Former president Donald Trump took a cache of White House documents down to his Florida residence at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office and Washington, D.C.. And, according to the National Archives, some of those papers contained classified information.
National security attorneys expressed varying degrees of outrage, concern and trepidation over the news.
“RuleOfLaw is imperative here,” prominent whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid tweeted. “[The Justice Department] needs to pursue to the fullest extent possible. Who had access to these records? That’s potential mishandling of classified information alone.”
Zaid, you may recall, was a central figure in Trump’s first impeachment saga over an infamous Ukrainian phone call the former president regarded as “perfect.” An employment attorney as well, Zaid represented both Alexander Vindman and, later, the top impeachment witness’s brother, Yevgeny Vindman, among others.
In response to his initial tweet, Zaid allowed that Trump “could claim to have” declassified the records in question and noted that he certainly “had the power to” do so–but said there wouldn’t be “a paper trail” of any such declassification efforts regardless.
The prospect of the 45th president potentially gaining unauthorized access to information that is said to have been classified at the time it was removed from the White House–or allowing others such access–presented something of a stark relief sort of exercise in alleged political hypocrisy.
Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was given a late boost due to a controversial announcement from then FBI-head James Comey that Hillary Clinton was being investigated by the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. Recall: It was believed that Anthony Weiner‘s laptop may have been relevant to an investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information through the use of her private email server.
“NARA had ongoing communications with the representatives of former President Trump throughout 2021, which resulted in the transfer of 15 boxes to NARA in January 2022,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero wrote in a letter to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) dated Feb. 18, 2022.
“NARA has identified items marked as classified national security information within the boxes,” the agency said in response to a specific question from the congresswoman about their contents.
Parallels to the Comey-Clinton scandal were rife across social media after the news of Trump taking 15 boxes to southern Florida broke on Friday — and legal experts insisted an investigation should follow.
“It is always legally complicated when the national security authority of a President is involved, but the possible theft of government documents and certainly the mishandling of classified information is a serious issue that needs to be fully investigated by the Department of Justice,” Zaid told Law&Crime in an email.
The letter from the national archivist noted that “NARA staff has been in communication with the Department of Justice” due to the presence of the classified information in those 15 boxes.
“Policy concerns aside, the Department has a legal obligation to pursue this matter,” Zaid continued. “It is actually not just former President Trump’s conduct that needs to be investigated but also those around him who held a security clearance and federal ethical obligations to protect the documents yet knew they were taken from the White House and were present at Mar-a-Lago.”
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss treated the news as unsurprising but warranting of further investigation. He expressed skepticism about whether Attorney General Merrick Garland’s DOJ would make much hay of the situation, however.
“Nothing is less surprising than the fact that the Trump White House, which was reckless with record keeping in general, would box and mail classified documents to sit at Mr. Trump’s unsecured golf resort,” said Moss, a partner at Zaid’s firm. “Time will tell if anyone will be indicted over it.”
[image via ALEX EDELMAN_AFP/Getty Images]
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