Prosecutors continue investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents

Federal prosecutors have opened a grand jury investigation into whether classified White House documents that ended up at former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida home were mishandled, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The escalating investigation suggests the Justice Department is looking into the role of Mr. Trump and other White House officials in their handling of sensitive documents during the final stages of his administration.

In recent days, the Justice Department has taken a series of steps showing that its investigation has progressed beyond preliminary stages. Prosecutors have issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration to obtain the boxes of classified documents, according to the two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.

Authorities also made interview requests to people who worked at the White House in the final days of Mr. Trump’s presidency, according to one of the people.

The investigation centers on the discovery by the National Archives in January that at the end of Mr Trump’s term he took home to the Mar-a-Lago resort town 15 boxes from the White House containing documents government, souvenirs, gifts. and letters.

After the boxes were returned to the National Archives, its archivists found documents containing “items marked as classified national security information,” the agency told Congress in February. In April, it was reported that federal authorities were in the preliminary stages of investigating the handling of classified documents.

The subpoena that was sent to the National Archives in recent days for the classified documents is part of a series of requests the Justice Department has made to the agency for Trump administration records in recent months, according to both people.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. The National Archives’ public affairs office did not return an email seeking comment. Representatives for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Charges are rarely brought in investigations into the handling of classified documents. But the Justice Department typically conducts them to determine whether highly sensitive information may have been exposed so the intelligence community can take steps to protect sources and methods.

The documents in question were reportedly stored in the White House residence before being packaged and sent to Mar-a-Lago. According to a person familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

A 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton over a similar issue involving her personal email account ended without her being charged. And in Mr. Trump’s case, legal experts said, presidents have the ability during their tenure to declassify essentially any information they wish, further complicating any potential prosecution.

The classified documents in question are considered presidential records under federal law. Because of that distinction, Mr. Trump’s attorneys were notified of the Justice Department’s request, giving them the option to block his release by going to court to overturn the subpoena. It is not known whether the lawyers have responded.

Last year, Mr. Trump’s attorney went to court unsuccessfully to block the National Archives from turning over a series of presidential files to the special congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the Capitol.

The question of how Mr. Trump handled the sensitive papers and documents he received as president has arisen throughout his time in the White House, and beyond. He was known to have torn up pieces of official paper given to him, forcing officials to glue them back together because it is illegal to destroy presidential records. And a forthcoming book by a New York Times reporter reveals that residence staff would find torn pads of paper clogging the toilets and believe they had thrown them away. They did not know the subjects or the content of the documents.

The investigation into the classified documents adds to a series of legal issues that Mr Trump still faces 15 months after leaving office. A local Atlanta prosecutor is investigating whether he and his allies unlawfully interfered with Georgia’s 2020 election results, and the New York state attorney general is investigating Mr. Trump’s company finances.

Despite Mr. Trump’s role in helping to incite the crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and his other efforts to disrupt the counting and certification of the election, there is no indication to date that the department of Justice has begun to examine any criminal culpability he may have in these matters.

But prosecutors’ moves in the documents case show that the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is at least willing to consider a matter that could ultimately directly affect the president’s conduct.

Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and even President Biden have been frustrated with Mr. Garland over his apparent reluctance to investigate Mr. Trump for his role in trying to void the 2020 election.

Now, the decision to move forward with an investigation into the classified documents could drag the department even deeper into the country’s political tensions. Such investigations typically take at least a year, putting Mr. Garland on a path to potentially having to conclude them at the same time as Mr. Trump runs for president again.

During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump made attacking Mrs. Clinton for her handling of classified information a central feature of his rallies and media remarks, helping to undermine his credibility with voters.

The Justice Department and FBI had launched an investigation into whether she mishandled classified information when she relied on a personal email account as Secretary of State shortly after she began run for president in 2015.

That investigation, which ended with then-FBI Director James B. Comey holding a press conference shortly before the two sides held their nominating conventions in the summer of 2016, revealed that Mrs. Clinton had highly classified information in her emails, but no charges were brought against her or anyone else.

For prosecutors to prove a crime in the mishandling of classified documents, authorities would likely need evidence showing that the person in question knowingly and intentionally broke the law. In this case, that would mean proving that the person was told that taking the information outside of secure channels would violate the law.

Adam Goldman contributed report.

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