Jonathan Turley Criticizes DOJ’s Decision to Charge Trump Under Espionage Act

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George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, in an op-ed Tuesday, was critical of both the Justice Department’s pursuit of charges against former President Donald Trump under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the act itself.

Turley’s opinion piece came in the left-wing outlet Daily Beast. While he acknowledged that images from the 49-page indictment show boxes of documents stored in a restroom at Mar-a-Lago, and noted that no one would legitimately contend that is a proper way to store such documents, he zoned in on the law’s reference to an “intent to harm” U.S. national security:

The law references an intent either to harm the national security of the U.S. or benefit a foreign power. No one is suggesting that harm actually occurred or that Trump intended to cause such harm. However, the government is proceeding under specific provisions making mishandling (and the refusal to turn over documents) a crime. That is the harm that the government will argue.

Turley also noted what he thinks could be the government’s argument on Trump’s intent to keep the allegedly classified documents, highlighting the alleged closed-door meeting at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey where he allegedly used “secret” or “confidential” material to potentially refute a media narrative to a small group of people:

The indictment may have revealed the motive that the government believes is behind the inexplicable refusal of Trump to turn over these documents: vanity. Trump is portrayed as showing the Iran attack documents like a trophy. That is not a great fit with the Espionage Act.

The professor made clear that he is no fan of the law, which he writes, “often seems like the last refuge of the government when it lacks any other means to punish targeted persons.”

He pointed to Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange as an example. He faces extradition to the United States under the Espionage Act, as he and WikiLeaks allegedly published information they received from Chelsea Manning – formerly Bradley Manning – who was a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst. 

Turley noted that this alleged publication of classified information is “an act that newspapers have regularly done throughout history to expose government lies and abuses,” a sentiment Republican Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy also shared. 

Turley wrote that while the Espionage Act covers 31 of the charges, which is the vast majority, more counts still linger. The remaining counts, as detailed by Breitbart News Senior Editor Joel Pollak, are:

  • Count 32, for “Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice” under 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (k), makes Trump and Nauta liable for the same penalties that each would receive for their alleged crimes as part of the alleged conspiracy, in this case up to 20 years.
  • Count 33, for “Withholding a Document or Record” under 18 U.S.C § 1512 (b) (2) (A) (and also § 2, making Trump a “principal” for allegedly causing the act alleged to have been committed by Waltine Nauta), carries a sentence of up to 20 years.
  • Count 34, for “Corruptly Concealing a Document or Record” under 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (c) (1) (and also § 2), carries a sentence of up to 20 years.
  • Count 35, for “Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation” under 18 U.S.C § 1519 (and also § 2), carries a sentence of up to 20 years.
  • Count 36, for “Conspiracy to Conceal” under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a) (2) (and also § 2), carries a sentence of up to five years.
  • Count 37, for “False Statements and Representations” under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a) (2) (and also § 2), carries a sentence of up to five years.
  • Count 38, for “False Statements and Representations” under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a) (2), carries a sentence of up to five years.

Turley suggested to Fox News Channel’s Brett Baier on Special Report Tuesday night that Trump’s legal team needs to beat all of the charges, not just the bulk of them under the Espionage Act:

But the important thing to remember is tomorrow this will be a client who is 77 years old. And even though one can debate where a court would put a sentence for a first offender, this is a very serious matter for someone of that age. It can be a terminal sentence if the judge decides to impose a significant jail period. Now, each of these counts range from 10 years to 20 years. And they’ve gotta run the table.

He also noted that the indictment is “very damaging.”

“These photographs, the audiotape, the statements from former counsel, those all hit below the waterline and they’re going to cause damage,” he said.


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