WASHINGTON – The Justice Department declined a request this week from the House oversight committee to disclose the contents of records that former President Donald Trump took to his Florida residence after leaving the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The move could serve as a setback for Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform as it was ramping up its investigation into Trump’s handling of sensitive and even classified information during his time as president and after he left the White House. It remains unclear what implications the decision could have for the panel's probe, which was announced in March.
The Justice Department’s decision is part of an effort to protect confidential information that may compromise an ongoing investigation, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The development was first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post.
The National Archives had referred the matter of Trump's handling of those records to the Justice Department earlier this year. Because of that, the DOJ is asking the National Archives not to share information related directly to it, including the contents of the 15 boxes that Trump took to his Mar-a-Lago residence.
The notice to the committee comes days after its chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., accused the Justice Department of “obstructing” the panel’s expanded investigation by preventing the release of information from the National Archives.
The Justice Department has not formally announced it is investigating Trump's handling of the records, but letters between the committee and the department seem to indicate that investigators are taking steps toward it.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined a request for comment Tuesday.
In addition, the FBI has taken steps to begin examining the potential mishandling of classified information related to the documents in the boxes, according to two other people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. It wasn’t clear exactly what work investigators had done so far or what additional steps they were planning to take.
In a letter to the National Archives last month, Maloney made a series of requests for information she said the committee needs to determine if Trump violated federal records laws over his handling of sensitive and even classified information. In response, the general counsel for the archivist wrote on March 28 that “based on our consultation with the Department of Justice, we are unable to provide any comment.”
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.