As early as Jan. 2021, The New York Timesreported that Trump bragged to a close associate that some presidential documents were his personal property, chief among them his correspondence with Kim Jong Un.
A report from the Wall Street Journal cited an aide talking about his move from the White House and saying, "If you only start packing with two days left to go, you're just running low on time. And if he's the one just throwing things in boxes, who knows what could happen?"
It wasn't until the day before leaving office that Trump assigned White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin to head up the effort to retain presidential records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
In May 2021 that the National Archives became aware of Trump having documents that belonged at the archives. Among the missing documents were his correspondence with Kim Jong Un. The New York Times reported that on May 6, 2021, Gary Stern, the general counsel for the archives, sent the first email to Trump's lawyer Patrick F. Philbin, letting him know that they were missing documents.
Trump's aide said that the former president would hand over the Jong Un letters, and an Archivist suggested FedEx. The letters were never returned.
Trump's lawyers ultimately told the Archives that they'd discovered 12 boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago, the Times also said.
The Washington Post revealed that the Archives told Trump's lawyers that they knew of at least two dozen boxes of documents that hadn't been handed over.
In July 2021, CNN reported Trump met with biographers for former chief of staff Mark Meadows at his Bedminster, New Jersey club. Trump was recorded telling them that he had a planning document detailing plans to attack Iran. He reportedly made it clear that he couldn't show it to them because it was classified.
A Trump aide told the National Archives "that they had located some records," a statement later published by the Archives said.
January 17-18, 2022
After some back and forth, representatives of the Archives finally showed up at Mar-a-Lago with a moving truck to take 15 boxes of documents. It was reported a few weeks later by the Washington Post.
Just Security crafted a list of all the materials the Archives obtained.
- 14 of 15 boxes contained documents bearing classification markings
- 184 unique documents bearing classification markings
- 67 documents marked as Confidential
- 92 documents marked as Secret
- 25 documents marked as Top Secret
February 8, 2022
A Washington Post report said the National Archives published a statement claiming documents were still missing from Trump's presidential records.
February 10, 2022
Just a few days after the Archives statement, the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee announced that they would be doing an investigation into the documents and Trump's handling of them. They announced a few weeks later that it would be expanding it.
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman posted photos of documents found in a toilet of the White House. It came after a report from a staffer saying that there were sometimes clumps of records in the toilets that caused plumbing problems in the White House. Trump called it a lie.
February 18, 2022
The National Archives told Congress that Trump took classified documents from the White House back to Mar-a-Lago.
By March 2022, even Trump ally Kid Rock was concerned that he was shown classified maps during a May 2017 visit to the White House.
April 7, 2022
Reuters reported: "The U.S. Justice Department has launched an early-stage investigation into former President Donald Trump's removal of official presidential records to his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate, a source familiar with the matter said..."
April 11, 2022
The White House Counsel's Office under President Joe Biden filed a request that the National Archives allow the FBI to access the 15 boxes seized from Mar-a-Lago. Trump's lawyers were told about it the following day, VOA also recalled.
April 29 and May 1, 2022
Donald Trump's lawyer Evan Corcoran wrote two letters trying to delay the FBI from seeing the documents.
On May 6, Trump lawyer Alina Habba told a New York State court that she searched Trump's private residence and office at Mar-a-Lago on May 5 and found no additional documents related to the subpoena by Attorney General Letitia James. She went so far as to tell the court she looked through “all desks, drawers, nightstands, dressers, closets, etc.” She was looking for records in response to a subpoena issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating matters related to the Trump Organization.
On May 10, acting U.S. Archivist Debra Steidel Wall sent a letter to Corcoran saying that any request for a delay would be denied and they refused his "'protective' claim of privilege," adding the FBI can access the records as soon as May 12. The letter wasn't made public until Aug. 23.
In that letter, Wall explained that the Archives "identified items marked as classified national security information, up to the level of Top Secret and including Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Program materials" and sought permission to alert the FBI.
"The first 100 documents marked as classified totaled over 700 pages," said Just Security citing the letter.
On May 12, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors began investigating whether classified documents were taken from the White House to Trump's Palm Beach country club.
June 3, 2022
The Justice Department filed a subpoena with the grand jury and went to Mar-a-Lago to obtain more documents. They were handed a "single Redweld envelope" that was "double-wrapped in tape." Trump's lawyer claimed the “documents had come from boxes inside of a storage room at Mar-a-Lago.”
Just Security listed the items found in that package of Trump documents:
- 37 unique documents bearing classification markings
- 5 documents marked as Confidential
- 16 documents marked as Secret
- 17 documents marked as Top Secret
- “FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following caveats/compartments, among others: HCS, SI, and FISA.”
It was also then that Trump lawyer Christina Bobb penned a letter saying Trump’s team conducted a “diligent search” of boxes moved from the White House to Florida in Jan. 2021. It promised that "any and all responsive documents accompany this certification." Bobb signed it saying that she swears and/or affirms that “the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge.”
Among the demands in the subpoena was any security footage from Jan. 2021 until the present.
The Washington Post reported that in mid-July 2022, an "employee allegedly had a conversation with an IT worker at the site about how the security cameras worked and how long images remained stored in the system." The report cited a person familiar with the investigation.
"The employee later told investigators that the conversation was innocent and was not about trying to hide anything from authorities, saying that he didn’t know at the time about the investigation or subpoena, according to another person familiar with the probe," the report also said.
Aug 7, 2022
Prior to the search warrant, Donald Trump's valet, Walt Nauta, was using a dolly or hand truck to move around several boxes, The New York Times reported. A maintenance worker offered to help. The worker didn't know what was in them but did speak to the Justice Department about what he observed.
Nauta told investigators that he moved boxes at Trump’s direction after the subpoena, the Washington Post reported in March 2023. "Video footage seized from the club by FBI agents and prosecutors corroborates Nauta’s account of moving boxes after the subpoena landed," the report said, citing those familiar with the matter.
Aug 8, 2022
The FBI executed a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago.
Just Security uploaded the Justice Department's application for disclosure of the subpoena and listed the inventory of what the FBI found on Aug 8. It was modified Sept. 26, 2022. The government also gave a list to Trump when he demanded a special master be tasked with looking at the info.
The full list of what was uncovered includes:
- Documents located in a storage room and Trump’s office (including desk drawer and containers in office closet)
- 103 unique documents bearing classification markings
The Office contains:
- 27 documents bearing classification markings
- 3 documents marked as Confidential
- 17 documents marked as Secret
- 7 documents marked as Top Secret
- 43 empty folders with classified banners
- 28 empty folders labeled “return to staff secretary/military aide”
- Several documents have colored cover sheets showing their classification status
- 3 classified documents were located “in the desks in the ‘45 Office’”
The Storage Room contains:
- 76 documents bearing classification markings
- 28 documents marked as Confidential
- 37 documents marked as Secret
- 11 documents marked as Top Secret (including SCI)
- 3 empty folders with classified banners
- 14 empty folders labeled “return to staff secretary/military aide”
There were at least 15 boxes in two offices and a storage room with classified documents mixed in with other stuff like newspapers, press clippings and magazines.
A source told CNN that the Justice Department sent another subpoena to the Trump Organization asking that they preserve additional footage.
An employee then drained the swimming pool into the basement, where all the security camera footage was kept.
In "The Making of Donald Trump," author and reporter David Cay Johnston wrote that Trump used a "flood" as a scheme to hide accounting records from Ellen O'Brien, a New York City auditor. Johnston described the ordeal as Trump attempting to escape a $3 million annual rent on the Grand Hyatt.
Prosecutors tell Trump on June 7 that he is a criminal target of the investigation, causing the political and legal world to brace for the possibility of an indictment.
Charges are formally secured the next day, although as of press time, the specific charges are not known.