According to a new POLITICO report, aides to President Donald Trump's White House, campaign and transition will be forced to turn over any documents pertaining to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Failure to do so, according to the report, could result in criminal charges.
"Now that Trump’s current and former aides and allies officially know a probe exists, they’re responsible for preserving all available information that might be relevant," the POLITICO report stated. "That’s a task complicated by the rise of auto-delete apps like Confide, Signal and WhatsApp, as well as the move his campaign staffers have made into the White House."
"Hanging over them all: any failure to keep track of emails, messages and other records could expose them to criminal charges down the line," writer Darren Samuelsohn said.
Though technology has changed significantly since the last probe into presidential files (during Bill Clinton's presidency, when the Clinton's real estate investments were under investigation), precedent provides investigators with a number of tools to acquire the information they seek.
Trump's White House has been on notice since at least mid-February, when Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded the White House, FBI, and Justice Department begin preparing materials related to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
The next month, Associated Press reported that Don McGahn, Trump's ranking lawyer in the White House, instructed staff "to save all materials that could potentially be relevant for investigations into Russia’s interference".
"Under U.S. criminal law," Samuelsohn wrote, "documents must be preserved once an individual is aware they may become relevant to an investigation, even if there’s no formal notice one has begun."
Ian Bassin, who worked in President Barack Obama's White House counsel office, told POLITICO that a knowledge of the rules and precedents in these sorts of investigation would serve Trump and his staff well in the coming investigation.
"The rule of law depends on lawyers and other sworn public servants actually caring to follow it -- preserving documents, not tampering with evidence, not interfering with investigations,” Bassin said. “This takes knowledge of the rules and effort to abide by them, two things that seem to be in short supply in this White House. They'd be wise to fix that quickly if they want to avoid what can be serious legal consequences for individual lawyers and staffers who get this stuff wrong.”
Read the entire report on the potential legal consequences for White House staffers embroiled in the Russia probe via POLITICO.