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Commenting on classified material found at Mar-a-Lago, Garland says Justice Dept. will ‘look at the facts and the law’

Former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday addressed for the first time the discovery of classified material in boxes of documents taken to former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, confirming the Justice Department has been in discussions with the National Archives about the matter but stopping short of promising a full investigation.

Asked if the department would investigate how the boxes got to Mar-a-Lago, Garland said: “As the archivist said in a letter that was sent to the Congress, the National Archives has informed the Justice Department of this and communicated with it. And we will do what we always do under these circumstances — look at the facts and the law and take it from there.”

When classified information slips out into the world, that often sparks an FBI investigation, so officials can track down how the information got out and who might have accessed it inappropriately. It is a crime to mishandle classified information, though prosecutors must prove someone did so intentionally or was grossly negligent. Those can be high legal bars to clear.

Garland did not respond to a follow-up question asking if his comment meant the department was, indeed, investigating.

Some Trump records taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly marked as classified, including documents at ‘top secret’ level

Confirming reporting in The Washington Post, the National Archives revealed in a letter last week that “items marked as classified national security information” were contained in 15 boxes of White House records taken to Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla. U.S. Archivist David S. Ferriero wrote that officials were conducting an inventory of the boxes’ content and expected to complete that process by this Friday. The archives, he wrote, had been in touch with the Justice Department over the matter.

In a statement responding to Ferriero’s letter, Trump said, “The National Archives did not ‘find’ anything, they were given, upon request, Presidential Records in an ordinary and routine process to ensure the preservation of my legacy and in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.” He added that journalists were “making it seem like me, as the President of the United States, was working in a filing room,” when he was doing other things.

The bureau famously investigated Hillary Clinton for possibly mishandling classified information in connection with her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, but she was never charged. On the campaign trail, Trump railed against Clinton over the matter, calling frequently for her to be jailed.

The discovery of classified information at Trump’s residence has sparked calls for the Justice Department to investigate him as it did Clinton — though doing so would be a politically perilous endeavor. Garland’s comment on the issue Tuesday, however limited, attracted attention nonetheless.

David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who was involved in the Clinton investigation, wrote on Twitter, “When I was at DOJ, I don’t recall ‘looking at the facts’ without conducting an ‘investigation’ — especially if the objective was to learn all the relevant facts and make a fully informed charging decision."

Former U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance wrote, “Narrator: This means that they’re investigating.”