SVE NEWS & France 24 Sharing Series — What charges could Trump face for holding on to Top Secret documents?

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A seal reading “Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation” is displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, DC, August 9, 2022. © Stefani Reynolds, AFP

Former US President Donald Trump faces possible legal charges over his removal of presidential records, including some documents marked Top Secret, from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

 

What did the search warrant reveal?

The FBI warrant for the search at Mar-a-Lago that was unsealed by the Justice Department on Friday revealed law enforcement was investigating Trump for three main possible infractions: the concealment, mutilation or removal of records; obstruction of justice, including the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations; and possible violations of the Espionage Act, which can include the refusal to turn over documents relating to national security upon request as well as transmitting or losing such information.

FBI agents who searched Mar-a-Lago removed 11 sets of classified documents, including several marked “Top Secret”, according to documents unsealed in a Florida federal court on Friday.

The agents were also searching the Florida estate for documents related to nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Trump said Friday on his Truth Social platform that the “nuclear weapons issue is a ‘hoax’.” He has said he was cooperating with authorities and called the “raid” inappropriate political retribution.

What laws may Trump have broken?

The warrant gave prosecutors the right to seize records containing evidence in violation of three laws, with code numbers 793, 2071 and 1519.

While the list of items agents took from Mar-a-Lago notes that many of the documents were classified, those three laws deal with mishandling of federal government records regardless of whether or not they are classified.

Law 793 prevents unauthorised possession of national defense information, without mentioning whether the records are classified or not. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison for each infraction.

That law was initially passed under the 1917 Espionage Act, which predates the statutory classification system.

The other laws, 2071 and 1519, make it illegal to conceal or destroy official US documents. They are punishable by up to three and 20 years in prison, respectively. Neither law requires the information in question to be classified.

To obtain the warrant, prosecutors had to persuade a judge they had probable cause to believe the laws may have been violated.

Federal law makes it illegal to intentionally take classified documents to an unauthorised location, but that law was not among the three cited in the search warrant.

Trump in 2018 signed a change in law making it a felony to mishandle classified documents and increasing the maximum prison term for individuals convicted of such from one to five years after criticising Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to handle sensitive information while she was secretary of state.

How has the US public reacted to the raid?

It remains to be seen what long-term effects the FBI’s seizure of documents will have on Trump politically or on the November midterm elections. An August 9 YouGov poll, taken the day after the raid, found that 62 percent of Americans felt Trump’s keeping classified documents was “a very big problem” (45 percent) or “somewhat of a problem” (17 percent).

But public opinion on Trump tends to cleave sharply along partisan lines. That same YouGov poll found that 76 percent of Democrats see Trump’s actions as a significant infraction compared with just 12 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of independents.

An August 10 Politico/Morning Consult poll backed up this split, finding that 81 percent of registered Democratic voters said the search was legitimately based on evidence Trump had committed a crime compared to only 16 percent of registered Republicans.

YouGov poll of 2,312 US adults on August 9, 2022. © YouGov America

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)

Text by:FRANCE 24

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Sources from: France 24

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