Trump Was Forewarned About Holding Documents

His lawyers acknowledge DOJ probe could result in indictment
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2022 9:15 AM CDT
Trump Was Warned of Legal Risks of Holding Documents
A view of President Donald Trump's Mar-A Lago estate is seen March 22, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Former President Trump was warned at least nine months ago that he would need to return classified material taken from the White House, reports the New York Times. According to three sources familiar with the conversation, former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told the former president that he could face significant legal trouble for keeping the documents, especially those marked as classified, late last year. Soon after the conversation, Trump turned over 15 boxes containing 184 classified documents to the National Archives in January, according to the Justice Department. He returned more under subpoena in June before last month's raid on his Florida home, where more than 100 individual classified documents were seized.

The precise timing of the conversation is unclear, though the National Archives had by then told Trump associates that it was missing boxes of documents, including the letter left for Trump by his predecessor and the original copies of Trump's correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, per the Times. Those specific documents were turned over to the Archives in January, per Insider. Trump reportedly thanked Herschmann, who was no longer serving as his legal counsel, for the tip but didn't say how he would act. Some advisers had told Trump he could keep the documents as personal records. Trump himself has claimed he declassified them, though his lawyers haven't stated that in court filings, arguing it would reveal a defense to a future indictment, per Reuters.

A Justice Department investigation weighing the national security risks of Trump holding the material is in limbo following a federal judge's order barring the FBI from accessing the documents while they undergo review by a special master. Trump's team must respond to a partial appeal of the ruling by noon Tuesday, per Reuters. His team has already taken issue with the apparent speediness at which the special master, Judge Raymond J. Dearie, aims to determine whether the documents are subject to executive or attorney-client privilege. He wants the two sides to submit their proposals for labeling the documents by Oct. 7 and to have his final report ready by the end of November, though Trump's team has suggested all deadlines be extended, per the Times. (Trump has predicted "problems" if he's indicted.)

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