In recent weeks, there’s been a burgeoning controversy over Donald Trump mishandling sensitive White House documents and improperly taking them to Mar-a-Lago. As the story has unfolded, several key questions have come to the fore: Did the documents include classified information? Has the National Archives referred the matter to the Justice Department as a possible criminal matter?
There’s been some exceptional reporting on this, much of which the National Archives has now confirmed in writing. The New York Times reported this afternoon that the answer to both of the aforementioned questions appears to be yes.
The National Archives confirmed on Friday that it had uncovered classified information among documents that President Donald J. Trump had taken with him to his home in Florida from the White House and that it had consulted with the Justice Department about the matter.
Having both of these details confirmed by the records keeping agency is important. On the first part, when the story first broke about the Republican improperly removing White House documents, the former president’s aides characterized the records as largely trivial. The Republican’s team told The Washington Post that the items that found their way to Mar-a-Lago “included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as ‘love letters,’ as well as a letter left for Trump by President Barack Obama.”
As we’ve discussed, the explanation wasn’t especially credible at the time, and soon after, it started unraveling. For one thing, the controversy wasn’t about a handful of records; it was about 15 boxes filled with documents Trump wasn’t supposed to take. For another, the materials weren’t just harmless keepsakes; we now know they included classified materials.
But, the former president’s allies might argue, perhaps Trump didn’t know the documents included classified information. Wouldn’t that make this a bit less controversial? It might, if it were true.
But it’s not. In its letter to House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, the National Archives and Record Administration said it “has identified items marked as classified national security information” within the boxes of records.
I don’t doubt that Trump, his allies, and his followers will downplay the significance of such a confirmed revelation, but let’s not forget that the entire 2016 presidential campaign was defined by a controversy surrounding a former official accused of mishandling sensitive information.
Six years later, the National Archives has found that Trump improperly took classified, national security documents to an unauthorized venue known as a haven for spies.
Even if we put this aside, there appear to be important legal questions to consider. The National Archives didn’t just complain about the former president’s recklessness, its officials referred all of this to the Justice Department as a possible criminal matter.
National Archivist David Ferriero confirmed as much in today’s letter, adding, “Because NARA identified classified information in the boxes, NARA staff has been in communication with the Department of Justice.
What’s more, Ferriero went on to note that “some White House staff conducted official business using non-official electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts.”
If Hillary Clinton’s email protocols were a nation-changing matter in 2016, I’ll look forward to the political world’s explanation for why it’s irrelevant that Team Trump conducted official business by way of private messaging accounts.
Ferriero’s letter to the Oversight Committee said the Archives “has already obtained or is in the process of obtaining some of those records.” Watch this space.