Calls to Repeal Espionage Act Mount After FBI Search of Trump’s Home

Espionage Act
Courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Flickr CC0)

The Justice Department’s inquiry into former President Donald Trump (FPOTUS) for violations of the Espionage Act prompted calls for its repeal. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and The Future of Freedom Foundation (a conservative editorial site) are among the angry crowd demanding justice. Paul posted a tweet calling for the Act’s repeal:

The espionage act was abused from the beginning to jail dissenters of WWI. It is long past time to repeal this egregious affront to the 1st Amendment. Repeal the Espionage Act – The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Based on their responses, Trump loyalists do not grasp the extent of his failure to follow the laws governing presidential actions concerning classified documents. While presidents can declassify documents, a procedure must be followed. Unfortunately, until the DOJ releases more information, it appears that the former president did not perform the necessary steps before taking classified materials from the White House.

The Espionage Act

Cases involving the Espionage Act are not limited to traditional espionage. Prosecutors also use the Act in cases of mishandling classified information. Brad Moss, a national security lawyer, told CBS News:

The fact that it is still called the Espionage Act is really confusing for most people because the law generally has nothing to do with spying at this point. It should be renamed the Official Secrets Act, not the Espionage Act.

U.S. Code Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 37 outlines Espionage and Censorship in subsections (§) 792 to 799, according to Cornell Law School. A person can be charged if they:

  • Harbor or conceal persons suspected of or planning to commit a crime, § 792.
  • Gather, transmit, or loses defense information, § 793.
  • Gathers or delivers defense information to aid a foreign government, § 794.
  • Photographs or sketches defense installations, § 795.
  • Use an aircraft to photograph defense installations, § 796.
  • Publish and sell photographs of defense installations, § 797.
  • Disclose classified information, § 798.
  • Violate regulations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, § 798.

The FBI removed 12 boxes of materials when they executed the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago last Monday. Attachment B of the search warrant instructed the agents to seize: “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.”

Trump potentially violated Section 793 by transmitting (moving) documents from a secure location to an unauthorized area.

Espionage Act
Courtesy of Trump White House Archived (Flickr PDM)

While the cartons’ inventory was released, there was little information about the content of 11 sets of documents. Of the 11 sets of documents, five were top secret, three were secret, and three were confidential. Some of them were marked as “classified/TS/SCI,” which is an abbreviation of  “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.”

Last Monday’s search and seizure did not have to happen. Trump knew he was not supposed to store these records at Mar-a-Lago; he was asked to return them by a representative of the U.S. National Archives.

After communications with the former president proved unfruitful, the USNA initiated an investigation for violating the Espionage Act. Then, 16 months after Trump left office, the DOJ issued a subpoena demanding the missing documents’ return. After Trump did not comply, Florida Judge Antonio Gonzalez approved the warrant on August 5, 2022, and it was executed three days later.

Trump is not the first person suspected of the Espionage Act after removing classified data from a secure facility and storing it at home. This precedent-setting situation might deter others from violating their oaths of office since even a former president is not exempt from investigation and possible conviction.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


The Washington Post: Files Seized From Trump Are Part of Espionage Act Inquiry; by Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, and Charlie Savage
CBS News: What is the Espionage Act? By Caitlin Yilek
Axios: Rand Paul calls for repeal of Espionage Act after Trump FBI search; by Ivana Saric

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image by Shealah Craighead Courtesy of Trump White House Archived’s Flickr Page – Public Domain License

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