Assessing Trump’s risk if he mishandled White House documents

Assessing Trump’s risk if he mishandled White House documents

Reports of former President Donald Trump’s possible mishandling of federal documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort have prompted legal experts this week to handicap: Could Trump be charged with a crime?

Some were quick to speculate yes, though it’s not clear a former president could be charged by the Justice Department for mishandling documents, even classified information. One former Trump adviser said it was highly possible that no criminal case would ever materialize, but added, “If I was Trump, I would be taking it seriously.” There are clear laws that protect federal records — with varying degrees of likelihood in their application.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 outlines the ways official records should be maintained during a presidency and turned over at the end of an administration. Based on CNN’s and others’ reporting, it appears some of the requirements of the act may not have been followed during the Trump presidency. Instead, official White House records were ripped apart or flushed down toilets, and at least 15 boxes of records made their way to Mar-a-Lago. Some of the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago in recent months contained records the National Archives believed were classified, according to The New York Times.

Legal experts tell CNN that any unauthorized retention or destruction of White House documents raises a red flag under a criminal law that prohibits the removal or destruction of official government records. But for a charge like this to fly, prosecutors would need to show that Trump had “willfully” violated the law — a high bar, though one that prosecutors could potentially meet given the frequent efforts within the White House to try to preserve records Trump would habitually mutilate.

Jeremy Veal