Ex-US president under investigation for potential Espionage Act violation

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Why did the FBI raid the residence of a former president for the first time in history? Because Donald Trump is under investigation by the Department of Justice for a possible violation of the “Espionage Act”, according to the documents made public Friday after the lifting of their confidentiality.

Despite its name, this 1917 federal law is far from just limited to espionage. It also covers everything related to the unauthorized transport or retention of documents related to national security. Suspected of having taken particularly sensitive documents, Donald Trump assured Truth Social that he had previously declassified them, claims that leave experts skeptical.

Top-secret information

According to the inventory of the search, the FBI seized at Mar-a-Lago 33 boxes, including eleven sets of classified documents. Some classified as “secret” or “top secret” can in theory only be kept in secure government buildings.

The documents related to the search at Donald Trump’s home were made public on August 12, 2022. – P.BERRY/20 MINUTES

In addition to letters and photos, the inventory also includes “info on the President of France”, without further details. However, these documents are not listed as classified.

Each violation punishable by ten years in prison

The search lists three statutes of the United States Criminal Code justifying the operation: 18 USC, section 793, 1519 and 2071. The first, titled “Gather, transmit or lose defense information”, means that Donald Trump “is under investigation for violation of the Espionage Act”, specifies to 20 minutes national security lawyer Bradley Moss. The other two refer to “obstructing justice”.

On his Truth Social network, the former president assured that “everything was declassified”. But there is, in theory, a procedure to follow. In particular, the stamp must be changed on the documents, which seems not to have been done and could be the subject of a battle in the courts over presidential powers.

For Donald Trump, the matter is most serious. Each violation of Section 793 of the Espionage Act is punishable by up to ten years in prison. General Petraeus had been forced to resign from the CIA after taking secret documents and sharing them with his mistress. He had pleaded guilty and received a two-year suspended prison sentence. According to Bradley Moss, if the documents seized were still classified and Donald Trump knowingly refused to return them, he could risk “a heavier sentence”.

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