The Washington Post has laid out a timeline of events related to Donald Trump’s illegal transfer of highly classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and the government’s efforts to recover those critical documents. One thing that becomes clear when looking at the order of events is that, when confronted over his holding information that had national security significance, Trump did not move to immediately return this material. Instead, he dedicated two of his most loyal henchmen to finding a way to flip the script and leverage the documents he had stolen against the FBI and DOJ.
The National Archives was aware that Trump took records that belonged to the government to Mar-a-Lago shortly after he reluctantly slunk away from the White House, but eight months were spent in negotiating before Trump gave up the first scrap of paper. Shortly after the archives retrieved 15 boxes of material last February, there was information that Trump’s document stash contained both documents classified as top-secret, and information behind the bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also included such national treasures as Trump’s love letters to Kim Jong Un.
While it wasn’t until August that the FBI carried out a historic search of the building Trump is illegally using as his primary residence, that doesn’t mean nothing was happening during those months in between. The archives, and other agencies, spent months trying to get the remaining materials back from Trump. But rather than cooperate, Trump adopted a strategy of stalling and lying about what he had. And when it was clear the DOJ was closing in, Trump appointed Devin Nunes’ former aide, Kash Patel, and a right-wing media mogul, John Solomon, with the goal of using those documents against the agencies trying to get them back.
In the weeks after Trump’s departure from Washington, it became obvious that some high-profile materials—like the mash note exchange with Kim and the letter that President Obama left for Trump on the day he moved into the Oval Office—were missing. So the National Archives began to contact Trump’s team in Mar-a-Lago, searching for the lost material.
But Trump’s response was anything but swift. It was a full eight months later before he began allowing his aides to box up some of the documents. Finally, over a year after he left office, a contractor took away 15 boxes of material that should never have been in Trump’s possession. That story generated the expected response from national media.
However, even if the NYT was treating this story as unimportant, it was almost immediately obvious to the National Archives that not only did the boxes returned contain documents that were classified at one level or another, but what Trump had sent back was incomplete. This launched a second effort to secure the documents in place and take whatever actions were necessary to safeguard their return.
Less than ten days after the first group of boxes shipped out from Mar-a-Lago, representatives from the National Archives went to the Department of Justice, to inform them that Trump was in receipt of classified material and to seek help in getting it back.
For over three months, between February and May of 2022, the DOJ negotiated with Trump’s team, seeking the return of any classified material. But no materials came as Trump continued to claim there was nothing else to send. Finally, in May, the DOJ went before a federal grand jury and obtained a subpoena for any classified materials Trump held at Mar-a-Lago.
On becoming aware of this, Trump took immediate action—not to return the documents, but to once again claim there were no classified documents. As early as May 5, Patel did an interview for Breitbart in which he claimed there was no classified material at Mar-a-Lago. However, his statement included a hint of what was to come in the form of a claim that “Trump had already declassified material.” Then, as The New York Times reported on Saturday, following a visit from the FBI on June 3, an attorney for Trump signed a written statement declaring that all material marked as classified had been returned to the government.
That this was untrue was obvious to the FBI agents who had seen such documents during their visit. The FBI requested on June 8 that a stronger padlock be used to secure a record area that the agents had been shown on June 3. However, the Post reports that security footage obtained on June 22 shows boxes being moved in and out of this supposedly secured area, even after the DOJ told Trump to lock it down.
On June 19, Trump formally named Patel and Solomon as “representatives for access to Presidential records of my administration” with the specific task of using the documents at Mar-a-Lago to “make available to the American people previously declassified documents that reveal a clear conspiracy to unlawfully spy on candidate and then President Donald J. Trump—by the FBI, DOJ, and others—the largest state-sponsored criminality in American history.” In other words, Patel and Solomon were tasked with using these documents to attack the same agencies seeking their return.
Solomon now claims he never had access to the documents and had been hired “as a reporter.” However, Solomon is best known for his highly inaccurate columns attacking the climate crisis, and for a running series of articles in which he repeatedly lied about his sources as part of a smear campaign against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as well as spreading lies about Hunter Biden. So taking any claim by Solomon at face value is never recommended.
Meanwhile, even as the FBI continued to negotiate in an effort to get Trump to turn the material over, some of his own aides expressed concern to the DOJ about how that material was being handled. According to the Times, investigators were in contact with “roughly half a dozen” of Trump’s aides at Mar-a-Lago. It was information from one of these firsthand witnesses that spurred the FBI to stop negotiating and seek a search warrant.
Putting it all back in order:
- Trump took highly classified material from the White House and stored it in an unsecured location at his home without telling anyone.
- When the National Archives came looking for documents, it took eight months of back-and-forth before Trump passed along 15 boxes of material.
- When the archives noted classified information among the documents returned, they took this to the DOJ for further investigation.
- Trump claimed there were no more classified documents. This included a written statement from his attorney.
- Trump put Patel and Solomon in charge of the documents—not to sort out issues, but to use them to expand the myth of Trump as victim.
- The DOJ continued to negotiate for more months to see what still remained. When they finally got a look at what Trump had in storage, it was clear that there was more classified material.
- Seeing what Trump had, the DOJ instructed him to better secure the documents while they continued to negotiate for their return.
- Rather than keeping the documents secured, security footage showed that boxes of documents were being moved in and out of the supposedly secure area.
- One of Trump’s own aides tipped off the FBI that there were serious concerns about the content and handling of the documents.
- The FBI sought and executed a search warrant.
The full timeline of events makes it clear that the National Archives and Department of Justice spent almost every week of the last 17 months seeking to get back the documents Trump illegally removed from the White House. It also makes clear that Trump, and his team, repeatedly said there were no classified documents, even when they knew that wasn’t true. And it makes clear that, in response to increasing moves to recover the documents, Trump responded by attempting to weaponize the information in a direct attack on the FBI and DOJ.
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