The ex-employee’s sentencing coincidentally came the same week of revelations that the National Archives had raised concerns about government documents found at the Florida residence of former President Donald Trump in recent months. The Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate the matter, prompting questions of whether the handling of classified information and government documents could lead to a criminal probe.
The declassification authorities Trump held as president could limit his criminal liability and questions remain whether he had declassified any of the documents that had been found at Mar-a-Lago.
The ex-Defense Department employee sentenced Thursday, Asia Janay Lavarello, was on a temporary assignment at the US Embassy in Manilla when she took classified documents from the embassy to her hotel room, according to court filings. She hosted a dinner party at her hotel on the day she removed the documents, March 20, 2020, and an embassy co-worker in attendance found the documents, which had classified markings on them, according to the court filings.
Lavarello was working on a classified thesis at the time, her lawyer Birney Bervar told CNN. She had been encouraged to pursue the thesis and been working on it at the embassy’s secure information facility until Covid-19 shut things down earlier that year, her lawyer said. The documents she took home were three other classified theses, her lawyer told CNN, and she had no intention of transmitting the classified information or of harming the United States.
Lavarello was confronted about the documents that night, according to her plea agreement, but she did not take steps that night to return them to the embassy’s secure information facility. With the help of one of the dinner party guests, she returned the documents to a safe in the embassy two days later, the court filings said, but she did not return the documents to the secure information facility as she had said at the time that she would do.
She was terminated from her temporary assignment that month because of her mishandling of the documents. In her plea agreement, Lavarello also admitted to transporting from the Philippines to Hawaii later that month a notebook containing classified information. The notebook were handwritten notes from a meeting that were later classified, her lawyer told CNN. According to the court documents, she kept that notebook at her residence, which was not an authorized location for storing classified information. The notebook was later found at her workspace in Honolulu after a search warrant was executed, according to the court filings.
Some of the information in the notebook had been previously sent from her personal email to an unclassified work email account in January 16 2020, leading the FBI to determine she possessed the notebook at an unauthorized location at that time.
Lavarello pleaded guilty last July to unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material. She was sentenced on Thursday to three months in prison and a $5,500 fine, according to a Justice Department press release.