Federal prosecutors have launched a grand jury investigation into whether classified White House documents that ended up at former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida home have been mishandled, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The intensification investigation suggests the Justice Department is investigating the role of Mr. Trump and other White House officials in their handling of sensitive materials during the final stages of his administration.
The Justice Department has taken a series of steps in recent days showing that the investigation has progressed beyond the preparatory stages. Prosecutors have subpoenaed the National Archives and Records Administration to obtain the boxes of classified documents, according to the two people familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.
Authorities have also made interview requests to people who worked in the White House during the final days of Trump’s presidency, according to one of the individuals.
The investigation is focused on the discovery by the National Archives in January that, at the end of Mr. Trump’s tenure, he had taken 15 boxes from the White House to his home in the Mar-a-Lago resort containing government documents, mementos, gifts and letters.
After the boxes were returned to the National Archives, the 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 the classified documents.
The subpoena sent to the National Archives in recent days for the classified documents is one of a series of requests the Justice Department has made to the agency in recent months for Trump administration records, the two individuals said.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The National Archives’ public affairs office did not return an email requesting comment. Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich said: “President Trump has consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Late attempts to question that obvious fact are politically motivated and misguided.”
In investigations into the handling of classified documents, charges are rarely brought. But the Justice Department usually conducts them to determine whether highly sensitive information has been exposed so that the intelligence community can take steps to protect sources and methods.
The documents in question are said to have been kept at the White House residence before being boxed and sent to Mar-a-Lago. The investigation focuses on how the documents ended up in the residence, who boxed them, if anyone knew if classified materials were improperly removed from the White House and how they ended up being stored in Mar-a-Lago, it said. the police. a person with expertise, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
A 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton over a similar problem with her personal email account ended without her being charged. And in Mr Trump’s case, legal experts said, presidents have the ability to release essentially any information they want while in office, further complicating any potential prosecution.
The classified documents in question are considered presidential documents under federal law. Because of that distinction, Mr. Trump’s attorneys were notified of the Justice Department’s request, which allowed them to block their release by going to court to quash the subpoena. It is not clear whether the lawyers have responded.
Last year, Trump’s attorney went to court in vain to prevent the National Archives from handing over a series of presidential documents to the special congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol attacks.
The question of how Mr. Trump handled sensitive material and documents he received as president loomed over his time in the White House and beyond. He was known for tearing up pieces of official paper he was given, forcing officials to stitch 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 clumps of shredded paper clogged a toilet, and thought he’d thrown them in there. They did not know the subjects or content of the documents.
The investigation of the classified documents adds to a series of legal problems that Trump still faces 15 months after he left office. A local Atlanta prosecutor is investigating whether he and his allies illegally interfered with the 2020 election results in Georgia, and the New York State Attorney General is investigating the finances of Mr. Trump’s company.
The Trump Investigations
Countless questions. Since Donald J. Trump left office, the former president has faced civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here’s a look at the notable questions:
Despite Mr Trump’s role in inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and his other efforts to disrupt election counting and confirmation, there is no evidence to date that the Department of Justice has begun investigating any criminal culpability he has committed. might have in those cases.
But prosecutors’ steps in the documents case show that the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is at the very least willing to investigate a case that could ultimately relate directly to the president’s conduct.
Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, and even President Biden are frustrated with Mr. Garland for his apparent reluctance to investigate Mr. Trump for his role in undoing the 2020 election.
Now, the decision to proceed with an investigation into the classified documents could draw the department even deeper into the country’s political tensions. Such investigations typically last at least a year, putting Mr. Garland on the path to potentially completing it at the same time as Mr. Trump is running for president again.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump made attacking Ms. Clinton for her handling of classified information a central part of his meetings and comments to the media, undermining her credibility with voters.
The Justice Department and the 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 became president in 2015.
That investigation, which ended with then-FBI Director James B. Comey holding a press conference shortly before both parties held their nominating conventions in the summer of 2016, discovered that Ms. no charges filed against her or anyone else.
In order for prosecutors to prove a crime by mishandling classified material, authorities will likely need evidence that the person in question knowingly and intentionally broke the law. In this case, that would mean proving that the person has been told that taking the information out of secure channels is against the law.
Adam Goldman reporting contributed.