Trump Must Be Convicted on Mar-a-Lago Charges

On Aug. 8, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided former President Donald Trump’s south Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, to investigate whether he had failed to return sensitive government documents following his departure from office. Armed with a search warrant, federal agents spent nine hours looking for over 700 pages of classified documents that Trump had not turned over to the Department of Justice, despite a May subpoena. Some documents even pertained to Special Access Programs (SAPs), which are current, highly-sensitive U.S. operations. SAPs commonly concern national security and require a level of classification provided on a need-to-know basis. Trump had several opportunities to turn these documents over to the Department Of Justice, including a June visit from department investigators, but instead chose to store the classified material at Mar-a-Lago. According to ABC News, investigators uncovered 11 sets of documents with a range of classification markings spanning from confidential to “sensitive compartmentalized information.” Because of the national security risks, the unlawful possession of classified materials should have substantial legal consequences for Trump.

The first potential charge against Trump stems from his violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1924, a section that specifically addresses Trump’s unauthorized removal and storage of classified materials at Mar-a-Lago, which DOJ officials previously warned was not a secure location. Given that several of the documents concerned SAPs, Trump’s failure to properly safeguard these documents could have jeopardized U.S. national security and active U.S. operations. According to the National Archives and Records Association (NARA) stipulations, presidential records are to be immediately turned over to the NARA for cataloging per the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which states that following the conclusion of a president’s term, NARA becomes the custodian of all presidential records with some exceptions. Trump should face significant legal consequences for disregarding and violating his duty to return these documents after the end of his term.

In addition, Trump’s unauthorized retainment of classified materials violates 18 U.S. Code § 793, otherwise known as the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act has been most famously used to prosecute those who leak classified materials to journalists and those who pass on sensitive information to other nations. Within § 793(d) lies the section that addresses those who have lawfully accessed material relating to national security but have failed to return those documents to the government. According to the Legal Information Institute, the punishments for violating the Espionage Act include a fine or a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, both of which are justified after Trump’s blatant disregard for the code.

Trump’s decision to hold on to hundreds of pages of classified documents following his presidential term violates several federal statutes. The case against the former president should remind our nation that no person is above the law, not even those who previously held power, and therefore should be handled carefully and end in a conviction. It would be a failure of the judicial system not to convict Trump on all charges relevant to his unlawful possession, mishandling and transport of classified materials.