Donald Trump ought to have his back to the wall, but he soldiers on regardless. Last Wednesday’s filing by the Justice Department presents the clearest picture yet of its efforts to retrieve documents from the former President’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Mr Trump’s representatives had falsely claimed all sensitive material had been returned, according to a court filing by the department on Tuesday. The filing came in response to the previous President’s request for an independent review of materials seized from his home. Among the new disclosures in the 36-page filing was that the search yielded three classified documents in Mr Trump’s office, and more than 100 documents in 13 boxes or containers with classified markings in the residence, including some at what they call the “most restrictive levels”.
That was twice the number of classified documents the former President’s lawyers turned over voluntarily while swearing an oath that they had returned all material demanded by the government. The investigation into Trump’s retention of government documents had begun as a relatively straightforward attempt to recover materials that officials with the National Archives had spent the better part of 2021 trying to retrieve. The filing on Tuesday makes it pretty obvious that prosecutors are now riveted to the possibility that the former President and those around him took “criminal steps” to obstruct their investigation. There was evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago.
This was after the Justice Department sent Trump’s office a subpoena for any remaining documents with classified markings. That led prosecutors to conclude that “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.” The filing had one striking visual aid, specifically a photograph of at least five yellow folders recovered from Mr Trump’s resort and residence marked “Top Secret” and another in red labeled “Secret”. The FBI uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating that the response to the May 11 grand jury subpoena was incomplete and that classified documents remained at the premises, notwithstanding the sworn notification made to the government on June 3, the justice department stated.
“In particular, the government developed evidence that a search limited to the storage room would not have uncovered all the classified documents at the premises”. The justice department obtained at least one more subpoena for security camera footage from inside Mar-a-Lago. The affidavit revealed that it was working with multiple civilian witnesses. The result was the search carried out on 8 August. The filing noted that the FBI in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings. The filing is explicit on the point that “this calls into question” the representations made in the June 3 certification and “cast doubts on the extent of cooperation in this matter’’.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 7, 2022, issue.