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Why the DOJ reportedly wants a judge to hold Team Trump in contempt

The latest revelations suggest Team Trump did not fully comply with a subpoena for classified documents. Prosecutors do not appear eager to let that slide.


The controversy surrounding Donald Trump and the classified documents he took from the White House took an unfortunate turn this week. NBC News reported that a private firm, hired by the former president to search his properties, uncovered two documents with classified markings at a Florida storage unit near Mar-a-Lago.

Part of the problem with the revelations is political: The Republican apparently took so many sensitive materials that, in a rather literal sense, he struggled to keep track of them all.

But the legal dimension to this is even more important. Federal officials issued a subpoena in May with a simple directive: Trump and his team were to return all of the classified documents he took. A month later, the former president’s lawyers insisted that they’d complied with the legal order.

The discovery of additional materials suggests they did not properly comply with the subpoena. As The Washington Post reported, the Justice Department does not appear eager to let that slide.

Prosecutors have urged a federal judge to hold Donald Trump’s office in contempt of court for failing to fully comply with a May subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession, according to people familiar with the matter. ... In recent days, Justice Department lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell to hold Trump’s office in contempt, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sealed court proceedings.

We may not have to wait too long to learn of the outcome of prosecutors’ request: According to the Post’s report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, a court hearing is scheduled for today.

Just to briefly recap for those who might’ve missed our earlier coverage, it was exactly four months ago yesterday when FBI agents executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, retrieving classified materials that Trump took and refused to give back. It was — and still is — an open question as to whether there are still other sensitive documents in the Republican’s possession that need to be returned.

As recently as early October, the National Archives and Records Administration told Congress that it believes some records from the Trump White House still haven’t been turned over. The New York Times reported soon after that the Justice Department delivered a similar message to the former president’s defense attorneys.

With this in mind, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell recently pressed Team Trump to do a more thorough search, and the former president hired an outside team to go through his Bedminster golf venue in New Jersey, as well as Trump Tower in New York. The Republican’s lawyers soon after concluded that those searches didn’t turn up anything.

But the private team did apparently find documents with classified markings at a Trump storage unit in Florida.

Time will tell whether Howell agrees to hold Team Trump in contempt, though the judge is likely to have a few questions about why the Republican operation said in June that it had fully complied with a subpoena, when the facts suggest otherwise.

As for the possible consequences, the Post’s report added that if Howell were to agree with prosecutors, “the most likely scenario would be a daily fine until the demands of the contempt motion are met. How large of a fine, or who would be forced to pay it, would be up to the judge.”