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Has Trump broken the law? FBI Investigation Raises New Questions

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Eric Tucker

WASHINGTON (AP) — The year is 2016 and the presidential candidate under investigation is Hillary Clinton and then-FBI Director James Comey. describes the factors the Department of Justice considers when deciding whether to prosecute someone for mishandling classified records.

Fast-forward to 2022, and with another candidate for that election, Donald Trump, embroiled in an FBI investigation of him related to classified government documents, the tutorial proves to be informative. understand.

It is unclear whether the FBI's raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence is a precursor to criminal charges. Monday's action draws attention to the thickets of law governing the handling of government records, but the history of the department of prosecutor's discretion itself - how some high-profile investigations ended without indictment. , ended in a plea bargain for misdemeanor - it's hard to predict what will happen... this time.

"These laws have historically been poorly enforced," says University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladek. But if the Justice Department determines that the law has been broken, that's not necessarily a reason not to do so here, he added. Much remains unclear, including what he was looking for (Trump says agents opened the safe) and why he acted when it did. It was initially investigating the discovery of classified material in 15 boxes of White House records recovered by the National Archives and Records Administration. In order to obtain a search warrant, the Justice Department would have had to convince a judge that there was a cause for which the crime could have been committed, but that legal officials could have violated it.

Multiple federal laws mandate the preservation of government secrets. For example, one potentially relevant law makes it a crime to remove confidential information and store it in an unauthorized location. Another law makes it illegal to intentionally or grossly negligently mishandle or transmit to persons who are not authorized to receive national defense information such as maps, photographs or documents.

However, given historical precedent, mere mishandling of confidential information is not sufficient to convict or prosecute a felony.

"It often hinges on whether there are factors that make these cases worse," said David Clinton, who oversaw the Hillary Clinton investigation as head of the Department of Justice's counterintelligence and export control division. Raufmann said.

According to him, the extent to which classified information was mishandled, the extent to which the person knew he was in possession of the classified information, and the extent to which the material was This includes whether it was confidential and whether that confidential information was made public.

When he closed in 2016, the FBI called for an investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information through his servers, a private email he trusted as secretary of state. Said the same without making a recommendation. In her 13-minute special speech, Comey said investigators determined she sent and received emails containing classified information, but there was no indication she had any intention of breaking the law. He said a reasonable prosecutor would not have brought such a case.

He said a review of the case established that each indictment included some combination of the following: Exposing large amounts of material in a manner that suggests willful misconduct, disloyalty to the United States, or obstruction of justice.

In another notable case, former CIA Director David Petraeus pleaded guilty in 2015 to misdemeanor charges of unauthorized deletion and retention of classified information and released notes containing government secrets. He escaped prison because he admitted to sharing with a biographer. The resolution came two months after the FBI searched his home. Even though Petraeus admitted he knew the information he was sharing was classified.

It remains to be seen what allegations Trump will make as the investigation progresses. His lengthy statement revealing the search did not address the nature of the investigation, instead complaining that the FBI's actions were "weaponizing the justice system and attacking the Radical Left Democrats."[54]

In theory, he could try to claim it as president until 1 January. On February 20, 2021, he independently declassified all materials that may have been recovered from his original classification agency, Marr Lago.

But law professor Vladek said it was a "pretty amazing" argument to claim in his defense that Trump had "declassified all of our crown jewels" and that he would By doing so, he was "a threat to our national security."

"The fact that he has legal authority means he may have chosen to take out of the White House and get rid of the squirrels at Mar-a-Lago. It doesn't mean that everything is declassified." Raufmann said, "The declassification process does not exist in Donald Trump's head. It is not self-executing."[62]

You might say he didn't know the contents of the box because it was packed. His son Eric told Fox News the box was among the items removed from the White House during the "six hours" of the presidential inauguration. By the time I found out, I had a legal obligation to return it.

Other laws may apply that are not related to expressly classified information. Certain laws make it a felony for a person in possession of government records to knowingly mutilate, erase, or destroy them. The law provides for a maximum sentence of three years in prison and disqualifies anyone convicted of any future public office, but the constitution does not determine who can run for president. there is

In any event, there are major uncertainties, such as whether the focus of the investigation is on "the act of storing all this material in Mar-a-Lago" or what the material actually is. The problem remains to be resolved, Vladek said.

Given the mystery, he said.