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President Trump Likely Violated Laws Protecting Government Property When He Destroyed, Removed Records – FRINFORMSUM 2/10/2022

February 10, 2022

 “Shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States”

The National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have formally requested that the Justice Department and FBI investigate former President Donald Trump’s mutilation and destruction of presidential records as possible violations of federal criminal law. We argue that Trump’s widely reported tearing up, disposal, and removal of highest-level documentation not only flouted his obligations under the law, but have deprived the public of its rightful ownership of those materials under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and undermined congressional efforts to hold his administration accountable for events such as the January 6 insurrection.

A conviction in such a case would set a powerful precedent for accountability in preserving the historical record – something the PRA has failed to do – and could have important additional consequences, for example preventing the former president from ever holding public office again.

Former President Trump’s destruction and removal of records may violate 18 U.S.C. § 1361, which makes it a crime to willfully injure or commit any depredation against United States property in excess of $1,000. Another statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2071, which makes it a crime to willfully destroy or mutilate federal records, arguably goes further. The statute states, “Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.” (emphasis added)

The request, which can be read here, comes on the heels of  the February 7, 2022, Washington Post report that NARA officials had retrieved 15 boxes worth of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago – some of which NARA believes may contain classified information. These are records that should have been transferred to the Archivist of the United States (AOTUS) well over a year ago. The egregious violation prompted NARA to ask the DOJ to investigate.

The Mar-a-Lago discovery is by no means the first time Trump flouted the records law. The numerous offenses committed by the former president *that we know of* include:

As the Washington Post’s Editorial Board succinctly puts it, “Mr. Trump broke the law.” What remains to be seen is what the Justice Department will do about it.

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Intelligence Panel of Experts Releases Report on Havana Syndrome 

An expert panel convened by the intelligence community last spring to study the origins of the Havana Syndrome – the term for a spate of mysterious symptoms suffered by American diplomatic and intelligence officials overseas, including debilitating dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, and documented brain injuries – has released its findings. The panel found “that a pulsed energy device is the most probable cause of the most perplexing cases.” The report comes on the heels of the CIA’s controversial interim assessment, which found that there is no evidence of a foreign power “mounting a global attack aimed at U.S. personnel who have reported painful and sometimes debilitating physical symptoms.”

FOIA Release Sheds Grim Light on Kabul Evacuation

The Washington Post used the FOIA to win the release of an Army investigative report that “details the life-or-death decisions made daily by U.S. soldiers and Marines sent to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands converged on the airfield in a frantic bid to escape.” The 2,000-page report was launched in response to an August 26, 2021, suicide bombing outside the airport during the evacuation that killed nearly 200 people. The report contains “previously unreported disclosures about the violence American personnel experienced, including one exchange of gunfire that left two Taliban fighters dead after they allegedly menaced a group of U.S. Marines and Afghan civilians.” The disclosures include comments made by Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the operation’s senior commander, that, “The U.S. military mission to evacuate American citizens and foreign allies from Afghanistan was hampered by continuous appeals for help from an array of advocates including White House officials, members of Congress, veterans of the war, media outlets and even the Vatican”.  

Cuba Embargoed: US Trade Sanctions Turn Sixy

Archive Analyst Peter Kornbluh’s latest posting commemorating the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s executive order imposing “an embargo on all trade with Cuba” contains a collection of previously  declassified documents that record the origins, rationales, and early evolution of punitive economic sanctions against Cuba in the aftermath of the Castro-led revolution. The documents show that the initial concept of U.S. economic pressure was to create “hardship” and “disenchantment” among the Cuban populace and to deny “money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, [and] to bring about hunger, desperation, and the overthrow of [the] government.” However, a CIA case study of the embargo, written twenty years after its imposition, concluded that the sanctions “have not met any of their objectives.”

The selected declassified records chart the secret deliberations of both President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who cut sugar imports from Cuba and restricted U.S. exports, and President Kennedy, who imposed a full trade embargo against the island nation on February 3, 1962. Read the rest here.

In Brief

  • A lawsuit filed February 2, 2022, alleges that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department flagged – and stonewalled – FOIA requests from journalists and activists; it specifically alleges  “that then-D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham instructed the department’s FOIA compliance officers to inform him of all incoming requests, and to flag any requests that could embarrass Newsham or the department.” Visit the Washington Post for more.
  • A remarkable December 18, 2020, memo obtained by the Washington Post proposed that President Trump should “invoke the extraordinary powers of the National Security Agency and Defense Department to sift through raw electronic communications in an attempt to show that foreign powers had intervened in the 2020 election to help Joe Biden win.” The origin of the memo “remains murky”.

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