What sentences Trump could face under Espionage Act and other violations

Former President Donald Trump has not been charged with any crime but speculation has mounted about the Department of Justice‘s next moves after documents related to the search of his Florida home were unsealed on Friday.

The warrant authorizing the search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach revealed that the former president is under investigation for a potential violation of the Espionage Act and also cited potential violations of other U.S. statutes.

The Espionage Act, passed in 1917, carries a penalty of a fine, up to 10 years in prison or both for mishandling of defense information and it was the first statute cited on the warrant.

The warrant also cited two further statutes that can also carry prison terms if they are violated.

In a section of the warrant about what property was to be seized, the document says: “All physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 793, 2071, or 1519.”

Firstly, 18 U.S.C. §§ 793 refers to the Espionage Act, and states, in part: “Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed.

It adds: “Or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer— Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

The second statute cited in the warrant, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2071, deals with the “concealment, removal, or mutilation generally” of government documents and violations carry a fine, a three year prison sentence, or both.

It is a law that criminalizes the destruction or theft of government documents and makes it a crime for a person with custody of any record or document from a federal court or public office to willfully and unlawfully conceal, remove, mutilate, falsify or destroy that document.

Thirdly, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1519 is part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in 2002 after financial scandals involving the companies Enron and WorldCom, among others.

An obstruction law, it deals with “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy and carries the highest sentence of any of the potential violations – 20 years in prison.”

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both,” the statute says.

The warrant shows that the raid at Mar-a-Lago was part of an investigation of potentially serious offenses and anyone convicted of those offenses could face years in federal prison.

However, neither former President Trump nor anyone else has been yet been charged with any crime and it appears the investigation into the handling of White House documents is ongoing.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and suggested that FBI agents could have planted evidence during the search of Mar-a-Lago. He and his Republican allies have also argued that the raid was politically motivated.

Newsweek has asked former President Trump’s office for comment.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally on August 05, 2022 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The warrant for the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was unsealed on Friday.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

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