US officials have offered to provide a closed-door briefing to congressional leaders about their review of about 300 classified-marked documents retrieved from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort last year, sources familiar with the matter said.
The precise nature of the briefing remains unclear. The offer from the justice department and the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI) was described as unofficial on Sunday and no date had yet been set, though the briefing could come as soon as this week.
But the closed-door session with the “Gang of Eight” – the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, as well as of both intelligence committees – could provide an insight into the sensitivity of the documents Trump retained and the possibility of indictments.
The nature of the documents is one of the central issues in the criminal investigation into Trump overseen by the special counsel Jack Smith, who is examining whether the former president wilfully retained national security information and obstructed justice.
The justice department is separately investigating the discovery of classified-marked documents at Joe Biden’s Delaware home and a former office in Washington DC, as well as at the Indiana home of Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence. In stark contrast to Trump’s resistance to returning papers, Biden and Pence have cooperated with officials.
Republicans in Congress have seized on the presence of marked documents at Biden’s home in Delaware and a private office space in Washington, and have sought briefings as a means to pressure the president and draw inaccurate parallels with the Trump case.
Since the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago on 8 August last year and seized 101 classified-marked documents, Trump has claimed the papers were declassified, though no such evidence has emerged and his lawyers have not repeated that assertion in court, where they face penalties for lying.
Investigators have focused on the matter and last year granted immunity to a top Trump ally, Kash Patel, in an effort to force him to testify before a grand jury about the declassification claims. Patel initially invoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.
Justice department interest in Patel centered on his claims that the documents found at Mar-a-Lago were declassified, how the documents ended up at the property, and how Trump and his team responded to requests for their return, the Guardian previously reported.
Whether the US intelligence community found the classified-marked documents to still be sensitive, or to be no longer national security information because they were largely declassified, the outcome of the review could impact the criminal investigation.
The justice department has provided briefings to congressional leaders before major charging decisions that are politically sensitive, two people with knowledge of the matter said, though no reason was given for the timing of the Trump documents briefing.
A spokesperson for the department and the special counsel’s office declined to comment.
The House and Senate intelligence committees sought a briefing on the Trump documents almost immediately after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, but no briefing was scheduled – at least for the House intelligence committee – before Republicans took the House majority.
The justice department and ODNI have declined to answer most questions about the roughly 300 classified-marked documents found at the resort, citing the ongoing criminal investigation and the separate risk assessment that could jeopardize intelligence sources.
The House intelligence committee chair, Mike Turner, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, as he discussed the shooting-down of a Chinese spy balloon, that he had been notified he would get a briefing on the Trump documents this week.
“What’s interesting is that the moment this balloon became public, I got a notice not from the administration that I’m going to get a briefing on this balloon, but they have to rush to Congress now to talk to us about Donald Trump’s documents,” Turner said.
source: the guardian