‘Efforts Likely Made to Obstruct’ Investigation of Classified Documents Found at Trump’s Florida Estate, DOJ Says

WASHINGTON — 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 thwart the federal investigation into the discovery of government records.

The FBI also seized 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records during its Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago and found classified documents stashed in Trump’s office, according to a filing that lays out the most detailed chronology yet of months of strained interactions between Justice Department officials and Trump representatives about the discovery of government secrets.

The filing provides yet another indication of the vast amount of classified records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. It shows how investigators conducting a criminal investigation have focused not only on why the records were improperly kept there, but also on the question of whether the Trump team deliberately misled them about the continued and illegal presence of the 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 recover the records had failed and that it was due to law enforcement authorities’ suspicion that additional documents remained inside the property on despite assurances from Trump representatives that a “diligent search” had accounted for all the material.

It also included an image of some of the seized documents with clear classification markings, perhaps as a way of dismissing suggestions that whoever packed or handled them did not understand their sensitivity.

The photo shows the front of a smattering of paperclip-bound 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 blanket at Mar-a-Lago. Next to them sits a cardboard box filled with gold-framed photos, including a Time Magazine cover.

The Justice Department’s filing does not answer core questions that have animated 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 return them.

Indeed, during a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by FBI and Justice Department officials, “the former president’s attorney offered no explanation as to why boxes of government documents, including 38 classified documents, remained on the premises for nearly 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.

The visit to Mar-a-Lago, which came just weeks after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for the records, receives significant 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 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 Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, 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 records that had come from the White House were kept in one place — a Mar-a-Lago storage room — and that “there were no other records stored in any private office space or elsewhere on the premises and that all available boxes were searched.”

After that, the Justice Department, which had subpoenaed video footage for the property, “developed evidence that government records were likely hidden and removed from the storage room and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the government’s investigation.” The archive does not identify the people who may have moved the boxes.

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

“That the FBI found twice as many classified documents in a matter of hours as the ‘diligent search’ that the former president’s advisers and other representatives had weeks to conduct seriously calls into question the statements in the June 3rd certification and casts doubt about the extent of the cooperation in this case,’ the document says.

It says: “In some cases, even FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional approvals before being allowed to review certain documents.”

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

The purpose of the filing Tuesday night was to oppose a request by Trump’s legal team for a special master to review the documents seized during this month’s search and set aside those protected by claims of legal privilege. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is scheduled to hear arguments on the case Thursday.

Cannon said Saturday that it was her “preliminary intention” 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 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, Florida’s former 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. Kise did not return messages seeking comment.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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