Trump Mar-a-Lago employees moved boxes a day before the FBI came for documents

Two Donald Trump aides moved boxes of papers the day before FBI agents and a prosecutor visited the former president’s Florida home to retrieve classified documents in response to a subpoena — timing investigators have come to consider suspicious and an indication of possible interference, according to those familiar with the matter.

Trump and his aides also reportedly conducted a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers even before his office received the May 2022 subpoena, according to those familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors have also gathered evidence that Trump sometimes kept secret documents in his office where they were visible and sometimes showed them to others, these people said.

Taken together, the new details of the classified documents investigation suggest greater breadth and specificity of the cases of possible obstruction found by the FBI and the Justice Department than previously reported. It also broadens the timeline of possible obstruction episodes that investigators are investigating — a period stretching from events at Mar-a-Lago before the subpoena to the period after the FBI raid there on August 8.

Presidents and vice presidents routinely handle classified documents, but strict guidelines from various statutes have clear guidelines on this subject. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

That timeline could prove crucial as prosecutors try to determine whether Trump intended to keep hundreds of classified documents after he left the White House, a key factor in deciding whether to press charges of obstruction of justice or misrepresentation. dealing with national security secrets. The Washington Post previously reported that the boxes were removed from storage after Trump’s office received a subpoena. But the precise timing of that activity is an important element in the investigation, said those familiar with the matter.

The Grand Jury’s activity in the case has slowed in recent weeks, and Trump’s lawyers have taken steps — including laying out his possible defense to members of Congress and seeking a meeting with the Attorney General — which suggest they think a charging decision is getting closer. The grand jury working the investigation has apparently not convened since May 5, after months of frenetic activity at the federal courthouse in Washington. That’s the panel’s longest break since December, shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation and coincided with the year-end holiday.

Trump has denied wrongdoing in all cases. “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump designed to interfere in elections and prevent the American people from sending him back to the White House,” Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, wrote in a statement. declaration. “Like all other bogus hoaxes thrown at President Trump, this corrupt attempt will also fail.”

Cheung accused prosecutors of showing “no respect for common decency or the most important rules that govern the justice system,” and he claimed investigators “harassed anyone and everyone who works (for), has worked (for) or Donald Trump supports.”

“During the document return negotiations, President Trump told the lead DOJ official, ‘If you need anything from us, let us know,’” he continued. “That DOJ rejected this offer of cooperation and raided Mar-a-Lago proves that the Biden regime has armed the DOJ and FBI.”

A spokesperson for Smith declined to comment. Justice Department officials have previously said they conducted the search only after months of efforts to recover all classified documents in Mar-a-Lago failed.

Of particular interest to investigators in the classified documents case, according to people familiar with the investigation, is evidence showing that boxes of documents were moved to a storage facility on June 2, just before senior Justice Department attorney Jay Bratt , arrived in Mar-a. -Lago with agents. The June 3 visit by law enforcement was to collect material following the May 2022 subpoena from the grand jury demanding the return of all documents with secret markings.

John Irving, an attorney representing one of the two employees who moved the boxes, said the employee did not know what was inside and tried only to help Trump clerk Walt Nauta, who used a dolly or hand truck to move some of the boxes. move. Boxes.

“He was seen on Mar-a-Lago security video helping Walt Nauta move boxes into a storage unit on June 2, 2022. My client saw Mr. Nauta move the boxes and volunteered to help him,” said Irving . The next day, he added, the employee helped Nauta pack an SUV “when former President Trump left for Bedminster for the summer.”

The attorney said his client, a longtime Mar-a-Lago employee whom he declined to identify, has been cooperating with the government and “had no reason to believe that helping move boxes was significant at all.” Other people familiar with the investigation confirmed the employee’s role, saying he has been questioned several times by authorities.

Irving is representing several witnesses in the investigation and his law firm is paid by Trump’s Save America PAC, public disclosure reports show. A lawyer for Nauta, Stanley Brand, declined to comment.

Investigators have been trying to gather some evidence that Trump or people close to him deliberately withheld classified documents from the government.

On the evening of June 2, the same day the two employees moved the boxes, a Trump attorney contacted the Justice Department and said officials there were welcome to visit Mar-a-Lago and view classified documents containing regarding the summons. Bratt and the FBI agents arrived the next day.

Trump’s lawyers gave the officials a sealed envelope containing 38 classified documents and a signed statement that a “diligent search” had been conducted for the documents requested by the subpoena and that all pertinent documents had been provided.

As part of that visit, Bratt and the agents were invited to tour the storage room where aides to Trump said boxes of documents from his time as president were kept. According to court documents filed by the Justice Department, Trump’s lawyers told visitors not to open any of the boxes in the storage room or look at their contents.

When FBI agents received a court order to search Mar-a-Lago two months later, they found more than 100 other classified documents, some in Trump’s office and some in the storage room.

In an August lawsuit explaining the search, prosecutors wrote they had developed evidence that “obstructive conduct” occurred in connection with the response to the subpoena, including that documents were “probably concealed and removed from storage.”

Prosecutors have also collected evidence that even before Trump’s office received the subpoena in May, he had what some officials called a “dress rehearsal” for moving government documents he was unwilling to give up, people familiar with the investigation said.

The term “dress rehearsal” was used in a sealed court opinion released earlier this year in one of several legal battles over the government’s access to certain witnesses and evidence, some people said. It was used to describe an episode where Trump allegedly reviewed the contents of some, but not all, boxes of classified material, these people said. The New York Times first reported that Trump’s team was conducting “apparently a dress rehearsal” before the subpoena arrived.

At the time, Trump and his legal team were engaged in a back-and-forth conversation with the National Archives and Records Administration over whether he had taken documents and property from the White House that would remain with the administration. That dispute over presidential documents eventually led to the discovery of classified documents in Mar-a-Lago – some of which are highly sensitive, including information about a foreign country’s nuclear capabilities; Iran’s missile system; and intelligence gathering directed at China.

The former president, those familiar with the situation said, told aides he wanted to make sure he could keep papers he considered his property.

Trump and the Mar-a-Lago Documents: A Timeline

That dress rehearsal episode is one of many instances where investigators see possible ulterior motives in the actions of Trump and those around him. However, Trump lawyers and some of those witnesses have argued in recent months that prosecutors are viewing the sequence of events in an overly suspicious light. They say Smith’s team did that falsely rejected claims that people were not trying to hide anything from the government, but were simply engaged in what they considered routine and innocent tasks of serving their boss.

Prosecutors separately have been told by more than one witness that Trump sometimes kept classified documents out in the open in his Florida office for others to see, people familiar with the case said: and sometimes showed them to people, including assistants and visitors.

Depending on the strength of that evidence, such accounts could seriously undermine claims by Trump or his lawyers that he did not know he had classified material.

Those familiar with the situation said Smith’s team has completed most of its investigative work in the documents case and believes it has uncovered a handful of distinct episodes of obstructive behavior.

One of those suspected cases of obstruction, the people said, occurred after the FBI’s Aug. 8 search. They gave no further details, but The Guardian has previously reported that Trump’s lawyers found a box of White House agendas, including some marked classified, in Mar-a-Lago in December. In that case, a junior assistant would have moved the box from a government-rented office in nearby West Palm Beach.

Leave a comment