DOJ Refuses to Give Congressional Committee an Inventory of Seized Presidential Records

The Department of Justice has told the House Oversight Committee (Not to be confused with the House Select Committee investigating Trump’s post-election actions) that DOJ will not hand over an inventory of records seized by the Department at Mar-a-Lago over a month ago.

According to the Washington Post:

[A]cting assistant attorney general Peter Hyun writes that after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) referred “concerns about whether such materials had been properly handled” to the Justice Department earlier this year, officials asked the archives not to share information related to the records taken to Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

“Concerns about whether such materials had been properly handled,” appears to be an effort to sound concerned about something without giving away the real reason that DOJ will not hand over a simple inventory. Note, the Oversight Committee isn’t even asking for copies of the records, merely a list of what was seized.

DOJ has a reason for not providing that inventory list, but it almost surely doesn’t have anything to do with “concerns” about whether the documents had been “properly handled,” at least not how they were physically handled. No, the real answer appears to be tucked nicely lower down in the story and lower in the actual DOJ letter sent to Congress, in which DOJ reminds Congress that it has a more expansive duty with respect to every document in its possession from anywhere:

[T]he Department’s goal in all cases is to satisfy legitimate legislative interests while protecting Executive Branch confidentiality interests. Examples of confidential information include … information the disclosure of which might compromise open criminal investigations or prosecutions or civil cases.”

The above portion of the letter sounds – to an outside ear – far more like the real basis for the refusal. Rather than DOJ write a letter to the Committee saying, “We don’t hand out inventories of documents that are currently considered evidence central to a current criminal investigations…” they write a letter about proper handling and tuck their “mission statement” toward the bottom.

There has long been a school of thought which argued that if prosecutors at DOJ believed that Donald Trump should face criminal consequences for his actions as president that the best means of doing so is not to lay out the case as to how Donald Trump led an insurrection in an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government and charge Trump with seditious conspiracy, no matter how tight the case, but rather simply charge Trump with a far more simple and obvious felony such as destruction of presidential records or removing and possessing classified (some Top Secret) materials at Mar-a-Lago.

Additionally, there is a possibility that even an inventory of records to Congress, long considered a sieve regarding any sensitive information, would very quickly become a front page New York Times story that soon overwhelms even the case for sedition. As nothing more than an example, imagine the public outcry if the records included a document referencing U.S. strategic capabilities against a potential Russian incurrsion into NATO states? What if the inventory had a document entitled; “Proposed Naval Response to Russian Hypersonic Missiles,” or even a document “U.S. Sattelite Defense Doctrine”?  These are nothing but [rather silly and simplistic] examples as to why DOJ would refuse to provide even an inventory to Congress and would be absolutely right in doing so.

The Washington Post is in a position where it must cover the reason stated at the top of the document as a matter of course. But a more in-depth analysis leads to responsible speculation that the real answer is found further down in the letter and the story. After all, the Post was under no obligation to cover what otherwise might seem like boilerplate language about good faith. And yet it did.