The ways federal officials from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump — and now Joe Biden — have been accused of mishandling government records
- The FBI raided Mar-a-Lago in August while investigating Trump's handling of government records.
- This week it was revealed the President Joe Biden is also being investigated over documents.
Both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have recently made headlines for investigations into their handling of government documents, but the potential issues being investigated are not new territory for the Justice Department.
It's relatively rare, but not unheard of, for the Department of Justice to investigate and even bring charges against federal officials accused of mishandling government records, including some that are considered classified or top secret.
From former President Richard Nixon to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, here are some examples that include documents, emails, and audio tapes.
President Joe Biden
On Monday, the White House announced that lawyers for Biden discovered about 10 classified documents at his office in the Penn Biden Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC. His counsel said the documents were immediately turned over to the National Archives, though the information was not made public for months.
Since then, the White House said additional documents were found at other locations, including Biden's home in Delaware. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed a special counsel, Robert K. Hur, to investigate Biden for potential mishandling of classified documents.
Former President Donald Trump
In August, federal agents conducted an unprecedented raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence. It was part of a Justice Department investigation into whether Trump broke several laws related to the handling of national security information. One of the potential violations falls under the Espionage Act and concerns the removal of information that pertains to national defense. The others involve concealing or destroying government records.
The FBI seized 11 sets of classified or top secret documents from Mar-a-Lago, according to court documents. The National Archives has said Trump took more than 700 pages of classified documents. Federal officials also spent over a year requesting Trump return the documents before the raid was conducted. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
In November, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee investigations involving Trump, including that of the Mar-a-Lago documents.
President Richard Nixon
Nixon is in part responsible for the creation of the Presidential Records Act, a law passed in 1978 that mandates the preservation of records created or received by the president and vice president during their time in office. It also established that presidential records belong to the US and are to be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of a president's time in office.
The law was part of a series of measures passed to address potential corruption after Watergate, when Nixon sought to destroy millions of pages of documents and hundreds of hours of tape recordings from his time in the White House.
Following Nixon's resignation, Congress passed a law in 1974 that would require him to turn over the documents. Nixon challenged it, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled it was within the legislative body's rights to request them.
The Presidential Records Act was passed four years later, solidifying presidential records as public, rather than private, documents.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Clinton's emails are perhaps the most well-known example of a federal official being accused of mishandling government documents. While serving as President Barack Obama's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, Clinton used a personal email address and server to conduct official business, rather than a more secure government email server.
After The New York Times first reported in 2015 on her use of a private email and potential violation of federal requirements, it became one of the major stories of the 2016 election cycle, when Clinton was the Democratic nominee for president against Trump.
A State Department inspector general report released in May 2016 found she had violated government policy but that it did not constitute criminal conduct. In July 2016, FBI Director James Comey said their separate investigation found there was "evidence of potential" criminal violations concerning the handling of classified information but that there wasn't sufficient reason to bring charges.
Another State Department investigation that lasted for three years and ended in 2019 found Clinton's use of a private email server put classified information at risk but that there was "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information." No charges were ever brought against her.
Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton
Sandy Berger, who served as a national security adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, pleaded guilty in 2005 to the unauthorized removal and destruction of classified documents from the National Archives.
After leaving his White House post, Berger testified before Congress's 9/11 commission, which was examining the government's response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Berger said he made multiple visits to the National Archives to revisit relevant materials.
But a National Archives employee said they saw Berger leaving with documents wrapped around his socks and under his pant leg, prompting a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Berger was found to have smuggled out highly classified documents, destroying some, and lying about possessing them.
He agreed to plead guilty and was fined $50,000, sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service, and stripped of his security clearance for three years.
Lower-profile federal officials are more commonly charged
In addition to former presidents and top White House officials, lower-profile federal agents are more commonly charged with mishandling government documents.
The FBI and the Justice Department have conducted at least 11 investigations into such crimes since 2005, Voice of America reported.
The outlet compiled a list of notable cases that included former members of the military and Defense Department employees or contractors; NSA and CIA contractors; and former CIA, FBI, and NSA employees. The sentences included thousands of dollars in fines and several years of probation.
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