and methods.

The documents in question are believed to have been held at the White House residence before being boxed and sent to Mar-a-Lago. The investigation is focused on how the documents got to the residence, who packed them, whether anyone knew classified materials were abusively taken out of the White House, and how they ended up being stored at Mar-a-Lago by a person with knowledge of the Affair, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

A 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton over a similar issue with her personal email account ended without her being charged. And in the case of Mr. Trump, legal experts said, presidents have the ability to release essentially any information they want during their tenure, further complicating any potential prosecution.

The classified documents in question are considered presidential records under federal law. Because of that distinction, Mr. Trump’s attorneys were notified of the Justice Department’s request, giving them an opportunity to block her release by going to court to quash the subpoena. It is unclear whether the lawyers have responded.

Last year, Mr Trump’s attorney unsuccessfully went to court to prevent the National Archives from turning over a number of the President’s records to the Congressional Special Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol.

Questions about how Mr. Trump handled sensitive materials and documents he received as President have arisen throughout his time in the White House and beyond. He was known to tear up pieces of official paper handed to him and forced officials to tape them back together because it’s illegal to destroy presidential records. And a forthcoming book by a New York Times reporter reveals that dorm staff found clumps of torn paper clogged in a toilet and thought he had thrown them down. They knew neither the topics nor the content of the documents.

The investigation into the classified documents adds to a slew of legal issues Mr Trump is still facing 15 months after leaving office. A local Atlanta prosecutor is investigating whether he and his allies illegally interfered with the Georgia 2020 election results, and the New York State Attorney General is investigating the finances of Mr Trump’s company.

Despite Mr Trump’s role in inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and his other efforts to disrupt the counting and confirmation of the election, to date there has been no indication that the Justice Department has begun a investigating criminal guilt of him could have in these matters.

But prosecutors’ moves in the document case show that the Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, is at least willing to investigate a matter that could ultimately directly affect the president’s conduct.

Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and even President Biden have been frustrated with Mr. Garland for his apparent reluctance to investigate Mr. Trump for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Now, the decision to proceed with an investigation of the classified documents could draw the department even deeper into the country’s political tensions. Such investigations typically take at least a year, which puts Mr. Garland on track to potentially have to complete them at the same time as Mr. Trump is running for president again.

During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump made attacking Mrs. Clinton for handling classified information a central part of his rallies and statements to the media, and helped undermine her credibility with voters.

The Justice Department and FBI had launched an investigation into whether she mishandled classified information when she relied on a personal email account as Secretary of State shortly after beginning her 2015 presidential bid.

That investigation, which ended with then-FBI Director James B. Comey holding a press conference just before both parties held their nominating conventions in the summer of 2016, found that Ms Clinton had highly classified information in her emails, but neither against she nor anyone else was charged.

In order for prosecutors to establish a crime involving the handling of classified information, authorities will likely need evidence that the individual involved knowingly and intentionally broke the law. In this case, that would mean proving that the person was told that taking the information outside of secure channels would be against the law.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

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