WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal authorities are in the preliminary stages of investigating the handling of classified material found at former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida home after he left office, people familiar with the matter said Thursday.
The effort, spearheaded by the FBI, stems from the discovery of classified information in 15 boxes containing documents, memorabilia, gifts and letters that had been stolen from the White House at the end of Trump’s term in apparent violation of requirements to turn over all documents. presidential records to the National Archives.
The development was previously reported by The Washington Post.
The National Archives said in February that it had consulted with the Justice Department about the classified material, which it recovered the previous month from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. The agency described the materials in question as “classified national security information.”
The Justice Department has ordered the National Archives not to share details about material taken from the White House by Trump with the House Oversight Committee, which is conducting its own investigation, the committee revealed Thursday, in a statement. hint that a criminal investigation might be underway.
In cases like this, the FBI typically looks at a variety of scenarios, including whether classified material was mishandled or inadvertently disclosed, and might examine whether a foreign adversary might have gained access.
The investigation could once again put Trump at odds with the FBI.
In July 2016, the FBI opened a highly sensitive investigation into whether any of Trump’s associates conspired with the Russians during the presidential campaign. The FBI and prosecutors would later investigate Trump for obstruction after he fired James B. Comey, then the director of the FBI, in May 2017.
The decision to open such a sensitive investigation would have required the approval of senior FBI officials at headquarters. Typically, opening such a high-profile case would include talks with top Justice Department leaders, including the National Security Division.
Before proceeding with an investigation, the FBI would almost certainly want an official determination from any agency involved that the information was properly classified.
It is not publicly known what role Trump played in taking the material from the White House, if any. It is unlikely that he himself will be the subject of the investigation at this time. In the Hillary Clinton investigation that involved sending classified information via email using a private server, the FBI did not target anyone individually.
As part of any investigation, the FBI would want to find out why the classified material was in Trump’s possession and who had access to it. Agents would then want to determine who packed the boxes and transported them to Florida and the circumstances surrounding that episode.
Assessing Trump’s role could be complex, in part because, as president, Trump had the ability to easily declassify any information he wanted.
Mr. Trump made attacking Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of national security materials a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. The latest revelations about Trump’s own laxity with classified information and his attachment to chance to federal record-keeping laws have prompted Democrats to accuse him of blatant hypocrisy.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating Mr. Trump’s possible violations of the Presidential Records Act and other federal statutes. The panel has been seeking information about the contents of the boxes and investigating reports that Trump had “torn, destroyed, mutilated or attempted to tear, destroy or mutilate” documents while in office.
The committee is also investigating reports of “White House employees or contractors finding paper in a toilet in the White House, including the White House residence.”
The Justice Department’s refusal to cooperate fully with House investigators prompted an angry letter Thursday from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York and chair of the Oversight Committee, who accused the attorney general’s agency. Merrick B. Garland to “obstruct” the work of the panel. works.
The National Archives informed the committee on March 28 that it was withholding information about the contents of boxes found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and any information about reviews conducted by other federal agencies, Maloney said in his letter. .
“Based on our consultation with the Department of Justice, we are unable to provide any comment,” the files told the committee.
“By preventing NARA from producing the documents requested by the committee, the department is obstructing the committee’s investigation,” Ms. Maloney wrote to Mr. Garland on Thursday, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. “The committee does not want to interfere in any way with any potential or ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice. However, the committee has not received any explanation as to why the department is preventing NARA from providing information to the committee related to compliance with the Presidential Records Act, including unclassified information describing the contents of the 15 boxes of Mar-a- Lake.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Mr. Trump’s penchant for breaking presidential records was revealed in a 2018 Politico article, but in recent weeks, a series of revelations have raised new questions about his failure to comply with federal record-keeping laws and his handling of classified information by the Trump administration. when Mr. Trump left office.
A book a New York Times reporter is scheduled to publish in October revealed how White House residence staff members periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet, leading them to believe Trump had tried to flush them out. .
In a recent statement, Trump said the boxed material had been released to the archives as part of “an ordinary and routine process” and suggested that efforts by Democrats to raise questions about his handling of the documents were a scam.
“Fake news makes it look like I, as president of the United States, was working in a file room,” he said.
The showdown with Garland is the latest example of growing frustration among Democrats in Congress with the Justice Department. Last week, members of the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill urged the attorney general to move faster to charge Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, with contempt of Congress.
One panel member, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, told him, “Do your job so we can do ours.”
glenn thrush contributed report.