Trump could face criminal charges for destroying, stealing official documents

Experts say former President Donald Trump could be charged with a crime for mishandling federal documents while he was in office and stealing government property after he decamped to his Mar-a-Lago resort following his defeat in the 2020 election.

The law governing the Commander-in-Chief’s records-keeping responsibilities is the Presidential Records Act, which was enacted in 1978 and requires any memos, letters, emails, and other documents related to the president’s duties to be preserved and given to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at the conclusion of an administration.

When the NARA handed over a trove of documents to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, some of those White House records had been ripped up and then taped back together.

Trump was notorious for his odd and potentially unlawful habit of tearing presidential records into shreds and tossing them on the floor

Watchdog group lawyer Anne Weismann said that the former president “clearly violated” the Presidential Records Act by ripping up records and she identified two criminal laws that Trump may have broken by destroying White House records.

The first law states anyone who “willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States” faces a fine or up to one year imprisonment if convicted.

The second states anyone who “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates or destroys … any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited … in any public office” is subject to a fine or up to three years in prison if convicted.

The Archives recently revealed that Trump tore up documents while in office, some of which were pieced back together by White House records management officials, and brought with him more than a dozen boxes of items and letters to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Florida, residence, after leaving office last year.

NARA retrieved 15 boxes from Trump’s Florida resort, including letters from Barack Obama and Kim Jong Un, but recovering stolen presidential records that were taken because Trump did not want to pack or accept defeat is not the same as obeying the law.

“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “Whether through the creation of adequate and proper documentation, sound records management practices, the preservation of records, or the timely transfer of them to the National Archives at the end of an Administration, there should be no question as to need for both diligence and vigilance. Records matter.”

Trump’s actions appear to be a clear violation of the law, especially the president’s habit of ripping, tearing and destroying documents, despite repeated warnings from his own White House officials. This includes documents pertaining to the January 6 attack on the Capitol incited by Trump, a concerning revelation. 

Reports by the Washington Post and others show the National Archives were forced to go down to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence to retrieve fifteen boxes of documents and other records that were required to be handed over to the agency at the end of the administration.

NARA’s statement on the matter underscores the need for transparency regarding the extent of former President Trump’s violations. According to NARA, “records should have been transferred to NARA from the White House at the end of the Trump Administration in January 2021.”

Of course, that was not the case as they also state Trump’s representatives were “continuing to search” for records that should have been turned over but weren’t. 

Trump confiscated an interpreter’s notes after he had a private conversation with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Trump scolded his White House counsel for taking notes at a meeting during the investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Top executive branch officials had to be reminded more than once not to conduct official business on private email or text messaging systems and to preserve it if they did.

Since the latest disclosures, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested all records from January 20, 2021 reflecting any referrals by NARA to the DOJ relating to Trump’s presidential records.

CREW is also requesting all communications from January 20, 2021 on between NARA staff, Trump or his representatives relating to his compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

This also includes communications concerning efforts to recover documents and other items not transferred to NARA at the end of the Trump Administration as well as those ripped, torn or destroyed by Trump while in office. 

Trump consistently acted as if the laws did not apply to him, so it is no surprise this includes the preservation of records in compliance with the PRA.

Americans are tired of public officials who act as if the rules don’t apply to them, this includes the highest office in the land.

These records are not only important for historical context, they shed light on the extent of Trump’s failure to transfer documents for safekeeping, as well as his disregard for the law shown by his mutilation of presidential records. 

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