But when asked if they would take secret documents home with them, GOP senators tasked with oversight of the intelligence community ― those who handle extremely sensitive information daily ― said they would never do so.
“Of course not,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told HuffPost on Wednesday.
“Clearly they should not be left in a residence or somewhere unprotected,” added Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also serves on the committee.
HuffPost asked nearly every member of the panel the same question. None said they had taken classified documents home.
The Senate Intelligence Committee reviews top secret information in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, an unassuming room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol that is off-limits to anyone without a security clearance. Electronics, including cellphones, aren’t allowed inside, and lawmakers aren’t allowed to take notes ― measures intended to keep enemies from spying.
“I can’t take [documents] home. I can’t take them to my office. I have to read them in that room,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said of the security protocols involved with serving on the committee.
“If I did, I’d be out of a job,” he added.
Republicans have brushed aside concerns about Trump’s handling of classified documents. Some have even implied that the Department of Justice and the FBI are lying ― a starkly different approach to how they treated the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“We’re operating almost entirely on the basis of claims made in court documents that have not been proven,” Rubio told reporters on Wednesday.
Cornyn said he didn’t understand why the FBI executed a search warrant at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort more than a year and a half after Trump left office. Trump hasn’t been charged with committing a crime, but the government has said he’s under criminal investigation related to the documents and that he may have obstructed justice by failing to cooperate with the FBI.
“We’re just trying to figure out what the heck’s going on,” Cornyn said. “It’s unprecedented to execute a search warrant on a former president’s home, and that’s not a precedent that I’d like to see repeated.”
The National Archives disclosed in February that it had obtained 15 boxes of records Trump had failed to turn over when he left the White House and that more material was still missing, contrary to the Presidential Records Act, which states that all official documents become public property at the end of a president’s term. The FBI recovered 30 more boxes of material in its search of Trump’s Palm Beach estate last month, including some that reportedly contained nuclear secrets.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) suggested it’s different for a sitting president, since his home is his office. (He’s previously said Trump should have turned the documents over at the end of his term.)
“Presidents have their secure documents at their office, which is the White House, so they have a different view of it,” Blunt said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she didn’t “have the facilities to do so nor the authority” to keep top secret information at home. “That’s different from a president. I don’t have any authority to deem something classified or unclassified,” she added.
Trump is no longer president but claimed that he somehow declassified the secret material he stored at his residence at Mar-a-Lago, though neither he nor his lawyers have said so in their response to allegations made by the Justice Department in federal court.
The Presidential Records Act requires all official documents to be turned over to the National Archives, not just classified ones, but U.S. archivist David Ferrerio told Congress in February that archives staff referred the matter to the Justice Department specifically because Trump had kept classified material.
Trump has sued the Justice Department over the Aug. 8 search, and Republicans in the House of Representatives have said they’ll investigate the department for investigating the former president, regardless of whether he’d broken any laws.
Democrats said Trump’s actions put U.S. intelligence operatives at risk by keeping top secret information at his Florida estate.
“Mishandling classified materials, they drill into you right out of the gate, is a crime,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), another intelligence committee member, told HuffPost. “This is real stuff and has direct implications on our sources. It puts people’s lives at risk.”
“If this was Hillary Clinton, they’d be calling for jail time,” he added of Republicans.