On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the National Archives first demanded the return of classified documents from former President Donald Trump in an email in early 2021 — prompted, in part, by an acknowledgement from former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that Trump didn't have a right to take them.
"'It is also our understanding that roughly two dozen boxes of original presidential records were kept in the Residence of the White House over the course of President Trump’s last year in office and have not been transferred to NARA, despite a determination by Pat Cipollone in the final days of the administration that they need to be,' wrote Gary Stern, the agency’s chief counsel, in an email to Trump lawyers in May 2021, according to a copy reviewed by The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany wrote. "Cipollone was the former White House counsel designated by Trump as one of his representatives to the Archives."
"The previously unreported email — sent about 100 days after the former president left office with the subject line 'Need for Assistance re Presidential Records' — shows just how early Archives officials realized that many documents were missing from the Trump White House," said the report. "It also illustrates the myriad efforts Archives officials made to have the documents returned over an 18-month period, culminating with an FBI raid earlier this month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida."
According to previous reports, the missing documents included highly classified information, with the FBI even searching for nuclear weapons secrets among the records recovered at Mar-a-Lago.
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"Stern, the chief counsel at the Archives, does not say in the email how he determined that the boxes were in Trump’s possession," said the report. "He wrote that he also had consulted another Trump lawyer during the final days of Trump’s presidency — without any luck. 'I had also raised this concern with Scott in the final weeks,' Stern writes in the email, referring to Trump lawyer Scott Gast, who is also copied on the email," said the report. "In the email, Stern again asks for the documents from Trump’s residence to be returned."
Trump has filed a lawsuit to try to block the Justice Department from reviewing any of the documents the FBI seized, although legal experts broadly believe the move is nothing more than a stall tactic.