At least one attorney for former President Donald J. Trump signed a written statement in June saying all material marked as classified and kept in boxes in a storage area at the Mar-a-Lago Residence and Club in Mr. Trump had been returned to the government. , said four people with knowledge of the document.
The written statement came after a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by Jay I. Bratt, the top counterintelligence official in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
The existence of the signed statement, which has not previously been reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team were not fully forthcoming with federal investigators about the material. And it could help explain why a potential criminal law violation related to obstruction was cited by the department as the basis for seeking the warrant used to conduct the daylong search of the former president’s home on Monday, an extraordinary step that generated a political shock. waves.
It also helps further explain the sequence of events that prompted the Justice Department to decide to conduct the search after months of trying to resolve the case through discussions with Mr. Trump and his team.
An inventory of material taken from Mr. Trump’s home that was released on Friday showed FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents during the search with some type of confidential or secret marking, including some marked as ‘classified’. /TS/SCI”. — shorthand for “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information”. Information classified in this manner is intended to be viewed only at a secure government facility.
The search encompassed not only the storage area where boxes of material known to the Justice Department were located, but also Mr. Trump’s office and residence. The search warrant and inventory unsealed on Friday did not specify where in the Mar-a-Lago complex the documents marked as classified were found.
Mr. Trump said on Friday that he had declassified all material in his possession while still in office. He did not provide any documentation proving that he had done so.
During an appearance on Fox News on Friday evening, right-wing writer John Solomon, whom Mr. Trump has designated as one of his representatives to interact with the National Archives, read a statement from the former president’s office. claiming Mr. Trump had a “standing order” that documents taken out of the Oval Office and brought to the White House residence “shall be deemed declassified the moment he removes them.”
A spokesman for the former president, Taylor Budowich, said on Saturday: ‘As with all Democrat-fabricated witch hunts before, the waters of this unprecedented and unnecessary raid are being carried by media ready to air Suggestive leaks, anonymous sources and no hard facts.
The search warrant said FBI agents were carrying out the search for evidence related to possible violations of the Obstruction Act as well as the Espionage Act and a law prohibiting the taking or destruction. illegal government records or documents. No one has been charged in this case, and the search warrant alone does not mean that anyone will be.
More coverage of the FBI’s search of Trump’s home
Last year, officials from the National Archives discovered that Mr. Trump took a slew of documents and other government records with him when he left the White House at the end of his tumultuous term in January 2021. This material was supposed to have been sent. to archives under the Presidential Archives Act.
Mr. Trump returned 15 boxes of material in January this year. When archivists reviewed the material, they found numerous pages of documents with classified marks and referred the case to the Justice Department, which opened an investigation and convened a grand jury.
In the spring, the department issued a subpoena to Mr. Trump asking for additional documents he said may have been in his possession. The former president was repeatedly urged by advisers to return what remained, despite what they described as his desire to continue to keep certain documents.
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In an effort to resolve the dispute, Mr. Bratt and other officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., in early June, meeting briefly with Mr. Trump while there. Two of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Mr. Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb, spoke with Mr. Bratt and a small number of investigators he traveled with, people briefed on the meeting said.
Mr. Corcoran and Ms. Bobb showed Mr. Bratt and his team boxes containing equipment that Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and was kept in a storage area, the people said.
According to two people briefed on the visit, Mr. Bratt and his team left with additional material marked classified, and around that time also obtained a written statement from a Trump attorney stating that all material marked classified in the boxes had been delivered.
Shortly after the meeting, according to people briefed, Mr. Bratt emailed Mr. Corcoran asking him to get a more secure padlock for the room. Mr. Trump’s team complied.
The Justice Department also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, including views from outside the storage room. According to a person briefed on the matter, the footage raised concerns among investigators about the handling of the material. It is not known to which period these images belonged.
Over the past few months, investigators have been in contact with about half a dozen current aides to Mr. Trump who knew how the documents were handled, two people briefed on the approaches said. At least one witness gave investigators information that led them to want to press Mr. Trump more for information, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Concerns over Trump’s cavalier handling of classified information date back to the earliest days of his administration. When Mr. Trump left office, President Biden quickly took the extraordinary step of barring him from receiving the intelligence briefings traditionally provided to former presidents, saying Mr. Trump could not be trusted because of his “behavior erratic”.
The security of classified information at Mar-a-Lago was also a concern for government officials even when Mr. Trump was in office. During his presidency, the government built what is called a SCIF – a sensitive compartmentalized information center – for Mr Trump to use while he was at the club.
Expressing concern about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago, leaders of two House committees on Saturday called on April D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, to conduct an “immediate review and damage assessment.” ” and to provide a classified report. briefing Congress on potential harm to national security.
“Former President Trump’s conduct has potentially put our national security at grave risk,” said committee leaders Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chair of the oversight committee, and Adam B. Schiff. , California Democrat and President. of the Intelligence Committee, wrote to Mrs. Haines.
On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made a public statement saying he personally authorized the decision to seek the search warrant for Mr. Trump’s property, and he indicated that the Justice Department would not have made such a move only after trying less invasive measures. .
Shortly before Mr. Garland made the announcement, someone close to Mr. Trump contacted a Justice Department official to deliver a message from the former president to the attorney general. Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Garland to know that he inquired with people across the country and found them furious about the search.
The message Mr. Trump wanted to convey, according to a person familiar with the exchange, was: “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat? »
The next day, as a judge unsealed the warrant and inventory of items taken by the FBI, Mr Trump alternately claimed he had done nothing wrong and also made the baseless claim that officials may have planted evidence on his property during the search.
Katie Benner and Luke Broadwater contributed report.