Research on Donald Trump: what the former American president risks

A dozen boxes of documents classified as “top secret”, “secret” and “confidential” were found at the home of Donald Trump in Florida, according to a list of documents seized by the FBI published Friday by the American justice. The former president is suspected of violating three national security laws and theoretically faces several decades in prison.

Espionage, destruction, obstruction: here are three words for which American justice can reprimand Donald Trump. By taking classified documents to his home in Florida, the former President of the United States may have pleaded guilty to violating three US laws that very strictly regulate the possession of confidential documents related to national security.

According to a list of documents seized by the FBI published Friday by the American justice, the investigators would have found 11 boxes of classified documents: a “top secret / SCI”, four “top secret”, three “secrets” and finally three “secrets” .

Among these designations, Top Secret/SCI (for Top Secret/Sensitive Compartment Information) represents the highest level of authorization and deals only with ultra-sensitive information. Documents marked SCI can only be viewed in secure offices belonging to the federal government and require special access, even for those with “Top Secret” clearances.

“These could be coded documents allowing for a high level of confidentiality and, clearly, information that a very small number of people could have access to,” said Joshua Schule, a former FBI executive interviewed by CNN.

Few leaks have been made about the content of the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. According to the Washington Post, which cites unnamed sources close to the investigation, some of the documents are related to nuclear weapons, without knowing whether the information concerns an American arsenal or a foreign power. A revelation denied by Donald Trump, who denounced Truth Social, “a hoax” on the social network he created.

The list of documents seized mentions a set belonging to the “President of France”. No further details were given on the nature of this information, or whether it relates to current French President Emmanuel Macron. Asked by several media, the Elysée declined to comment.

Threat to national security?

According to the search warrant made public on Friday, American justice has serious reasons to suspect the former president of the United States of America of having violated three laws (sections 793, 2071 and 1519 of Title 18 of the United States Code States) relating to the Hein. Security.

First, Section 793 of the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibits “the collection, transmission or loss of information” relating to national defence. If convicted, Donald Trump theoretically faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each offence.

The second text justifying a search carried out on Monday by the FBI relates to the removal or destruction of official archives, punishable by three years in prison and a ban on exercising a public function.

Finally, Section 1519 obstructs a federal investigation by destroying or concealing documents. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.

These laws make no distinction between classified and unclassified documents. All documents likely to endanger national security are concerned.

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According to US media, however, it is unclear whether the investigation could lead to an indictment of Donald Trump. Enforcing the espionage law does not mean the former president is at risk of being charged with a crime, experts say. “The Espionage Act covers a range of crimes that have nothing to do with espionage,” Detective Attorney Bradley Moss said on Twitter.

“Unless you can prove that the classified information was sold to a third party, it would be very difficult to prosecute the former President of the United States on these grounds,” attorney Charles Elson also told CNBC.

For his part, Donald Trump assured that he had self-declared all the documents found by the investigators in his Florida estate before leaving the White House. However, there is currently no indication that the former president followed official procedures to release these sensitive documents. Also, according to many analysts, documents related to the US nuclear arsenal cannot be declassified.

What political future for Trump?

The search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property is part of an investigation into documents the former president allegedly illegally took with him from the White House when his term ended in January 2021.

US presidents are required by law to submit all emails, letters, and other working documents to the US National Archives. Donald Trump however carried fifteen boxes of documents, which the agents of the archives were to recover in January, already at Mar-a-Lago.

Extremely rare, the search warrant was issued at the request of United States Attorney General Merrick Garland. A way to respond to the allegations of “witch hunt” raised in chorus by supporters of Donald Trump.

Already reignited by lawsuits filed against participants in the Washington Capitol bombing, the American far right is once again exposed against an alleged Democratic plot to prevent their champions from running again in 2024.

According to some legal scholars, the removal or destruction of official documents is likely to result in a penalty of disqualification for violation of Section 2071 of Section 18 of the United States Code. Other experts argue that this endorsement applies to all positions in the administration except the President of the United States.

>> READ: Could the shocking FBI discovery at Mar-a-Lago disqualify Donald Trump?

Beyond this legal dispute, the dismissal of Donald Trump could greatly complicate his return to the scene, said Mark Elias, an attorney specializing in elections who has worked for several Democratic candidates.

“I agree that it’s a legal challenge for the president to enforce this law, but imagine a candidate having to respond to these allegations in court during a campaign that I think would be a ‘blockbuster’ of American political life. “, he laughs.

Donald Trump already faces lawsuits in several US states: allegations of election interference in Georgia, tax evasion in New York, not to mention possible prosecution for inciting his supporters to violently attack the building from the Capitol in January Doing. 6, 2021. Finally, a libel trial against a woman who accused Donald Trump of rape is scheduled for February 2023.