May 28, 2024

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Trump Mar-a-Lago workers moved the boxes the day before the FBI arrived to obtain the documents

Two of Donald Trump’s staffers 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 — a timing that investigators deemed suspicious and indicative of possible obstruction, according to people familiar with the matter. .

Trump and his aides also allegedly conducted a “rehearsal” to move sensitive papers even before his office received a subpoena in May 2022, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing sensitive investigation.

In addition, these people said, prosecutors have collected evidence indicating that Trump sometimes kept classified documents in his office where they could be seen and sometimes showed them to others.

Taken together, the new details of the classified documents investigation point to a greater breadth and specificity of potential obstruction cases found by the FBI and DOJ than previously reported. It also expands the timeline of potential obstruction episodes that investigators are examining – a period that stretches from the events at Mar-a-Lago before the subpoena to that period. After the FBI raid there on August 8.

Presidents and vice presidents routinely handle classified documents, but strict guidelines from a variety of jurisdictions have clear guidelines on the matter. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

That timeline could be crucial as prosecutors seek to determine Trump’s intention to keep hundreds of classified documents after he leaves the White House, and is a key factor in deciding whether to bring charges of obstruction of justice or mishandling of national security secrets. The Washington Post previously reported that the boxes were moved out of the storage area after Trump’s office received a subpoena. But the people familiar with the matter said the exact timing of this activity is an important component of the investigation.

Grand jury activity on the case has slowed in recent weeks, and Trump’s lawyers have taken steps — including outlining his potential defense to members of Congress and seeking a meeting with the attorney general — that indicate they believe a fee-charging decision is approaching. It appears the grand jury working on the investigation has not met since May 5, after months of frantic activity in a Washington federal courtroom. This is the committee’s longest pause since December, shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation and coincides with the year-end recess.

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Trump has denied any wrongdoing in each case. “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that was set up to interfere with the election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House,” Stephen Cheung, Trump’s spokesman, wrote in a statement. “Just like all the other fake hoaxes thrown at President Trump, this corrupt effort will fail, too.”

Cheung accused the prosecutors of showing “a lack of concern for public morals or the basic rules governing the legal system,” and claimed that the investigators “harassed anyone and everyone working [for]it worked [for]or support Donald Trump.

He continued, “In the course of negotiations over the return of the documents, President Trump said to the key official in the Department of Justice, ‘Anything you need from us, just tell us. federal”.

A spokesman for Smith declined to comment. Justice Department officials previously said they only conducted the search after months of efforts to recover all of the 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 area on June 2, before Justice Department attorney Jay Pratt arrived at Mar-a-Land. -Lago with proxies. June 3 visit by law enforcement officials Material collection was in response to May 2022 A grand jury subpoena demanding the return of all documents marked confidential.

John Irving, an attorney representing one of the two employees who moved the boxes, said the worker did not know what was inside them and was only trying to help Trump’s valet Walt Nauta, who was using a boxcar or hand truck to move a number of boxes.

“He was seen in Mar-a-Lago security video helping Walt Nauta move boxes to a storage area on June 2, 2022. My client saw Mr. Nauta moving boxes and volunteered to help him,” Irving said. 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 who declined to be identified, cooperated with the government and had “no reason to believe that helping move the boxes was important at all.” Other people familiar with the investigation confirmed the employee’s role and said he was questioned several times by the authorities.

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Disclosure reports show Irving is representing several witnesses in the investigation, and his law firm is being paid by Trump’s Save America PAC. Nauta’s attorney, Stanley Brand, declined to comment.

Investigators sought any evidence to suggest that Trump or people close to him intentionally withheld any classified papers from the government.

On the evening of June 2, the same day the two employees moved the boxes, Trump’s attorney called the Justice Department and said officials there were welcome to visit Mar-a-Lago and pick up classified documents related to the subpoena. Pratt and the FBI agents arrive the next day.

Trump’s attorneys gave the officials a sealed envelope containing 38 classified documents and a signed affidavit that a “diligent search” had been made for the documents requested in the subpoena and that all relevant documents had been turned over.

As part of that visit, Pratt and the agents were invited to visit the storage room where Trump aides said boxes of documents from his time as president were kept. Court papers filed by the Justice Department say Trump’s lawyers told visitors they could not open any of the boxes in the storage room or view their contents.

When FBI agents obtained a court order to search Mar-a-Lago two months later, they found more than 100 additional people. Classified documents, some in Trump’s office and some in the storage area.

In an August court filing explaining the search, prosecutors wrote that they had developed evidence that “disruptive behavior” occurred in connection with the response to the subpoena, including that the documents were “likely hidden and removed from the storage room.”

Prosecutors also gathered evidence that even before Trump’s office received the subpoena in May, he had what some officials called a “rehearsal” for moving government documents he didn’t want to give up, people familiar with the investigation said.

The term “rehearsal dress” was It was used in a sealed judicial opinion issued earlier this year in one of several legal battles over government access to certain witnesses and evidence, some people said. These people said it was used to describe an episode in which Trump allegedly reviewed the contents of some, but not all, of the boxes containing classified materials. New York times first reported that Trump’s team conducted what was “apparently a rehearsal” before the subpoena arrived.

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At the time, Trump and his legal team were engaged in back-and-forth negotiations with the National Archives and Records Administration over whether he took from the White House records and properties that were supposed to remain with the government. This spat over presidential records is what ultimately led to the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago—some of them highly sensitive, including information about a foreign country’s nuclear capabilities; Iranian missile system. and intelligence gathering targeting China.

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

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

This rehearsal episode is one of several instances in which investigators see possible ulterior motives in the actions of Trump and those around him. However, Trump’s lawyers and some of those witnesses have argued in recent months that prosecutors view the sequence of events in an extremely suspicious light. They say Team Smith has it They unfairly rejected claims that the people were not trying to hide anything from the government but were simply carrying out what they saw as routine and innocent tasks in service of their boss.

More than one witness told prosecutors separately that Trump sometimes kept classified documents out in the open in his Florida office, where others could see them, people familiar with the matter said. And sometimes they are shown to people, including helpers and visitors.

And depending on the strength of that evidence, these accounts could severely undermine claims by Trump or his attorneys that he did not know he possessed classified material.

People familiar with the situation said Smith’s team has finished the bulk of its investigative work on the documents issue and believes it has uncovered a few episodes of disruptive behavior.

One of the cases of suspected obstruction occurred after an FBI search on Aug. 8, the people said. Some that are tagged classified in Mar-a-Lago. In that case, a junior assistant apparently moved the box from a government-leased office in nearby West Palm Beach.