The testimony and footage described to The Washington Post provide the most direct account yet of Trump’s actions and instructions leading up to the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of the Florida residence and private club, where agents searched for evidence of potential crimes, including obstruction, destruction of public records, or mishandling of classified information.
The people familiar with the investigation said agents have been gathering witness accounts that indicate that after Trump advisers received a subpoena in May for any classified documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago, Trump told people to move boxes to his residence on the property. This description of events was corroborated by the security camera footage, which showed people moving the boxes, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich declined to answer detailed questions for this article. “The Biden administration has weaponized law enforcement and manufactured a document hoax in a desperate attempt to maintain political power,” Budowich said in a statement. “Every other president has been given time and respect in terms of the administration of records, as the president has the ultimate authority to categorize records and what materials should be classified.”
Budowich accused the Justice Department of a “continued effort to leak misleading and false information to partisan allies in Fake News,” saying that doing so is “nothing more than dangerous political interference and unequal justice. In short, it’s un-American.” “
In the Trump White House, classified documents were routinely mishandled, former aides say
The employee who worked at Mar-a-Lago is cooperating with the Justice Department and has been interviewed several times by federal agents, according to people familiar with the situation, who declined to identify the worker.
In the first interview, these people said, the witness denied handling sensitive documents or the boxes that might contain such documents. As they gathered evidence, agents decided to re-interview the witness, and the witness’ story changed dramatically, these people said. In the second interview, the witness described moving boxes at Trump’s request.
The witness is now considered a central part of the Mar-a-Lago investigation, these people said, detailing the former president’s alleged actions and instructions to subordinates that may have been an attempt to thwart federal officials’ demands for the return of classified . and government documents.
Several witnesses have told the FBI they tried to get Trump to cooperate with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department as those agencies sought the return of sensitive or historical government records for months, people familiar with the situation said.
But pleas from advisers and lawyers pushing for Trump to turn over the documents fell on deaf ears with Trump, said these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Trump became angry this spring after a House Oversight Committee investigation was launched, telling aides they had “screwed up” the situation, according to people who heard his comments. “They are my documents,” Trump said, according to an aide who spoke to him.
The details shared with The Post reveal two key parts of the criminal investigation that until now had been shrouded in secrecy: an account from a witness who worked for and took directions from Trump, and the way security footage from Mar- a-Lago has played an important role in supporting witness accounts.
Together, this evidence helped convince the FBI and the Department of Justice to seek a court-authorized search of Trump’s residence, office and a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, which resulted in the seizure of 103 documents that had been marked classified and had not been turned over to the government in response to the subpoena in May. Some of the documents describe top-secret US operations that are so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. The August 8 search also yielded about 11,000 documents that were not classified as classified.
The failure or possible refusal to return the classified documents in response to the subpoena is at the heart of the Justice Department’s Mar-a-Lago investigation, one of several high-profile, ongoing investigations involving Trump. The former president remains the most influential figure in the Republican Party and is openly talking about running for the White House again in 2024.
Within Trump’s inner circle, there have been months of dueling accusations and theories about who might be cooperating with the federal government. Some of the former president’s closest aides have continued to work with Trump, even as they have seen FBI agents show up at their homes to question them and serve subpoenas.
Status of key investigations involving Donald Trump
Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the witness’s account has been a closely guarded secret as agents continue to gather evidence in the high-stakes investigation. In addition to wanting to keep the information they’ve gathered so far confidential, people familiar with the situation said authorities are also concerned that if or when the witness’s identity eventually becomes public, that person could face harassment or intimidation from Trump supporters.
In a filing with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers appeared to allude to the witness accounts and the video footage when they wrote: “The FBI uncovered evidence that the response to the grand jury subpoena was incomplete, that additional classified documents likely remained at Mar-a-Lago, and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the investigation. “
Since the Aug. 8 search, Trump has offered a series of public defenses about why documents with classified markings remained at Mar-a-Lago — saying he declassified the classified documents, suggesting the FBI planted evidence during the search, and suggesting that as a former president he may have had the right to keep classified documents. National security law experts have overwhelmingly rejected such claims, saying they range from far-fetched to nonsensical.
Among items seized at Mar-a-Lago: Document on a foreign government’s nuclear capabilities
Officials at the National Archives began seeking the return of documents last year after they came to believe that some presidential records from the Trump administration — such as letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — were unaccounted for and might be in Trump’s possession.
After months of back and forth, Trump agreed in January to hand over 15 boxes of material. When archivists examined the material, they found 184 documents classified as secret, including 25 labeled top secret, which were spread across the boxes in no particular order, according to court documents.
This discovery suggested to authorities that Trump had not turned over all the classified documents in his possession. In May, a grand jury subpoena demanded the return of classified documents with a wide variety of markings, including a category used for secrets about nuclear weapons.
In response to that subpoena, Trump’s advisers met with government agents and prosecutors at Mar-a-Lago in early June and handed over a sealed envelope containing an additional 38 classified documents, including 17 marked top secret, according to court papers. According to government documents, Trump’s representatives claimed at the meeting that a thorough search had been made for all classified documents at the club.
The meeting, which included a visit to the storage room where Trump advisers said the relevant boxes of documents were kept, did not satisfy investigators, who were not allowed to inspect the boxes they saw in the storage room, according to government court documents.
The Trump team initially said the boxes at Mar-a-Lago were just news clippings
Five days later, senior Justice Department official Jay Bratt wrote to Trump’s lawyers to remind them that Mar-a-Lago “does not include a secure location approved for the storage of classified information.” Bratt wrote that it appears that classified documents “have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location.”
“We are therefore asking that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with other items in the space) ) shall be preserved in this space in their present state for the time being.”
Agents continued to gather evidence that Trump apparently failed to comply with either the government’s requests or subpoena requirements. After extensive consideration, aware that it would be highly unusual for federal agents to search the home of a former president, they decided to seek a judge’s approval to do so.
The Aug. 8 search turned up in a matter of hours 103 documents classified as secret, including 18 marked top secret, according to court papers. The cache contained at least one document describing a foreign country’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities.