DOJ: Classified documents at Mar-a-Lago were 'likely hidden and removed' to hinder investigation

(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department says classified documents were “likely hidden and removed” from a storage room at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate as part of an effort to obstruct a federal investigation into the discovery of government records.

The FBI also seized boxes and containers containing more than 100 classified records during the Aug. 8 raid. search for Mar-a-Lago and found classified documents hidden in Trump’s office, according to the file which lays out the most detailed timeline yet of months of tense interactions between Justice Department officials and Trump officials over the disclosure of government secrets.

The document offers another indication of the vast amount of classified records recovered from Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida. It shows how criminal investigators have focused not only on why the records were improperly stored there, but also on whether the Trump team deliberately misled them about the continued and illegal presence of top secret documents.

The timeline laid out by the Department of Justice makes it clear that extraordinary search for Mar-a-Lago it came only after other efforts to retrieve the records had failed and that it was the result of law enforcement’s suspicion that additional documents remained at the property despite assurances from Trump officials that a “painstaking search” had accounted for all the material.

It also included a photo of some of the confiscated documents with colored cover sheets indicating their classified status, perhaps as a way to refute suggestions that whoever packed or handled them at Mar-a-Lago could easily not has appreciated their sensitive nature.

The photo shows the title pages of several stapled classified documents — some marked “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders and one marked “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-colored border — along with white pages spread out on a carpet in Mar-a-Lago. Next to them is a cardboard box full of pictures in gold frames, including a Time magazine cover.

While it contains significant new details about the investigation, the Justice Department document does not resolve a central question that has fueled the public fascination with the investigation — why Trump kept the documents after he left the White House and why he and his team resisted repeated efforts to get them back. . In fact, it suggests that employees may not have received a response.

During a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by FBI and Justice Department officials, the document said, “The former president’s attorney did not provide an explanation as to why boxes of government documents, including 38 classified documents, remained in the premises nearly five months after the production of the Fifteen Boxes and almost a year and a half after the end of the administration.’

That visit, which came weeks after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for the records, receives significant attention in the document and appears to be a key focus of the investigation.

Although Trump 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 the documents were classified.” according to the document.

FBI agents who went there to obtain additional materials received “a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents,” the filing states.

That envelope, according to the FBI, contained 38 unique documents with classification labels, including 16 documents designated classified and 17 designated top secret.

Investigators were allowed to visit the storage facility, but were not allowed to open or look inside any of the boxes, “without giving the government an opportunity to confirm that no classified documents remain,” the Justice Department said .

During that visit, the document says, Trump’s lawyers told investigators that all of the records that came from the White House were stored in one place — a storage facility at Mar-a-Lago — and that “no other records kept in any private office space or other place on the Premises and that all available boxes have been searched.’

However, the department, which had subpoenaed video records on the property, “developed evidence that government records were likely hidden and removed from the storage facility and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the government’s investigation.” The document does not identify the individuals who may have moved the boxes.

In their search in August, agents found classified documents in both the warehouse and the former president’s office — including three classified documents found not in boxes but on office desks.

“That the FBI recovered twice as many classified documents in a matter of hours as the ‘extensive search’ that the former president’s counsel and other officials had weeks to conduct calls into serious question the statements made in the June 3 affidavit and casts doubt on the degree of cooperation in this matter,” the document states.

It said: “In some cases, even FBI counterintelligence personnel and Justice Department attorneys conducting the review require additional clearances before they are allowed to review certain documents.”

The investigation began with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January that were found to contain 184 classified documents, including top secret information.

The purpose of Tuesday night’s filing was to oppose a request by Trump’s legal team for a special master to review documents seized in this month’s search and to return certain seized property to him. U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon is scheduled to hear arguments on the matter Thursday.

On Saturday, Cannon said her “preliminary intention” was to appoint such a person, but also gave the Justice Department an opportunity to respond.

On Monday, the department said it had now completed its review of potentially privileged documents and had identified “a limited set of materials that potentially contain privileged attorney-client information.” It said Tuesday that a special master was therefore “unnecessary” and that the presidential records taken from the home did not belong to Trump.


Colvin and Balzamo reported from New York.

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