The Department of Justice is moving forward with a probe of the removal of 15 boxes of White House records to former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to a new report.
People familiar with the matter told the Washington Post Thursday that the department is taking steps to launch the investigation, which is in the very early stages.
It is unclear whether DOJ officials have started to review materials in the boxes — which were turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration in January — or if the department will be looking to interview people who helped assemble and move the records.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires presidents to preserve memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to their official duties and turn them over to the Archives upon leaving office.
Included in the boxes retrieved earlier this year is the note former President Barack Obama left Trump upon his inauguration in 2017 as well as correspondence sent by North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.
An FBI spokeswoman told the Washington Post she could neither “confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Previously, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ would “do what we always do under these circumstances — look at the facts and the law and take it from there.”
However, lawmakers are pushing for the department to be more transparent.
House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) sent a letter to Garland on Thursday accusing the DOJ of “interfering” in the committee’s investigation of the boxes and preventing the National Archives from handing over the records inside, according to the outlet.
“The Committee does not wish to interfere in any manner with any potential or ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice,” Maloney said. “However, the Committee has not received any explanation as to why the Department is preventing NARA from providing information to the Committee that relates to compliance with the [Presidential Records Act], including unclassified information describing the contents of the 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago.”
Despite the reported investigation, Trump’s team has defended the former president’s actions.
“It is clear that a normal and routine process is being weaponized by anonymous, politically motivated government sources to peddle Fake News,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said in February.
While previous administrations have recorded some violations of the Presidential Records Act, Archives personnel told the Washington Post that Trump’s handling of the records was “out of the ordinary.”
“The only way that a president can really be held accountable long-term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability — beyond just elections and campaigns,” historian Lindsay Chervinsky said.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.