As anxious readers eagerly lapped up the details of the 15 boxes of purloined White House documents carted away by National Archive personnel from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, one humongous question hovering over the whole incident remained unanswered: would the former president face any consequences for his extensive violations of the Presidential Records Act of 1978?
Today, the National Archives brought us one step closer to an answer to that question by taking the first step in any potential prosecution of the illegal document diversion — a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation of the egregious behavior of the twice-impeached former president.
According to The Washington Post:
“The National Archives and Records Administration has asked the Justice Department to examine Donald Trump’s handling of White House records, sparking discussions among federal law enforcement officials about whether they should investigate the former president for a possible crime, according to two people familiar with the matter.”
With at least some of the material that the Trump administration turned over to the National Archives after the end of his tenure discovered to have been ripped apart and painstakingly taped back together by low-level White House aides who were at least trying to comply with document retention laws as best they could, it’s obvious that Trump himself regarded the Presidential Records Act with total contempt despite his constant harping on Hillary Clinton’s possible violation of those regulations with her private email server during the 2016 election and beyond.
The referral to the DOJ comes after Trump characterized his conversations with the National Archives as “collaborative and respectful” and a “great honor.”
“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,” Trump fantasized, likely dreaming of the admission charges he’d reap from his fathful rubes if such an insitution is ever created.
With the Presidential Records Act lacking a clear method of enforcement, it’s unclear whether the Justice Department will pursue a prosecution of the former president, although ethics watchdogs believe that an investigation should be launched at the very minimum.
“If they don’t investigate, given how flagrant these violations appear to be, it would basically be saying there is no accountability under the statue,” said Anne Weismann, the chief counsel for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. “Imagine the scenario if Trump was reelected and what that would mean, and there was no consequences for all of these violations. He could have an entire White House that just thumbed their nose at the Presidential Records Act. I understand through the climate we live in, everything is viewed through a political lens. But I don’t think that should stop the Justice Department at all.”
Imagine the irony if, after all the possible crimes that Donald Trump could be held accountable for — from obstruction of justice to perjury, tax fraud, sedition, and conspiracy — that he is finally brought down by his failure to properly preserve his White House paper trail.
Shades of Al Capone and his tax evasion conviction!
We’ll just have to wait and see what the Department of Justice — already under scrutiny for the slow pace of its investigations of the potential crimes of the previous administration — decides to do next.
Original reporting by Matt Zapotosky, Jacqueline Alemany, Ashley Parker, and Josh Dawsey at The Washington Post.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.