The Justice Department said Tuesday that classified documents were “likely hidden and removed” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an effort to obstruct the federal investigation into the discovery of the government records.
The FBI also seized 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records during its Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago and found classified documents hidden in Trump’s office, according to a document laying out the timeline more detailed until the time of the months of tension. interactions between Justice Department officials and Trump representatives regarding the discovery of government secrets.
The filing provides another indication of the sheer volume of classified records recovered from Mar-a-Lago. It shows how investigators conducting a criminal investigation have focused not only on why the records were improperly stored there, but also on the question of whether the Trump team intentionally misled them about the continued presence and illegal top secret documents.
The timeline laid out by the Justice Department made it clear that the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago occurred only after other efforts to retrieve the records had failed, and that it was the result of suspicion by law enforcement order that additional documents remain inside the property despite assurances from Trump representatives that a “diligent search” had turned up all the material.
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It also included an image of some of the seized documents with clear classification markings, perhaps as a way of dismissing suggestions that whoever packaged or handled them did not understand their sensitive nature.
The photo shows the covers of a large number of classified documents bound with paperclips, some marked “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders and one marked “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-colored border, along with bleached pages, spread out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago. Next to them is a cardboard box filled with gold-framed pictures, including a Time magazine cover.
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The Justice Department’s filing does not answer the basic questions that have fueled the public’s fascination with the probe: Why Trump kept the documents after he left the White House and why he and his team resisted repeated efforts to return them.
Indeed, during a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by FBI and Justice Department officials, “The former president’s counsel offered no explanation as to why the boxes of government records , including 38 documents with classification marks, remained at the facility almost five months after the production of the Fifteen Boxes and almost a year and a half after the end of the Administration,” according to the document.
That visit to Mar-a-Lago, which came weeks after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for the records, receives substantial attention in the document and is a key investigative focus.
Although Trump has said he had declassified all the documents at Mar-a-Lago, his lawyers did not suggest so during the visit and instead “handled them in a way that suggested the lawyer believed that the documents were classified.”
When FBI agents went to Mar-a-Lago in June to accept receipt of additional materials, they were given “a single, double-taped, Redweld envelope containing the documents.”
That envelope, according to the FBI, contained 38 unique documents with classification marks, including five documents marked confidential, 16 marked secret, and 17 marked top secret.
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 place, a warehouse at Mar-a-Lago, and that “there were no other records stored in no private place. office space or other location on the premises and that all available boxes have been searched.”
After that, however, the Justice Department, which had subpoenaed video footage for the estate, “developed evidence that government records were likely hidden and removed from the warehouse and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the investigation of the government”. The file does not identify the people who may have relocated the boxes.
In their search in August, agents found classified documents in both the storage room and the former president’s office, including three classified documents found not in boxes but on office desks.
“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many classified documents as the ‘diligent search’ that the former president’s lawyer and other representatives had weeks to conduct serious questions about statements made in the June 3 certification and calls into question the scope of cooperation in this matter,” the document states.
It says, “In some cases, even FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys who conducted the review required additional authorizations before they were allowed to review certain documents.”
The investigation began on a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January containing 184 classified documents, including top secret information.
The purpose of Tuesday night’s filing was to oppose a request by Trump’s legal team that a special master review documents seized during this month’s search and set aside those protected by claims of legal privilege. US District Judge Aileen Cannon will hear arguments in the matter on Thursday.
Cannon said Saturday it was his “preliminary intention” to name that person, but also gave the Justice Department a chance to respond.
On Monday, the department said it had completed its review of potentially privileged documents and identified a “limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privilege.” He said on Tuesday that the request was therefore “unnecessary”.
In a separate development, Trump’s legal team has grown with the addition of another lawyer. Chris Kise, the former Florida attorney general, has joined the team of lawyers representing Trump, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss the move by name and spoke on condition of anonymity of anonymity Kise did not return messages seeking comment.