The Mar-A-Lago search warrant materials were recently unsealed and are available here. Under the label “Property to be seized” (see Attachment B on page 4) is the following statement: “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.” Most media reports have focused on Section 793, which is part of the Espionage Act of 1917, a controversial law that has been used to stifle speech and scapegoat political enemies, but what about Sections 2071 and 1519?
Let’s start with Section 1519. This statute (see here) makes it a federal crime to alter, destroy, or falsify any record, document, or tangible object with the intent of impeding or obstructing a federal investigation or a bankruptcy case. (For the record, Section 1519 only has 82 words: “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”) Similarly, Section 2071 (see here) makes it a federal crime to hide, mutilate, or destroy any official document or thing “filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States.” (It’s also a crime to “attempt” to do those things.) The maximum penalty under Section 2071, by contrast, is a “mere” three years in federal prison (compared to 20 years under Section 1519) as well as forfeiture of public office and disqualification “from holding any office under the United States” in the future.
Notice how neither Section 1519 nor Section Section 2071 make any reference to “classified” documents or to secrecy levels; in other words, both statutes apply to “classified” and “unclassified” documents alike. My best guess is that the Feds are trying to build a case against President Trump for altering or destroying evidence relevant to the ongoing investigation being conducted by the “January 6 Committee” in Congress. In the meantime, it’s important to keep in mind that under U.S. law the level of proof for obtaining a search warrant is “probable cause” but the level of proof for obtaining a conviction in a court of law is much higher: “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.