Donald Trump’s handling of requests to turn over classified documents may have made a case against him “quite strong,” according to former U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti.
Mariotti wrote about the potential legal cases facing the former president in a Politico column published on Sunday. Mariotti previously served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, where he specialized in cases involving white-collar crime, fraud, and tax evasion.
In his column, Mariotti said that the Department of Justice‘s (DOJ) attempt to show “deference” to Trump in requesting the return of classified documents may have led to the ex-president digging himself into a deeper legal hole. By allegedly withholding some documents after initial requests, Trump may have helped make a potential case against him for violating the Espionage Act “quite strong.”
“That statute, along with one of the other statutes cited in the search warrant, require the prosecution to prove ‘willfulness,’” Mariotti wrote. “In other words, they require the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to break the law… It will be difficult for Trump to claim that he did not realize that the records he kept were national security secrets that rightfully belonged to the government, given that the government repeatedly told him so and demanded their return.”
Trump was first asked to return classified documents from his Florida residence in Mar-a-Lago to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in February. Despite the ex-president handing over 15 boxes of records after that initial request, it was later determined that he may still have some, leading to a grand jury subpoena being served to his attorneys by DOJ agents in June, which led to the FBI serving a search warrant on Monday.
In his column, Mariotti said that it’s possible that charges will not be filed against Trump, and that the DOJ was merely attempting to secure certain documents in his possession. However, he said that Trump’s handling of the situation has made it easier for potential charges to be made.
“But while it is possible the DOJ merely wanted to retrieve and secure the material that Trump refused to give back to the government, if they decide to press forward with charges, their case looks quite strong,” the former prosecutor continued. “The government initially treated Trump with kid gloves…”
Trump has said, in his own defense, that he issued an order declassifying all of the documents that he took with him to Mar-a-Lago prior to the end of his presidency last year. As Mariotti said, however, it is unlikely that he “disclosed this to the government during their months of negotiations and it is unlikely a jury would find this story convincing.”
Newsweek reached out to Trump’s office for comment.
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