The U.S. Justice Department said late Tuesday that classified documents were “likely concealed 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 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.
The filing offers yet another indication of the volume of classified records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. It shows how investigators conducting a criminal probe have focused not just on why the records were improperly stored there, but also on the question of whether the Trump team intentionally misled them about the continued, and unlawful, presence of the top secret documents.
The timeline laid out by the Justice Department made clear that the extraordinary Mar-a-Lago search came only after other efforts since 2021 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.
It also included a picture of some of the seized documents bearing clear classification markings, perhaps as a way to rebut arguments that it was possible not to appreciate 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-coloured border — along with whited-out pages, splayed out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago.
Declassification claim questioned
During a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by FBI and Justice Department officials, the document states, counsel for Trump “offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records” remained at his estate. Trump — who assailed the probe as politically motivated in several posts Tuesday on Truth Social, a social media site, has also not offered an explanation.
Trump has said he had declassified all of the documents at Mar-a-Lago, but 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. The envelope allegedly contained 38 unique documents with classification markings — 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 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.”
“The former president’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room,” the department alleges.
After that, though, the Justice 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.
More documents quickly found despite Trump team claim
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 co-operation in this matter,” the document states.
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It says, “In some instances, even the FBI counter-intelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.”
The investigation began from a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022 that were found to contain 184 documents with classified markings, including top secret information.
Hearing set for Thursday
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.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is set to hear arguments on the matter on Thursday. Cannon said last week it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint such a person but that it was not her final decision.
The Justice Department says 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. Furthermore, the Justice Department said, “the former president lacks standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to presidential records because those records do not belong to him.”