(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department says classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” from a storage room at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate as part of an effort to obstruct the federal investigation into the discovery of the government records.
The FBI also seized boxes and containers holding more than 100 classified records during its Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago and found classified documents stashed in Trump’s office, according to a filing that lays out the most detailed chronology to date of months of strained interactions between Justice Department officials and Trump representatives over the discovery of government secrets.
Another indication is provided by the filing of the volume of classified information retrieved at Mar-a-Lago (in Palm Beach, Florida). This file shows that investigators in a criminal investigation have not only focused on how the records were stored improperly but also whether Trump’s team deliberately misled them regarding the illegal and continued presence of top-secret documents.
The timeline laid out by the Justice Department made clear that the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago came only after other efforts to retrieve the records had failed and that it resulted from law enforcement suspicion that additional documents remained inside the property despite assurances by Trump representatives that a “diligent search” had accounted for all of the material.
A picture was also attached of some of these seized documents, with colored cover pages indicating their classified status. Perhaps this is to counter suggestions that Mar-a-Lago personnel could easily have failed to recognize their sensitive nature.
The photo shows the cover pages of a smattering of paperclip-bound classified documents — some marked as “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders and one marked as “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-colored border — along with whited-out pages, splayed out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago. They are surrounded by a box of cardboard with gold-framed photographs, which includes a Time cover.
Though it contains significant new details on the investigation, the Justice Department filing does not resolve a core question that has driven public fascination with the investigation — why Trump held onto the documents after he left the White House and why he and his team resisted repeated efforts to give them back. It suggests that officials might not have received an explanation.
During a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by FBI and Justice Department officials, the document states, “Counsel for the former President offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records, including 38 documents with classification markings, remained at the Premises nearly five months after the production of the Fifteen Boxes and nearly one-and-a-half years after the end of the Administration.”
The Justice Department subpoenaed the records several weeks prior to this visit. This is why the document gives a lot of attention to it and makes it a central focus for investigation.
Though Trump has said he had declassified all of the documents at Mar-a-Lago, his lawyers did not suggest that during the visit and instead “handled them in a manner that suggested counsel believed that the documents were classified,” according to the document.
FBI agents who went there to receive additional materials were given “a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents,” the filing states.
The FBI said that the envelope contained 38 distinct documents, with different classification markings. This included 17 documents marked top secret and 16 marked secret.
The investigators were permitted to visit the storage room but were not allowed to open or look inside any of the boxes, “giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained,” the Justice Department says.
During that visit, the document says, Trump’s lawyers told investigators that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location — a Mar-a-Lago storage room — and that “there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched.”
After that, though, the department, which had subpoenaed video footage for the property, “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.” The filing does not identify the individuals who may have relocated the boxes.
In their August search, agents found classified documents both in the storage room as well as in the former president’s office — including three classified documents found not in boxes, but in office desks.
“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter,” the document states.
It says, “In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.”
An investigation was initiated by the National Archives and Records Administration. They received a referral and found 15 boxes at Mar-a-Lago that contained 184 classified documents, top-secret information, and other materials.
The purpose of the Tuesday night filing was to oppose a request from the Trump legal team for a special master to review the documents seized during this month’s search and to return to him certain seized property. Aileen Cannon, U.S. District Judge is scheduled to present arguments in the case on Thursday.
Cannon on Saturday said it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint such a person but also gave the Justice Department an opportunity to respond.
On Monday, the department said it had already completed its review of potentially privileged documents and identified a “limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information.” It said Tuesday that a special master was therefore “unnecessary” and that the presidential records that were taken from the home do not belong to Trump.
Colvin and Balsamo were reporting from New York.
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