Weird law prosecutors can use to keep Donald Trump out of the White House

During Donald Trump’s tumultuous final days as president, senior administration officials were less focused on what Trump might walk out of the White House door and more concerned that he would walk out the door.

“You have to remember that many of us just wanted him out of the building without violence happens more,” said a former senior Trump official who served until Trump’s last day in office. “I remember the rushed and confused packing process in those final weeks, often when the president was not consulted at all.”

The former senior aide said the goal was to leave, “restore to whatever level of calm we could, and quite frankly, to distract [Trump] with anything we can think of that will amuse him. “

But when Trump was finally consulted about the packing, he simply pointed to key artefacts he wanted to bring to Mar-a-Lago, two aides recalled, and the staff have to do.

It is this frenzied packing – combined with Trump’s tendency to want to take whatever he wants, even if it’s not his property – that eventually leads to something strange, National Archives-led restoration mission at Trump’s Florida club last month.

It is far from the only scandalous run of the twice-impeached former president with the National Archives. Trump the habit of tearing up documents and scraps of paper — both secret and frivolous — became the focus of Investigative Committee January 6.

Late last month, Archives officials confirmed that some documents assigned to House investigators were indeed “torn apart” by the then-president. Some of the papers had to be meticulously reassembled after they were left in absolute tatters by the 45th president of the United States.

But it is this picayune practice, combined with Trump’s decision to give boxes of documents that should have been improperly turned over to the National Archives, technically, could make Mr. never took office again. That is, if prosecutors are brave enough to pursue bizarre charges aimed at spying on someone intentionally concealing, erasing, or destroying any presidential records — or even attempting to do so. so.

Every indication so far is that they are not.

Trump has a longstanding habit of ripping up papers he’s finished reading. Before being assigned classified information in the West Wing, Trump tore up sensitive documents and trivial memos as he presided over his family business empire and organized Probationer.

According to three people familiar with the matter, on his NBC reality TV series, Trump would manually shred production notes, even Post-it Notes, after and between shoots, for program staff to sweep or vacuum the pieces. While on his private jet or working at Trump Tower, he frequently tore – and casually tossed aside – copies of Trump Organization financial documents, news articles, and printed copies of tweets. was sent to him.

One of the sources familiar with his routine said he often does this to signal to employees that he’s “done.”

Trump continues routine in time total during his four-year term. Two former Trump administration officials recall that he was warned infrequently but repeatedly by a series of White House lawyers, top officials and docile aides.

Trump doesn’t care.

“Once [in the middle of the presidency when] I told him he should consider cooling it by shredding,” one of Trump’s former lieutenants told The Daily Beast. “The president said, like, ‘Yeah, okay,’ and then he went on.”

“It took less than a week for me to see him do the same thing with several different documents,” the former official added.

Nothing surprising. In the final weeks of the Trump presidency, two different associations of professional historians to sue federal government to make sure these records don’t disappear. While that lawsuit didn’t produce much, it did lead to a Justice Department attorney making a curious remark in open court that could come back to haunt Trump and his associates. .

On Wednesday, Articles washington report that the National Archives had taken the step of asking the Justice Department “to examine Donald Trump’s handling of the White House records, sparking discussions among federal law enforcement officials about whether Should they investigate the former president for a possible crime?” Same day, New York Times more another class about the story, reported that the Archives had “discovered what it believed to be classified information” in a series of papers that Trump had not officially removed from the White House and, until recently, kept in his personal collection.

And yet, on December 7, 2020, in the tumultuous closing months of the Trump era, DOJ attorney Elizabeth Shapiro argued that a federal judge should not have issued a temporary restraining order to secure documents. because White House officials have been asked to keep the document intact.

“Conservation instructions have been forwarded to the White House,” she said, according to a court transcript. “Every litigant has a duty to keep records. We did that. And there was absolutely no need for a conservatorship as we were already complying with our procedural obligations… no need to file a petition, especially an emergency motion, as conservatorship measures are in place. ”

The two entities involved in that lawsuit — the civic freedom watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the transparency advocates at the National Security Archives — are now calling on the Justice Department to This investigation is a criminal matter.

“President Trump has been informed that this conduct violates the law in many ways and on many occasions, but he persists in destroying and mutilating presidential records of great historical value,” they said. write in letter to the DOJ and the FBI on Tuesday.

These calls will usually be a bit more than a press release. And with early signs from the DOJ, prosecutors are unlikely to pursue charges. But if they do, the punishment that comes with prosecution could have historical significance: Anyone who violates that law is “ineligible to hold any office under the United States of America.”

It was a powerful hammer used to convict Rear Admiral John Poindexter and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of crimes Iran-Contra . case in the 1980s. And while criminal charges against Trump may seem far-fetched, Trump’s critics say this could be used to undermine Trump’s dream of returning to the White House in 2025.

“It’s almost like fruit hanging upside down and it’s disconcerting that the Department of Justice doesn’t seem to be looking into this,” said Nikhel Sus, a senior attorney at CREW. We’ve been sounding the alarm about this. this for many years”. . “If you’re sending a message to government officials we don’t take records laws seriously, what incentive do they have to comply? That encourages noncompliance.”

A Trump spokesman did not respond to questions about this story.

Part of the reason Joe Biden’s DOJ probably won’t prosecute Trump for destroying documents could be due to sanctions.

Blocking Trump from seeking office would almost certainly be seen as an overt political response, like a banana republic. Biden would immediately incur the wrath of the GOP and expose future one-term presidents to a similar fate. In short, the punishment is too heavy to be useful.

But by contrast, another law that Trump may have violated – the Presidential Records Act – is too weak.

The Presidential Records Act, a Nixon-era law said to be the last line of defense for White House records, doesn’t stand any real chance.

That is not just the view of political commentators. The nation’s two surviving former national archivists believe the Presidential Records Act has no teeth.

Don W. Wilson, who oversaw the records agency when Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush left the White House, condemned Trump’s policy of destroying documents and lamented that the nation may never have one. Authentic, complete account of the 45th president.

Wilson told The Daily Beast. “There needs to be some consequence to the presidential records act… I think it’s wrong. I think it needs to have teeth.”

Congress passed the Presidential Records Act of 1978 in direct response to disgraced President Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over White House records to the National Archives. The next six US presidents have mostly complied, turning over the paper and electronic records currently kept at presidential libraries by trained federal archivists. But the law, as it’s written, assumes that presidents will want to preserve their legacy – not hide it, lawyers and transparency advocates say.

“This law is designed to rein in a corrupt president like Nixon. But it still leaves the president alone with compliance with the law,” said Sus, CREW senior attorney. “Law really needs to have consequences to have an impact, because otherwise, if it’s just rules-based, it’s not going to cut it if you’re going to have someone like Trump involved.”

Lauren Harper, director of public policy for the National Security Archives, said efforts are currently underway to convince Congress of the need to update the Presidential Records Act.

“It was a gentleman’s deal. Therein lies the problem. This highlights the inadequacy of PRA,” she said. “This is just a call for clarification that the PRA continues to need reinforcement.”

John W. Carlin, who led the National Archives for a decade and oversaw the departure of President Bill Clinton, was upset when asked about Trump’s behavior. He likens it to the stupidity of a comedy about a bank robbery, but his tone turns serious as he discusses the threat of document destruction to the nation’s ability to in holding a president accountable.

“Every opportunity that I have, is limited – I am over eighty years old – I will speak up. The National Archives needs more authority… to check that everything is done right, and authority to issue congresses and reports. They have nothing now. They cannot enter the White House unless greeted. There needs to be some way of access, some kind of assurance that records have been created, kept, and are being moved to the National Archives. ”

Both archivists who spoke to The Daily Beast stressed the importance of keeping a full record of a president’s time in office for two reasons: holding officials accountable now, and preserve national history for the distant future. They note that most presidents take their documents with them on their way out, leaving a sizable black hole behind.

“You wonder why [Presidents Millard] Fillmore, [Franklin] drill, [and James] Buchanan is considered too low and lousy president. All you have left is the press account. [John] Tyler’s papers were destroyed during the Civil War. And you’ve lost a lot of papers and records from all the 19th century presidents,” Wilson said.

Carlin wondered aloud why Trump’s White House lawyers would allow the records to be burned, torn, or moved — a question he said needed to be answered. And he urged the public to better understand the law “so you don’t have a president who just destroys records or moves them to his home.”

“The government cannot be held accountable without the records,” he said. Weird law prosecutors can use to keep Donald Trump out of the White House

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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