After months of reports about former President Donald Trump’s treatment of presidential records, from destroying them in White House toilets to moving dozens of boxes of classified materials to his Florida residence upon leaving office, many pundits have speculated on what legal repercussions he could be facing.
Under the Presidential Records Act, Presidents and their administrations are required to abide by certain standards when it comes to how they handle all documents, let alone classified and top-secret ones.
Earlier this year, for example, historian Michael Beschloss shared a screenshot on Twitter of the penalties listed for violating 18 U.S.C. 2071 from the Congressional Research Service. Beschloss’ picture also supports a DOJ website archive that says much of the same thing:
“Subsection (b) of 18 U.S.C. § 2071 contains a similar prohibition specifically directed at custodians of public records. Any custodian of a public record who ‘willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys (any record) shall be fined not more than $2,000 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.’ While the range of acts proscribed by this subsection is somewhat narrower than subsection (a), it does provide the additional penalty of forfeiture of position with the United States.”
A section of that bill makes it worse for the former President if it can be proven that he stole and sold the records. Trump’s wife Melania Trump, already attempted to sell some of her White House wares.
More from the DOJ:
“Title 18 contains two other provisions, of somewhat narrower application, which relate to public records. Section 285 prohibits the unauthorized taking, use, and attempted use of any document, record or file relating to a claim against the United States for purposes of procuring payment of that claim. Section 1506 prohibits the theft, alteration, or falsification of any record or process in any court of the United States. Both of these sections are punishable by a $5,000 fine or imprisonment for five years.”\
On the flip side, writer Hayes Brown said that he thinks an MSNBC piece indicates that the Presidential Records Act has no enforcement mechanism and that the DOJ would not be likely to get very far in pursing charges against Trump:
“If federal prosecutors were to go after him for this specifically, they’d be challenged to prove that this isn’t targeting him with a charge they wouldn’t bring against anyone else. Given the number of people who purposefully or accidentally walk off or mishandle federal records and the lack of prosecutions over it, that feels unlikely.”
All letters, memos, emails, notes, faxes, and other written communications relating to the official duties of the president must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.