In America, the criminal justice system guides itself through something known as Title 18 of the United States Code. In Title 18, there are many chapters; Espionage Act comes under Chapter 37. The Act itself contains all laws relating to the retention, collection or distribution of sensitive or classified material, otherwise known as “national defense information”.
While perhaps a word like “espionage” conjures up images of spies meeting in trench coats in underground parking lots, in general, in Trump’s case and the way the act is often implemented in America, it is espionage. Not about as much as it’s illegal. Dissemination, collection, or possession of government records.
The chapter of the Espionage Act cited by the department in its warrant also covers when a person refuses to turn over records after being requested by the federal government.
It is rare for an American to be charged with violating the Espionage Act, but it does happen. The 1917 law came just after World War I and was intended to control dissent among Americans and prevent them from sharing state secrets with foreign enemies.
A century after President Woodrow Wilson signed it into federal law, former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner received a five-year sentence for leaking classified government records under the Espionage Act.
Winner leaked a top-secret document about Russian interference in the 2016 US election to the news outlet The Intercept. His crime would have earned him the recommended maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but prosecutors agreed to back down to just five years after he pleaded guilty. The government was willing to substantially reduce his recommended sentence because they did not want a jury trial. A jury trial, they argued, would carry a serious risk of exposing even more national defense information than the victor had already disclosed.
In the same year Winner was sentenced, a former CIA contractor, Kevin Patrick Mallory of Virginia, was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act. However, he didn’t just leak information; He sold it to the Chinese government for a profit and along the way exposed sensitive information about his fellow CIA agents. For this and other crimes, he is now serving a 20-year prison sentence. He appealed his sentence this June but was denied.
Trump, like the winner, started with legal access to sensitive documents.
For Trump, that access ended when he left office because the Presidential Records Act requires that, at that time, all presidential documents be returned to the National Archives. Presidential Archives records do not pertain to a single president. They belong to the federal government and, therefore, to the American people.
The Espionage Act also makes it illegal for a person to knowingly retain records that he believes could harm national security if not returned to the government’s custody.
Trump seems to have abused this part of the Espionage Act in particular. Accordingly New York Times, One of his lawyers, on June 3, signed a statement clearly claiming all cMissing records in Trump’s possession since leaving office were returned to the archives.
But an inventory published with the warrant last week undermines that claim, as agents seized 11 sets of classified records, including those labeled Top Secret (TS) or Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).
Trump has since claimed he declassified those documents by verbal order, but whether he could have declassified that way is murky. The national political news beat has been filled with analysis about Trump’s right to unilaterally declassify, but most legal experts agree: If Trump were to have his day in court over the illegal retention of records , then this will not be a discussion of classification powers. Next
Rather, it will more likely be about the possession or theft of government documents.
Even if Trump did Unilaterally declassifying the documents It’s very important to note here and now: Neither the Espionage Act nor the two other criminal statutes cited in the DOJ’s warrant require documents to be classified in order to be violated.
Again, it boils down to how he kept the records and his treatment of them, especially when he was asked to return them.
The second statute cited in the warrant, Section 1519, deals with obstruction standards set forth in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It is not tied to national security issues in the same way that the Espionage Act is.
The 2002 law was enacted in response to major scandals such as the Enron and WorldCom debacle that rocked the financial services industry. Section 1519 provides imprisonment for up to 20 years per offense for destruction, forgery. or Concealment of records when combined with intent to hinder, impede or influence the investigation or proper management of a matter.
By choosing to predicate its findings on this criminal statute, it would strongly suggest that the Justice Department is reviewing whether Trump not only illegally recorded records at his Mar-a-Lago resort. were placed on but were they doing so in an attempt to obstruct the effort to do so. Major criminal investigation of his conduct
Trump is currently under no fewer than five investigations. Including an investigation into classified records, he is also under review for criminal election interference in Georgia in 2020, fraud and obstruction on January 6, as well as two investigations in New York, where his real estate dealings and financial practices under the Trump Organization are criminal. are and civil review.
The last law cited in the warrant is known as Section 2071, and it makes it illegal to conceal, remove or destroy government records. Anyone who holds a government document, and does any of the above, can be executed with a prison sentence of up to three years on conviction. Again, whether a document is classified does not affect how this law is applied.
The main thing to note in the warrant is that the DOJ appears to have been very careful with its language. Agents were given the green light to take over.”anyone government and/or presidential records” spanning from Trump’s inauguration to his last day in office. It also ordered the seizure of “any evidence” that “supports the alteration, destruction, or concealment of information. anyone Government and/or Presidential records, or any documents bearing classification symbols. [Emphasis added]
Section 2071 also states that a conviction on this charge should disqualify the defendant from holding office.
While it may set tongues wagging — as expectations are sky-high that Trump will run for re-election in 2024 — even if he were convicted in 2071, it is the Constitution that dictates the eligibility requirements.
The Constitution only states that a president must be 35 years of age or older, a natural-born citizen, and a US resident for at least 14 years. In addition, the Constitution overrides the Federal Code.
What would prevent Trump from serving again can be found in an entirely different section of the criminal code, known as 18 USC 2383. It governs rebellions and insurgencies.
Under Section 2383, “WWhoever incites, abets, aids, or abets, or gives aid or comfort to, any rebellion or insurrection against the United States or the laws thereof, shall be punished under this title. or shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
For now, federal prosecutors have asked that a key document known as the warrant affidavit — it describes the basis for the search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property — be kept under seal.
U.S. Attorney Juan Gonzalez noted in a motion filed Monday that it is necessary because exposing it in its entirety could undermine ongoing Justice Department investigations. He also noted that witnesses continue to come forward in the DOJ’s investigation into mishandled documents.
DOJ response to Mar a Lago seeking to keep affidavit sealed by Daily Kos on Scribd
In light of Trump’s reaction to the discovery and his colleagues in Congress, there is still considerable pressure on witnesses for the investigation.
So, on Monday, Adam Bees of Pennsylvania was charged after making several threats to the FBI online, including vowing to kill Nazi-like agents for investigating Mar-a-Lago. The department says Bees posted on the far-right social media site Gab and swore it was “open season” on the FBI. He even taunted the agents to come get him. They did, citing his illegal threats. Now, if found guilty, he can be jailed for up to 10 years.
This past weekend, about two dozen Trump supporters armed themselves at the FBI’s Phoenix, Arizona office. Some waved the Confederate flag while others called for the dismantling of the FBI, a sentiment currently echoed by Trump’s lapdogs in Congress such as Rep. Presented by Marjorie Taylor Green. The group in Arizona was broken up by police within hours. And that incident was preceded by an attack launched by Ohio man Ricky Schiffer who died after a confrontation with police at the Cincinnati, Ohio, FBI office. Schiffer fired a nail gun at the building. Before the attack, Schiffer had posted on Trump’s truth social platform that Mar-a-Lago should not be searched. [be] tolerated.”
A hearing on the motions to unseal the affidavit is set for Aug. 18 at 1 p.m., before Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart.
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