Former President Donald Trump took White House records to Mar-a-Lago that were clearly marked as classified, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. Some of the documents were assigned a “top secret” designation.
The revelation comes a day after The New York Times reported that the National Archives was concerned the former president brought classified material out of the White House, and that the Archives was consulting with the Justice Department on the matter.
The discovery of classified material among the reported 15 boxes of material recovered from Trump’s Palm Beach estate last month could mean Trump violated the Presidential Records Act, and, should the Justice Department choose to investigate the matter, could subject the department to a politically charged situation during an era in which it is attempting to distance itself from partisanship. Speaking to The Washington Post on Wednesday, two anonymous sources insisted “discussions about the matter remained preliminary” and a DOJ investigation was not yet on the table. It is possible, the sources said, that the department is merely interested in reclaiming any classified materials seized by the Archives.
In a statement Wednesday, Trump said that “following collaborative and respectful discussions, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) arranged for the transport of boxes that contained Presidential Records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act,” while claiming the media’s “characterization of my relationship with NARA is Fake News.”
“It was a great honor to work with NARA to help formally preserve the Trump Legacy,” Trump wrote. “Much of this material will someday be displayed in the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library for the public to view my Administration’s incredible accomplishments for the American People.”
The Archives confirmed transport of the boxes in a statement on Monday.
The news of Trump’s possible possession of classified material comes barely a week after the Post reported that some of the records the Archives handed over to the Jan. 6 committee had been ripped up and taped back together. Tearing up White House documents had been a habit of the former president. Politico reported in 2018 that he’d sometimes rip them into pieces as small as confetti, forcing staffers to put them back together like a “jigsaw puzzle,” rejoining them with pieces of Scotch tape.
“Destroying [White House documents] could be a crime under several statutes that make it a crime to destroy government property if that was the intent of the defendant,” Stephen Gillers, a constitutional law professor at New York University, told the Post. “A president does not own the records generated by his own administration. The definition of presidential records is broad. Trump’s own notes to himself could qualify and destroying them could be the criminal destruction of government property.”
The Post reported on Saturday that Trump’s penchant for ripping documents to shreds was a bigger problem than had been previously reported, that he had been told to stop multiple times, and that the habit extended into the later stages of his presidency. He left torn-up paper on his desk in the Oval Office, in trash bins, and even on the floor of Air Force One, according to former staffers. “It is absolutely a violation of the [Presidential Records Act],” Courtney Chartier, president of the Society of American Archivists, told the Post. “There is no ignorance of these laws. There are White House manuals about the maintenance of these records.”
This post has been updated.