Trump employees moved Mar-a-Lago boxes a day before Justice Department came for documents
Two of Donald Trump’s employees 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 moment that investigators came to consider suspicious and an indication of a possible obstruction, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump and his aides also reportedly conducted a “dress rehearsal” to move sensitive documents before his office even received the May 2022 subpoena, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing sensitive investigation.
Prosecutors further gathered evidence indicating that Trump sometimes kept classified documents in his office in a place where they were visible and sometimes showed them to others, those people said.
Taken together, the new details of the classified documents investigation suggest a greater breadth and specificity of possible obstruction cases uncovered by the FBI and Justice Department than previously reported. It also expands the timeline of possible episodes of obstruction that investigators are looking at — a period from events at Mar-a-Lago before the subpoena to the period after the FBI raid on August 8.
This delay may prove crucial as prosecutors seek to determine Trump’s intention to keep hundreds of classified documents after he leaves the White House, a key factor in deciding whether to bring charges of obstruction of justice or mismanagement of national security secrets. The Washington Post previously reported that the boxes were moved out of storage after Trump’s office received a subpoena. But the precise timing of this activity is an important part of the investigation, people familiar with the matter said.
Grand jury activity in the case has slowed in recent weeks, and Trump’s lawyers have taken steps — including outlining his potential defense to members of Congress and requesting a meeting with the attorney general — that suggest they believe a charging decision is approaching. The grand jury investigating the case has apparently not met since May 5, after months of frantic activity at the federal courthouse in Washington. It is the longest hiatus from the panel since December, shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation and to coincide with the year-end holidays.
Smith is also investigating Trump’s efforts to block the results of the 2020 election. And the former president – who is running for the White House again – has been indicted in New York for falsifying business documents and making the under investigation for election-related matters in Fulton County, Georgia.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in each case. “It is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that is concocted to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House,” Steven Cheung wrote. , a Trump spokesperson, in a statement. “Just like all the other bogus hoaxes launched against President Trump, this corrupt effort will also fail.”
Cheung accused prosecutors of showing “no respect for common decency or the key rules that govern the justice system,” and he claimed investigators had “harassed anyone and everyone who works [for]worked [for]or support Donald Trump.”
“During negotiations for the return of the documents, President Trump said to the senior DOJ official, ‘Anything you need from us, let us know,'” he continued. “The fact that the DOJ rejected this offer of cooperation and raided Mar-a-Lago proves that the Biden regime armed the DOJ and the FBI.”
A spokesperson for Smith declined to comment. Justice Department officials previously said they only carried out the search after months of efforts to retrieve all classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, without success.
Of particular significance to investigators in the classified documents case, according to people familiar with the investigation, is evidence showing boxes of documents were moved to a storage area on June 2, just before the arrival of Justice Department senior counsel Jay Bratt at Mar-a-Lago with officers. The visit by law enforcement officials on June 3 was to collect documents in response to the May 2022 grand jury subpoena demanding the return of all documents bearing classified marks.
John Irving, an attorney representing one of the two employees who moved the boxes, said the worker didn’t know what was inside and was only trying to help Trump valet Walt Nauta, who was using a cart or a dolly to move a number of boxes.
“He was seen on Mar-a-Lago security video assisting Walt Nauta in moving boxes into a storage area on June 2, 2022. My client saw Mr. Nauta moving the boxes and getting volunteered to help her,” 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 lawyer said his client, a longtime Mar-a-Lago employee whom he declined to identify, had been cooperating with the government and had “no reason to believe that helping to move boxes was the least significant”. Others familiar with the investigation confirmed the employee’s role and said he had been questioned several times by authorities.
Irving is representing several witnesses in the investigation, and his law firm is being paid by Trump’s Save America PAC, according to disclosure reports. A Nauta lawyer, Stanley Brand, declined to comment.
Investigators have sought to gather evidence indicating that Trump or people close to him deliberately withheld any classified government documents.
On the evening of June 2, the same day the two employees moved the boxes, a lawyer for Trump contacted the Justice Department and said officials were asked to visit Mar-a-Lago and retrieve documents. classified related to the assignment. Bratt and FBI agents arrived the next day.
Trump’s lawyers gave officials a sealed envelope containing 38 classified documents and a signed attestation that a “diligent search” had been conducted for the documents sought by the subpoena and that all relevant documents had been turned over.
As part of that visit, Bratt and the agents were asked to tour the storage room where Trump’s aides said boxes of documents from his time as president were kept. Court documents filed by the Justice Department indicate that Trump’s attorneys told visitors they could not open any of the boxes in the storage room or look at their contents.
When FBI agents obtained a court order to search Mar-a-Lago two months later, they found more than 100 additional 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 “obstructive behavior” had taken place in the response to the subpoena, including that documents ” were probably concealed 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 “dress rehearsal” to move government documents he didn’t want to give up, said people familiar with the investigation.
The term “dress rehearsal” was used in a sealed court notice issued earlier this year in one of several legal battles over the government’s access to particular witnesses and evidence, some people have said. It was used to describe an episode where Trump allegedly examined the contents of some, but not all, of the boxes containing classified material, these people said.
At the time, Trump and his legal team were engaged in back and forth with the National Archives and Records Administration over whether he had taken White House records and assets that were supposed to stay with the government. This dispute 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; Iran’s missile system; and intelligence gathering targeting China.
The former president, people familiar with the situation said, told aides he wanted to make sure he could keep the papers he considered his property.
This dress rehearsal episode is one of many in which investigators see possible ulterior motives in the actions of Trump and those around him. Trump’s lawyers and some of those witnesses have argued in recent months, however, that prosecutors viewed the sequence of events in too suspicious a light. They say Smith’s team unfairly dismissed claims that people weren’t trying to hide anything from the government, but were simply performing what they saw as routine, innocent tasks in the service of their boss.
Prosecutors were separately told by more than one witness 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 showed them. to people, including assistants and visitors. .
Depending on the strength of this evidence, such accounts could seriously undermine claims by Trump or his lawyers that he did not know he had classified documents.
People familiar with the situation said Smith’s team had completed most of their investigative work in the documents case and believed they had uncovered a handful of separate episodes of obstructive conduct.
One such alleged obstruction, the people said, occurred after the FBI raid on Aug. 8. They didn’t provide further details, but the Guardian previously reported that in December, Trump’s lawyers found a box of White House schedules, including some that were marked classified, in Mar-a -The girlfriend. In this case, a junior aide apparently moved the box from a government-leased office in nearby West Palm Beach.
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