WASHINGTON (AP) — Classified information was found in the 15 boxes of White House records kept at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, the National Archives and Records Administration said in a letter that confirmed that the matter was sent to the Department of Justice.
The agency’s Friday letter follows numerous reports of Trump’s handling of sensitive and even classified information during his tenure as president and after his departure from the White House. The revelation could also interest federal investigators responsible for overseeing the handling of government secrets, although the Justice Department and FBI have not indicated they will pursue it further.
Federal laws prohibit the removal of classified documents to unauthorized locations, although it’s possible Trump could try to argue that as president he is the ultimate declassification authority.
Legal risk notwithstanding, he faces charges of hypocrisy for his relentless attacks during the 2016 presidential campaign on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state. The FBI investigated but ultimately recommended no charges.
Trump recently denied reports of his administration’s tenuous relationship with the National Archives, and his attorneys said “they continue to search for additional records belonging to the President that belong to the National Archives.”
In a statement Friday night, Trump said, “The National Archives have not ‘found’ anything, they have been provided with presidential records upon request in a usual and routine process.”
“If this was anyone other than ‘Trump,’ there would be no story here,” he said.
The archivists’ letter in response to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is conducting investigations, also describes how certain social media records were not captured and preserved by the Trump administration. And it also says the agency learned that White House staffers often conducted official business using unofficial messaging accounts and personal phones.
These employees did not copy or forward their official message numbers, as required by the Presidential Records Act. The letter also reveals that following Trump’s departure from the White House, the National Archives learned that additional paper records, torn up by the former president, had been turned over to the agency.
“Although White House staffers recovered and taped together some of the torn records during the Trump administration, a number of other torn records that were transmitted had not been reconstructed by the White House,” the letter continued.
Lawmakers are also seeking information about the contents of the boxes recovered from Mar-a-Lago, but the agency cites the records, which prevent them from disclosing them.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., chair of the Oversight Committee, said in a statement Friday that “these new revelations deepen my concerns about former President Trump’s blatant disregard for federal privacy laws and the potential impact on our historical record.” .
She added, “I am committed to uncovering the full depth of former President Trump and his top advisers’ violations of the Presidential Records Act and using these insights to drive critical reforms and prevent future abuses.”
The Washington Post first reported that the archivist had asked the Justice Department to investigate the discovery of 15 boxes of White House records recovered by Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and that the former president had a habit in office of tearing up records that are both “sensitive and mundane”.
House investigators will examine whether Trump’s actions, both during and after his presidency, violated the Presidential Records Act, which was enacted in 1978 after former President Richard Nixon wanted to destroy documents related to the Watergate scandal.
The law dictates that the President’s records are the property of the US government and do not belong to the President himself. A law punishable by up to three years in prison makes concealing or willfully destroying government records a crime.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.