The US Department of Justice has told lawyers for Donald Trump it thinks he has not handed back all the documents he took from the White House, the New York Times reported.
The paper said Jay Bratt, the DoJ head of counterintelligence operations, communicated with lawyers for Trump “in recent weeks”.
The news, the Times said, is “the most concrete indication yet that investigators remain skeptical that Mr Trump has been fully cooperative in their efforts to recover documents … supposed to have [been] turned over to the National Archives at the end of his term”.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, said the news “looks like a major step toward an indictment of Trump by DoJ for obstruction of justice”.
But the Times said Trump’s reluctance to co-operate “puts the department in the fraught position of having to decide from among an array of difficult choices”, so close to the November midterm elections.
The DoJ’s choices, the paper said, include “giv[ing] up on trying to obtain the documents, issuing a subpoena for them, obtaining another search warrant or pushing for Mr Trump to attest under oath that he has handed over all the materials in his possession”.
Tristan Snell, a former prosecutor who tangled with Trump in New York, said: “The self-imposed rule on DoJ actions within 60 days of an election is simply not appropriate for the Trump documents case.
“This is not a case of campaign finance violations. Our national security is at stake – our most sensitive state secrets. Get warrants and go get the docs.”
The documents issue rocketed to the top of the news agenda in early August, when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort.
It emerged that more than 300 documents found there were classified – some reportedly concerning nuclear weapons policy and intelligence. It has also been reported that dozens of empty folders were found.
Trump has claimed mistreatment and to have done nothing wrong, in part because – he claimed to Sean Hannity of Fox News – he was able to declassify documents while president even just by thinking he wanted to do so.
Such claims have been widely rubbished and many observers think Trump faces indictment. But he has managed to slow the investigation.
Lawyers for Trump and the DoJ have contested the issue, Trump won the appointment of a court official, a special master, to review the documents for any covered by executive privilege.
The Times said it was not clear if the DoJ had evidence Trump continued to hold government material even after the Mar-a-Lago search.
The DoJ did not comment.
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson, said: “The weaponised Department of Justice and the politicized FBI are spending millions and millions of American tax dollars to perpetuate witch hunt after witch hunt.”
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