Trump’s turbulent years in the White House culminate in the Florida search | WGN Radio 720

NEW YORK (AP) – Piles of paper piled up on his desk. Framed magazine covers and memorabilia on the walls. One of Shaquille O’Neal’s giant sneakers was displayed next to football helmets, boxing belts and other sports memorabilia, filling his Trump Tower office and crowding his desk space.

Long before he entered politics, former President Donald Trump had a penchant for collecting. And that lifelong habit, combined with his disdain for government record-keeping rules, his careless handling of classified information, and a chaotic transition stemming from his refusal to accept defeat in 2020, have culminated in a federal investigation that amounts to an extraordinary legal investigation. and political challenges.

The pursuit of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club earlier this month to recover documents from his years in the White House was an unprecedented move against a former president expected to run for office again. Officials have not disclosed exactly what was in the boxes, but the FBI said it recovered 11 sets of classified records, including some marked “sensitive compartmentalized information,” a special category meant to protect secrets that could cause harm. “exceptionally serious” to US interests if publicly disclosed.

It is unclear why Trump refused to hand over the seized documents despite repeated requests. But Trump’s violation of the Presidential Records Act, which outlines how materials must be preserved, was well-documented during his time in office.

He routinely tore up official papers that then had to be re-recorded. Official items traditionally given to the National Archives were mixed with his personal belongings at the White House residence. Classified information was tweeted, shared with reporters and adversaries, even found in a bathroom at the White House complex.

John Bolton, who served as Trump’s third national security adviser, said that before he arrived, he had sensed that “there was a concern in the air about how he was handling information. And as my time, I could certainly see why.”

Others in the Trump administration were more careful with the sensitive documents. When asked directly whether he kept any classified information when he left office, former Vice President Mike Pence told The Associated Press on Friday, “Not that I know of.”

The investigation into Trump’s handling of documents comes as he faces growing legal scrutiny on multiple fronts. A Georgia investigation into election interference has closed in on the former president, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a top advocate, reported earlier this month as the target of a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as he testified under oath in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his business dealings. A top executive at the business pleaded guilty last week in a tax fraud case brought by the Manhattan district attorney.

But few legal threats have galvanized Trump and his most loyal supporters like the Mar-a-Lago quest. The former president and his allies have argued that the move amounts to political persecution, and have pointed out that the judge who approved the order has given money to Democrats. The judge, however, has also supported Republicans. And White House officials have repeatedly said they had no prior knowledge of plans to search the estate.

Trump’s allies have tried to claim that the presidency granted him unlimited power to unilaterally declassify documents without formal declaration. But David Laufman, the former head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, said it doesn’t work that way.

“It seems to me like a post hoc public affairs strategy that has no bearing on how classified information is declassified,” said Laufman, who oversaw the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server during her tenure as to secretary of state. While he said it is true that there is no statute or order outlining the procedures the president must follow to declassify information, “at the same time it is ludicrous to suggest that a decision to declassify documents would not have been recalled simultaneously in writing”.

“It’s not self-executing,” he added. “There needs to be objective, contemporary, evidence-based corroboration of the claims they’re making. And of course there won’t be because they’re making it all up.”

The decision to keep classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, a property frequented by paying members, their guests and anyone attending weddings, political fundraisers, benefit dinners and other events held at the site, was part of of a long pattern of contempt for nationals. security secrets Former aides described a “cavalier” attitude toward classified information being displayed in public view.

There was dinner with then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Mar-a-Lago patio, where other diners watched and took cellphone photos as the two men went over the details of a missile test from North Korea.

There was the one time Trump disclosed highly classified information allegedly from Israeli sources about Islamic State militants to Russian officials. And that was when he tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of an apparent explosion at an Iranian space center, which intelligence officials had warned was highly sensitive. Trump insisted he had “absolute right” to share it.

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump was “careless” with sensitive and classified information and “never seemed to care why this was bad.”

Grisham recalled an incident involving Conan, a US military dog ​​hailed as a hero for his role in the attack that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He said that before the dog’s arrival at the White House, staff had received a briefing in which they were told that the dog could not be photographed because the images could endanger its handlers. But when the dog arrived, Trump decided he wanted to show it to the press.

“Because he wanted the publicity, Conan came out,” he said. “It is an example that he does not care if he puts lives in danger. … It was like it was his own shiny toy that he’s showing off to his friends to impress them.”

Bolton said that during his time working for Trump, he and others often tried to explain the stakes and risks of exposing sources and methods.

“I don’t think any of it sunk in. He didn’t seem to appreciate how sensitive it was, how dangerous it was to some of our residents and the risks they could be exposed to,” he said. “What appears to be an innocuous image to a private citizen may be a goldmine to a foreign intelligence entity.”

“I said over and over, ‘This is very sensitive, very sensitive’. And I was like, ‘I know,’ and then I was going to do it anyway.”

Bolton said senior intelligence officials would meet before the briefings to discuss how best to handle sensitive topics, strategizing how much to share. The briefers quickly learned that Trump often tried to get hold of sensitive documents and would take steps to make sure the documents didn’t disappear, including using iPads to show them to him.

“Sometimes I’d ask to keep it and they’d say, ‘It’s very sensitive.’ Sometimes I just wouldn’t give it back.”

Trump’s refusal to accept his election loss also contributed to the chaos that engulfed his final days in office. The General Services Administration was slow to recognize President Joe Biden’s victory, delaying the transition process and leaving little time to pack.

While other White House staff members and even the former first lady began making arrangements, Trump largely refused. At the same time, White House staff were leaving en masse as part of the usual “displacement process,” while morale, among others, had plummeted following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by United States.

Bolton said he doubted Trump had taken the documents for nefarious reasons and instead thought Trump likely considered them “souvenirs” like the many he had collected throughout his life.

“I think he just thought some things were cool and wanted them,” Bolton said. “Some days he liked to collect chips. Some days he liked to collect documents. He just picked things up.”

The Washington Post first reported in February that the National Archives had recovered 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mar-a-Lago that should have been turned over to the agency when Trump left the White House. An initial review of that material concluded that Trump had brought presidential records and several other documents that were marked classified to Mar-a-Lago.

The investigation into the handling of classified material intensified in the spring when federal prosecutors and agents interviewed several people who worked in the Trump White House about how records, and in particular classified documents, were handled during the chaotic end to Trump’s presidency, a well-known person. with the matter told The Associated Press. At the same time, prosecutors also issued a subpoena for records Trump kept at Mar-a-Lago and subpoenaed surveillance video from Mar-a-Lago that showed the area where the records were stored, he said. say the person

A senior Justice Department official traveled to Mar-a-Lago in early June and examined some of the material stored in the boxes. After that meeting, prosecutors interviewed another witness who told them there were likely additional classified documents still stored at Mar-a-Lago, the person said. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department later sought a search warrant and recovered additional portions of the classified records.


Balsamo reported from Washington.

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