Political commentators have spent the past day fighting over the consequences former President Donald Trump could face after he allegedly destroyed documents that should have been preserved under the Presidential Records Act.
Historian Michael Beschloss posted a screen capture from the Congressional Research Service of the consequences listed for violating 18 U.S.C. § 2071. Beschloss' post verifies an archive of the Justice Department website saying the same.
Here is what the Congressional Research Service says about the Presidential Records Act and penalties for someone who removes or tampers with documents:pic.twitter.com/1Gu4e9RLOb— Michael Beschloss (@Michael Beschloss) 1644268104
"Subsection (b) of 18 U.S.C. § 2071 contains a similar prohibition specifically directed at custodians of public records," says the Justice Department. "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."
Another clause makes it even worse if Trump stole the documents to sell them. Currently, former first lady Melania Trump has sold off some of her items from her time in the White House.
"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," the DOJ site says. "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."
Writer and editor Hayes Brown disagrees. Writing for MSNBC, he noted that the Presidential Records Act has no enforcement mechanism and argued that the DOJ would be unlikely to make a case 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," Brown said. "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."
Could Trump be prosecuted and disqualified from office for destroying White House records? www.youtube.com