As the president, Donald Trump ran the country as an extension of his personal real-estate fiefdom. As the former president, he’s taking an equally lawless attitude toward the classified materials that he removed from the White House at the end of his term.
Trump reportedly rebuffed advisors who urged him to return boxes of presidential records stashed at Mar-a-Lago, saying, “They’re mine.” Trump has even ordered his lawyers to recover all the documents the FBI recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Astonishingly, his legal team appears to be laying the groundwork to challenge the seizure.
The ludicrous claim that Trump owns these documents undercuts his excuse for having any records in his home in the first place. By law, the outgoing president must turn over all records for posterity.
Not just the sensitive, classified or privileged.
All of them.
Trump’s lawyers claim that overzealous General Services Administration movers inadvertently removed the 15 boxes of documents from the White House and took them to Mar-a-Lago. It was all a misunderstanding, see?
If so, why was the National Archives locked in months of bitter negotiation just to get the first 15 boxes back? The accident excuse is also hard to square with reporting from the Post that Trump personally and furtively supervised the packing – out of sight of even his close aides. Incidentally, the GSA flatly denies packing those boxes.
The National Archives won the protracted custody battle for the boxes in early 2022, a year after Trump left office. When they were returned, staff found a trove of highly sensitive national defense information, including hundreds of pages marked as “classified.”
Some were labeled “HCS,” for Human Intelligence Control System. These materials are closely guarded because they can reveal the identities of CIA informants, critical intelligence assets who could be killed if their cover is blown. Others were marked ORCON, which means that the agency that originally classified the document must approve further dissemination.
Archive staffers informed the Justice Department, which kicked off the criminal investigation into the mishandling of classified information and obstruction of justice.
Trump had another chance to come clean on June 3 when FBI investigators arrived at Mar-a-Lago to remove additional records, which had been subpoenaed by a grand jury. Team Trump handed over a few more scraps of sensitive material that day, and at least one of his lawyers signed a document attesting that there was no more.
During that visit, Trump’s lawyers showed the FBI a basement storage area where documents had been kept. After the visit, Justice Department lawyers told Team Trump to secure the room and not touch anything.
Evidently, there was still something worth safeguarding in there. Moreover, if Team Trump started shifting documents around after the Justice Department specifically told them not to, they could be committing obstruction of justice.
Keep in mind that it was illegal for Trump to be hanging on to any presidential records, let alone priceless government secrets. By showing the basement cache of presidential records to the FBI, Team Trump was admitting to an ongoing crime.
Later that month, Trump was hit with another subpoena, this time for the surveillance footage of the storage room. The footage reportedly showed boxes being moved in and out of the storage room shortly after one of Trump’s contacts with the Justice Department.
The Justice Department clearly believed that there were more sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago, hence the search on August 8. The search yielded 11 sets of classified documents, which were removed from Trump’s bedroom, office and basement.
The affidavit that supplied the probable cause for the search was unsealed Friday, in a highly unusual move. The unredacted portions of the document reveal little about why the FBI expected to find not only additional classified documents but also evidence of obstruction of justice. The Justice Department cited the need to safeguard witnesses from harassment as one reason for redactions. That seems to confirm speculation that one or more sources inside Mar-a-Lago cooperated with the FBI.
If the affidavit seems underwhelming, it’s because the probable cause is already in plain sight. No one disputes that Trump removed more than 15 boxes of records at the end of his term.
He fought to hang onto them for nearly a year.
When Trump got one last chance to hand over the documents, his lawyer lied and said they’d all been returned. The subpoenaed surveillance footage may even have captured Team Trump’s attempts to hide documents from investigators.
Trump’s boasts that he owns the documents are undercutting his lawyers’ attempts to portray a brazen theft as an accident.
All evidence points to Trump knowingly and willfully removing classified documents for his own purposes.