New reports are emerging about former President Donald Trump’s alleged role in the classified documents saga that is being investigated by a special counsel. Anonymous sources close to the investigation have told the Washington Post that Trump may have impeded the process of document recovery required by a subpoena. According to this report, Trump might have rummaged through the documents and kept some classified papers, even though the entire trove was requested for return to the National Archives.
A Matter of Intent
“Investigators now suspect, based on witness statements, security camera footage, and other documentary evidence, that boxes including classified material were moved from a Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served,” Washington Post reporters Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, and Perry Stein wrote.
The authors believe that investigators are looking at part of U.S. code that has to do with the handling of government documents during an investigation. The law in question refers to any efforts to “conceal a document with intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation.” It should be noted that this law, 18 U.S.C. 1519, is overly broad and may not be germane to the Trump case.
The key question here is whether there is intent to impede or obstruct. A court and jury would have to determine whether Trump conspired with criminal intent to obstruct the investigation. But that is not exactly what these anonymous witnesses are claiming. Trump could simply say he went through the boxes and looked for personal material that he wanted to keep. Perhaps some documents — as many as 100 different classified papers — were held back by Trump, but is this really a crime?
Donald Trump Camp Is Incensed
Trump spokesman Steven Cheung doesn’t think so.
“The witch-hunts against President Trump have no basis in facts or law,” Cheung said. “The deranged special counsel and the DOJ have now resorted to prosecutorial misconduct by illegally leaking information to corrupt the legal process and weaponize the justice system in order to manipulate public opinion and conduct election interference.”
President Joe Biden is being investigated too, although he has reportedly worked closer with the National Archives to return any misplaced information.
The court of public opinion is leaning toward believing that Trump has kept records that were not proper for him to possess.
A March Quinnipiac University poll found that 69% of people surveyed think that Trump intentionally kept the documents despite the subpoena, while 18% believe the former president kept them by mistake.
Still, 67% of respondents in a January NBC News poll said that they were “as concerned about classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s residence and former office as they are about those found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.”
It is premature to accept the claims made by anonymous sources as evidence that the investigators have a solid case against Trump. It is not clear there was any criminal intent behind Trump’s alleged actions with the documents. The more the special prosecutor suffers from leaks in the investigation, the more likely that Trump could receive an unfair trial in which the jury pool has been poisoned.
But if the allegations are true, these sources might have identified a weak spot in Trump’s defense. If he indeed set out to intentionally stymie a subpoena, a grand jury could be convinced by prosecutors that there is enough evidence to hand down an indictment.
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However, in Trump’s defense, the Washington Post seems to be trying to convict Trump in the media before the special counsel even completes his investigation. Trump is innocent until proven guilty, and there are no charges filed as of yet. There will be a lengthy period of due process for Trump to defend himself if there is an indictment.
Author Expertise and Experience:
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.