A new report from The New York Times reveals it’s possibly the actions of a Trump lawyer that sat behind the inclusion of a law against obstruction in the list of potential criminal violations driving the recent search of Mar-a-Lago.
At least one lawyer for Trump — whose identity wasn’t included in initial Times reporting — signed a June statement claiming that all material marked as classified and included in boxes in a particular storage area at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort was returned to federal investigators. During the Monday raid of Mar-a-Lago, FBI agents recovered nearly a dozen caches of restricted government files of various classifications, including one set of materials meant for viewing only within a kind of secure physical facility known as a SCIF. It’s unclear where exactly all the various files were found at Mar-a-Lago, but there’s the apparent possibility that the June statement with a Trump lawyer’s signature contained false statements to federal authorities.
The signed statement from June was issued after a visit to Mar-a-Lago by high-ranking Justice Department officials including one, Jay Bratt, responsible for counterintelligence work. During that visit, the officials were provided with materials designated as classified that remained at the Florida property months after an initial discovery by the National Archives of material designated as classified among 15 boxes of records stored at Trump’s property. Trump is now claiming that material at Mar-a-Lago was, in fact, declassified by his order, which is something federal law allowed him to do as president — but it’s unclear whether he actually ever did so. In response to a statement alleging a “standing order” on Trump’s part for the declassification of government documents taken to what sounds like his White House residence, Maggie Haberman — a journalist with The New York Times — said a former top official who’d likely have known of such an order was clueless.
“Just asked a former senior administration official who would be in a position to know about such a thing and they had absolutely no idea what this report is talking about,” Haberman explained Friday. The specific law against obstruction cited in an attachment to the warrant deals with attempts to obstruct government investigations, perhaps suggesting federal law enforcement suspected corrupt intent behind potential misrepresentations to investigators in that signed June statement and elsewhere about what was at Trump’s property.
The law covers anyone who “alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” intending “to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States.” It also covers document destruction in title 11 bankruptcy cases and instances of document mutilation simply “in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case.” Seemingly, potential penalties include a jail-term of up to 20 years. The Justice Department also subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage, and that footage “prompted concern among investigators about the handling of the material,” the Times said.