David Raskin Trump: One of the Justice Department’s most experienced national security prosecutors has joined the team overseeing an intensifying investigation of classified documents at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and private club, according to people familiar with the matter.
National security law experts interviewed by The Washington Post indicate prosecutors appear to have gathered enough evidence in this case that could support filing charges against the former president – an unprecedented move they believe is only likely if the Justice Department believes it has a strong case.
David Raskin Trump, a longtime federal prosecutor in New York City and more recently an assistant prosecutor in Kansas City, Mo., has been helping with the investigation into Trump and his aides, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing probe.
Raskin is considered one of the most accomplished terrorism prosecutors of his generation, having worked on the case of Zacarias Moussaoui who was tried in Virginia as a co-conspirator in 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Additionally, he was part of the team prosecuting Ahmed Ghailani in federal court in Manhattan over 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa; although acquitted on most counts but found guilty of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property – making him unique among Guantanamo Bay detainees brought before a U.S. court and tried and convicted both men with life sentences.
Justice Department officials first approached Raskin to consult on the criminal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, but his role has since shifted more towards looking into former president’s possession and potential mishandling of classified documents, according to people familiar with the matter.
Raskin’s inclusion on the team handling the Mar-a-Lago probe is further proof of how seriously Justice Department officials take this case and emphasizes the high stakes for both Trump and those investigating him.
Raskin did not respond to requests for comment from The Post. A Justice Department spokesman declined to provide additional information, while a Trump spokesman did not offer any insight Friday afternoon.
Two weeks ago, Raskin achieved a breakthrough in an unrelated case to that of Donald Trump – a former FBI analyst from Kansas City who authorities claim took more than 300 classified files or documents home with her, including highly sensitive material about al-Qaeda and an associate of Osama bin Laden.
Court papers show federal prosecutors have discovered a similar number of documents with classified markings from Mar-a-Lago, all seemingly taken from the White House. As previously reported by The Post, some of this highly sensitive and restricted intelligence included at least one document about Iran’s missile program and other material pertaining to intelligence gathering work aimed at China, according to people familiar with the matter.
Justice Department officials often draw upon past cases when deciding whether to press charges in an investigation. In 2015, former general and CIA director David H. Petraeus entered a misdemeanor guilty plea; ten years earlier, Samuel “Sandy” R. Berger had also pled guilty for removing classified documents from the National Archives and Records Administration. But past cases only go so far when investigating Trump.
Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general for national security during the Obama administration, noted that this case stands out in history. “This is a former president of the United States – someone who spent four years being briefed daily on national security matters – so the steps prosecutors take won’t look like any other case.”
Government employees with security clearances must sign documents acknowledging they understand and abide by the rules regarding handling classified material. When they leave government service, they also sign paperwork stating they no longer possess any classified materials; this paperwork is often used as evidence that defendants understood their actions were illegal.
Due to this and other reasons, any potential criminal charge would hinge heavily on prosecutors proving Trump’s intent – that he didn’t just unwittingly take classified materials from the White House and store them at his residence at a private club in Florida without knowing it was an offense.
McCord noted the timeline of events — from requests for documents from the National Archives, through subpoena demands by the Justice Department, to a court-authorized search of property on Aug. 8 — could be essential in fulfilling this requirement.
“The evidence of months-long negotiations between President Trump and his lawyers with the National Archives regarding documents they believed to be classified” indicates that Trump was aware of the legal repercussions, according to critics, including Ms. Schactman.
Since the Aug. 8 search, numerous pieces of evidence have been described by those close to the investigation and give a hint at how prosecutors may weigh “aggravating factors” in Trump’s case – circumstances surrounding an alleged crime which could enhance its seriousness and prompt them to pursue charges.
David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department national security official, noted the “classic aggravating factors” in any case involving willful retention of classified documents. (David Raskin) Trump allegedly had an abundance of such papers on his property; however, 184 were turned over voluntarily in January to Archives officials via boxes provided by Trump himself.
Other potential aggravating factors in the investigation involve the classified nature of the information and whether there was any attempt to hide documents from investigators, or hinder their work. According to people familiar with the case, a Trump aide told the FBI that Trump instructed him to remove boxes from a storage room where classified material was kept — after receiving a subpoena in May for any classified material in his possession. That witness account, from former White House valet Walt Nauta, is supported by security-camera footage taken at Mar-a-Lago that shows boxes being moved after receiving a subpoena in May for any such material.
Federal investigators have interviewed several low-level Trump aides as part of the probe to learn how the boxes arrived at Mar-a-Lago, how they were packed at the White House and why they were moved, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Nauta wasn’t alone in being questioned; Molly Michael – Trump’s longtime personal assistant – also stood trial. Michael worked at both Trump’s Florida residence and golf course in Bedminster, N.J., these people said. After being questioned by federal authorities this summer, Michael left her job but remains on friendly terms with Trump; it remains unclear what she has told investigators.
Nauta remains employed by (David Raskin Trump) Trump and recently attended a rally with him, two advisers reported. People close to Nauta said his lawyers have warned others about the potentially difficult choices ahead due to the investigation into him. These people noted that while Nauta did not request to be interviewed by FBI agents, he nonetheless had to answer their questions nonetheless, these people said.
Prosecutors have also sought information from Trump advisers and Archives officials about all the chances he was given to return the documents, as well as why he expressed anger when being asked to do so, according to one person who has heard accounts from those interrogated.
Credibility of witnesses will likely be a key factor in any criminal charge against Trump. When initially interviewed by the FBI, Nauta denied handling sensitive documents or boxes that might contain such materials, according to people familiar with the matter; however, his account changed drastically during a second interview. Justice Department officials are trying to arrange another interview and potential grand jury testimony, but have yet to reach an agreement, these people said.
Prosecutors view any evidence of possible obstruction as “like a red cape in front of a bull,” said Laufman, adding that existing proof provides them with “sound evidentiary footing” to pursue a case.
“Based on what is public knowledge to date, it appears to me that the Justice Department already has a substantial amount of aggravating factors and could likely prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Trump unlawfully retained classified information,” Laufman noted. “That being said, one can never guarantee whether an attorney general will ultimately decide it is in the best interests of his department to criminally charge a former president of the United States for the first time in history.”
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Prosecutors must address key questions before they can make such a determination, such as whether key witnesses’ accounts of what occurred at Mar-a-Lago are credible. Furthermore, they are trying to assess whether claims made by one Trump ally and adviser – former federal prosecutor Kash Patel – could give Trump cover that the documents no longer had classified status.
Patel has repeatedly claimed that Trump declassified material. Though Trump has made similar assertions in public interviews, his lawyers have yet to prove it in court papers. Recently, prosecutors called Patel before a grand jury about any alleged declassification decisions by Trump; however, Patel has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions and the two sides appear at odds. CNN first reported Patel’s appearance before the grand jury.
Prosecutors have also asked Trump aides if they ever saw or heard Trump issue any type of blanket declassification order, according to someone with direct knowledge of the matter.
Brandon Van Grack, a lawyer in private practice who previously handled classified-mishandling cases for the federal prosecutor, noted that investigators typically don’t interview key witnesses until after collecting substantial amounts of evidence.
Van Grack noted that reports indicate they are interviewing individuals who appear to have directly communicated with the former president. Before speaking with key witnesses, however, you typically want most of the facts established so you can focus on filling any holes and assess whether they are telling a complete and true story.
Van Grack predicts it will be months before prosecutors make any major decisions in the case. He noted that prosecutors won’t make any major moves until after a court-appointed special master has completed reviewing 13,000 nonclassified documents seized during the FBI search; these nonclassified records cannot be used until after this review is concluded, which should take place sometime around December.
The Justice Department could gain access to nonclassified material sooner if prosecutors prevail in their appeal of the special master’s appointment, though that decision is unlikely to come until late November at the earliest.
Javed Ali, a senior official at the National Security Council during President Trump’s administration who now teaches at the University of Michigan, noted that charging the former president would be an extremely high bar with little room for error. Even if prosecutors can file multiple charges against Trump, he anticipates they will only do so if they have a strong case to back them up.
Ali explained, “Because this is so unprecedented, they will take it slow. There’s going to be so much emotion involved – the last thing you want is for a case to go to trial that has holes or is weak – what would be the point?”