Amid a series of investigations into allegedly mishandled classified documents, two members of Congress are proposing a series of new, large civil penalties against people in power who fail to properly handle classified records.
Top officials, including U.S. presidents, could have their pensions garnished, their security clearances stripped and face stiff fines, for improper management of records marked classified, under the new bipartisan legislation.
The sponsors are a pair of U.S. House members from Illinois, who say the recent series of probes into alleged mishandling of documents by former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden underscore the need for stiffer penalties when the mishandling does not rise to criminal violations.
Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley and Republican Rep. Darin LaHood told CBS News there’s a loophole and deficiency in current federal law governing the handling of records. They said U.S. law does not properly account for negligence or sloppiness of documents management, but only specifies penalties for criminal misconduct with records.
About the mishandling of documents, Quigley said, “there’s not an excuse for it. Everyone who handles these documents is aware of how important it is to protect them. They’ve all been trained.”
LaHood told CBS News the legislation would include a civil penalty for mishandling classified documents that would reach $500,000 for each count.
“We believe our changes are going to deter this kind of behavior in the future,” LaHood said. “Any individual who handles classified material or documents is made aware of the safeguards, responsibility, and importance of protecting highly sensitive information, whether it’s high-ranking government officials, Intelligence Committee members, or military officers.”
Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said current law does not account sufficiently for sloppiness or recklessness with records. “Apparently, the bar is too high,” he added.
Quigley said the recent revelations about records management by Mr. Biden, Trump and Pence were startling. He said, “I served eight years on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I never saw such behavior from Democrats or Republicans.”
The legislation creates a process that requires screening and certification of classified materials during the transition period between administrations. Under the bill, if a president or vice president classifies materials, that person has to certify they have not been retained. And under the bill, if the president or vice president fails to complete the certification, he or she could have his or her pension reduced by 50% and lose access to post-presidency office space, staffing and travel expenses.
More than 100 documents were found with classified markings at Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago in August after the FBI executed a search warrant. Attorney General Merrick Garland has since appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s criminal investigation in Trump’s retention of classified documents. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Since then, several documents marked classified were found at Mr. Biden’s former office and his Wilmington, Delaware, home from his time as vice president. The White House said Mr. Biden is cooperating with the investigation and special counsel Robert Hur has been appointed to oversee the probe into Mr. Biden’s handling of records.
A few weeks later, documents with classified markings were found at Pence’s home in Carmel, Indiana, when he and his team were reviewing materials.
The Presidential Records Act, passed during former President Jimmy Carter’s administration, outlines requirements for the preservation and turning over of all presidential records upon leaving office. The National Archives is responsible for the storage and safekeeping of those records.