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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: presidential records act

​​What Charges Might Trump Face For Illegally Taking White House Records?

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Here is an outline of the legal problems Donald Trump might face over his removal from the White House of official presidential records that his son said had prompted an FBI search on Monday of the former president's Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate.

What Do We Know About The Investigation?

The National Archives notified Congress in February that it had recovered 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago, some containing classified materials. The Justice Department in April launched an investigation into their removal.

Trump's son Eric told Fox News on Monday the FBI search was over documents the National Archives had sought. Reuters was unable to learn more details about the documents Eric Trump cited.

Donald Trump said on Monday the "raid" was "not necessary or appropriate." He said he was cooperating with the relevant government agencies. A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

How Should Presidents Handle Their Records?

Several federal laws restrict what former presidents can do with documents from their time in office; many carry felony penalties.

The Presidential Records Act provides that official documents - ranging from briefing materials and meeting minutes to emails, texts and handwritten notes - created or received by presidents or their top aides are U.S. property, rather than the personal property of the president.

The law put the National Archives in charge of handling presidential records.

What Is Trump's Defense If Charged?

The Presidential Records Act excludes documents "of a purely private or nonpublic character" - including materials related to the president's own election campaign - from its preservation requirements. Trump could argue the documents he took were exempt.

Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, said on Monday he had removed mementos he was legally authorized to take.

But the law lays out a process for how presidents should go about seeking exemptions for certain types of records from the National Archives, said Jennifer Beidel, a former federal prosecutor and partner at law firm Saul Ewing.

"If there's some question or concern, he's still supposed to follow the procedure," Beidel said.

What Charges Could Trump Face?

While the Presidential Records Act does not specify an enforcement mechanism, taking presidential records from the White House could open Trump up to charges of conspiring to impede the proper functioning of the National Archives, said Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and former federal prosecutor.

He could also be charged under a law, known by its code number 2071, making it a crime to conceal or destroy U.S. public documents, or laws making it illegal to steal or damage government property.

Even if the search warrant pertains to Trump's handling of official documents, he could end up facing charges for different crimes, said Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor. Trump faces other possible legal entanglements, including a probe into his supporters' January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Once the government starts looking at documents that are seized, they do not need to shut their eyes to evidence of other crimes that they come across," Epner said.

What If The Documents Were Classified?

Federal law makes it illegal to intentionally take classified documents to an unauthorized location. A source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters the FBI's search appeared to be tied to Trump's removal of classified records from the White House.

The president has broad powers to declassify documents, raising the possibility Trump could have done so before taking the records to Mar-a-Lago.

But he could be held culpable under a law preventing unauthorized possession of national defense information, regardless of whether it is classified, said David Aaron of law firm Perkins Coie, a former federal prosecutor.

What Are The Precedents?

No former president has been criminally charged with mishandling records. High-profile officials who have faced similar charges include former CIA Director David Petraeus, who in 2015 pleaded guilty https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-petraeus-plea-... to giving classified information to a mistress who was writing his biography. He was sentenced https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-petraeus/ex... to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.

Samuel Berger, a U.S. national security adviser to former President Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty https://www.reuters.com/article/us-people-sandyber... in 2005 to unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. He was fined more than $50,000 and given a sentence of 100 hours community service and two years' probation.

Could Trump Be Barred From Holding Future Federal Office?

A provision of 2071 states that anyone convicted will be barred from holding federal office and face a prison term of up to three years.

But experts said that provision may not be constitutional. The U.S. Constitution sets forth the qualifications for holding federal elected office, and previous Supreme Court rulings have held that Congress cannot limit who can run for the presidency, the Senate or the House.

If convicted and disqualified from office, Trump would likely challenge it in court, where the outcome would be far from certain.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Daniel Fastenberg; editing by Howard Goller)

National Archives: Trump Took 'Classified National Security' Documents From White House

The National Archives delivered more damning revelations in a letter Friday, finding that Trump White House aides were conducting official government business via non-approved non-government electronic messaging apps. NARA also confirmed that there were “items marked as classified national security information” in the 15 boxes being stored in the former president’s Mar-a-Lago suite, in violation of federal law.

“NARA has also learned that some White House staff conducted official business using non-official electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts, as required by section 2209 of the PRA,” the letter said, referring to the Presidential Records Act.

Trump won office in 2016 in part by distorting and politicizing Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and server, which were not violations of law.

The National Archives letter makes clear classified documents were in fact in those 15 cartons, and that it has contacted the DOJ: “Because NARA identified classified information in the boxes, NARA staff has been in communication with the Department of Justice.”

It also reveals that as far back as 2018 it knew Trump was destroying documents and asked the White House Counsel to intervene. Although they said they would, the document destruction, reportedly including by flushing documents down the toilet, had continued.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Historians File Lawsuit Against Trump, Kushner To Stop Destruction Of Records

Donald Trump and agencies and individuals in his administration have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to ensure that they comply with the Presidential Records Act and do not destroy documents related to the Trump administration.

The plaintiffs that filed the suit are the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institution associated with the George Washington University; the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the American Historical Association, both professional organizations serving historians; and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a nonprofit ethics watchdog organization.

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Trump Aides, Cronies Planned Transfer Of ‘Sensitive’ Nuclear Tech To Saudis

Former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland and other aides in the White House appear to have worked on a plan to “transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology” to Saudi Arabia over unsecured emails, according to a new letter from the House Oversight Committee chair sent on Thursday.

The detail is one of many allegations in a broader letter about the White House’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act, which has strict requirements about how administration officials should conduct and record official business. The letter, signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), said that the committee has been investigating concerns about the White House’s use of private email and messaging apps, including use by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner.

Trump and his supporters emphasized the issue of administration messaging and record-keeping practices in the 2016 campaign in light of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of private email when she was secretary of State.

But the new revelation that Trump administration officials were working on a plan to transfer “nuclear technology” to Saudi Arabia is a remarkable development, given the continuing scandal of the White House’s twisted relationship with the authoritarian regime.

The letter noted that McFarland’s discussion of the Saudi plan, using an AOL email address, was done in coordination with Tom Barrack, who is described as “a personal friend of President Trump and the chairman of President Trump’s inaugural committee.”

Cummings also said that Steve Bannon, the president’s former top strategist who has left the White House, may also have been involved. One email “appears to show that Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist, received documents pitching the plan from Mr. Barrack through his personal email account,” according to the letter.

The letter continued:

These communications appear to be sent while Mr. Bannon worked at the White House in order to inform Mr. Bannon’s official work relating to developing “broader middle east policy.”

These communications raise questions about whether these officials complied with the Presidential Records Act and whether the White House identified this personal email use during its internal review and took steps to address it. The Committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act and our oversight over compliance with the law will inform whether additional changes to strengthen the law are necessary.

McFarland no longer works at the White House. At the time of the emails in question, she served under National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was since ousted, indicted, and charged with lying to the FBI by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and accused of working as an unregistered foreign agent.