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How Trump Denying the National Archives Presidential Documents Led to the Mar-A-Lago FBI Search 

White House aides carrying boxes of documents before the end of President Trump’s Presidential term in 2021. Photo Courtesy: Mandel Ngan, AFP via Getty Images. 

The presidential records held by former President Donald Trump within his Mar-A-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida,have been seized and collected by the FBI, and the review of the documents is underway. President Trump could be charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Espionage Act, or Section 793 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which persecutes those who prove to be disloyal to the country and threaten the U.S. government by compromising national security.

When the National Archives requested Presidential documents on the behalf of the Trump Administration in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, the administration denied and is now paying the price. Charles Conyers, a professor of political science at Howard University commented on the FBI’s search for documents on the Mar-A-Lago.

“President Trump has shown a total disregard for the Rule of Law, especially the Presidential Records Act. He has also shown a disregard for Intelligence Agencies and proper security procedures,” Professor Conyers said. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart approved an investigative search of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago residence on Aug. 5 in order to retrieve the withheld Presidential records. The approved search warrant included searching all storage areas where Presidential records could be kept and allowed for the confiscation of all classified documents, which included national defense information during the Trump administration and most importantly, “Any evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or Presidential Records, or of any documents with classification markings,” the FBI warrant said.

After searching Trump’s residence on Aug. 8 the FBI agents in charge provided a Receipt of Property to Christina Bobb, Trump’s Attorney, listing all assists seized during the search. The list constituted 28 items, including boxes labeled in the receipt as ‘Miscellaneous Confidential Documents,’ handwritten notes, classified top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information documents–which mean disclosing this information could put the nation in grave danger– and an executive grant of clemency. Trump, who was not at the residence at the time of the search, issued a statement on the matter. 

“Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before. After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate. It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System,” Trump said just hours after the search, revealing publicly the ongoing investigation by the DOJ.

Attorney General Merrick Garland claims otherwise and conveyed in a press conference that the DOJ is “applying the law evenly,” and only pursues investigation when evidence of criminal misconduct presents itself. Nevertheless, many Trump supporters took violent action against the FBI. 

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On Aug. 11, a man in Cincinnati, Ohio, who was later identified as an individual who attended the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, targeted and tried to forcefully enter an FBI field office with an AR-15 rifle and nail gun. He was killed by the FBI.

The happenings before the FBI received approval for a search warrant were related to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA said there was a delay in offering the full list of Presidential documents to them on behalf of Trump after many attempts by the executive agency to secure documents at the end of his presidential term. The Archives did not receive full documentation from the Trump Administration, but only 15 boxes of Presidential records were scheduled to be transferred to Washington, D.C., meaning there were still missing government records.

NARA is an executive federal agency responsible for protecting and preserving government documentation since the early 1930s. The Presidential Records Act, established in 1987, requires all documentation under a presidential administration to be relinquished to the National Archives in order to preserve and record presidential actions during the administration and become public ownership.

“Presidential and Vice Presidential records and artifacts from the outgoing administration transfer into the legal custody of the National Archives at the end of the President’s term of office… NARA works with the outgoing Presidential Administration to coordinate the physical transfer of Presidential Records Act (PRA) records from the White House to NARA,” writes the Communication staff at the National Archives in an email interview.

Recently, the U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to propose redactions for the affidavit that supported the search warrant for Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in an effort to make the affidavit public. Within the next week, the DOJ will put forth their proposed redactions (although they don’t want to because they believe making it public will compromise their investigation) and the federal judge will add his own as well–allowing more details to be available to the public soon. 

Copy edited by Alana B. Matthew

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