On Tuesday evening, the Department of Justice responded to the order from a Donald Trump-appointed judge who said she was inclined to grant Donald Trump’s request for a “special master” to review documents removed during the Aug. 8 FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.
In that response to Judge Aileen Cannon, the department not only explained the timeline of events with more clarity than has been revealed before, but delivered a shocking view of how classified information had been treated by Trump, including directly stating that highly classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” for the purposes of obstruction. The DOJ response even included an image showing how FBI agents found clearly marked, highly classified documents of the most sensitive kind: sitting in plain sight, spread across the floor. Other documents were recovered from the drawers of Trump’s desk.
Included in the filing is information that resets the narrative on several events that took place at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s attorneys insisted that all the records taken from the White House were held in that now infamous “storage room.” However, the DOJ reports that “the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes” in that room. Trump’s attorneys even signed a statement, saying that their own “diligent search” found no other classified materials.
That statement is what’s known, in legal terms, as an outright lie; it’s also unquestionable obstruction and concealment of classified materials. And that’s just the start.
As many have pointed out, the arrangement of documents on the floor likely represents them being pulled from the box on the right by the FBI for the purposes of taking a documentation photo, not their being tossed out by Trump.
On quick review, the DOJ filing breaks down into these areas:
First, there is the summary of the government’s argument opposing the appointment of a special master. In this summary, the DOJ argues that Trump lacks standing to make this request; that the Presidential Records Act establishes clear rules for the ownership and treatment of these documents; and simply, that the documents do not belong to Trump. Additionally, the government insists that there’s no point in giving Trump his special master, because the FBI filter team has already completed its review of the documents.
And the DOJ doesn’t hesitate to push back at Judge Cannon for her unprecedented intervention in the case.
Furthermore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment challenges to the validity of the search warrant and his arguments for returning or suppressing the materials seized.
Next comes the factual background of the case. That’s where most of the new information—and big, sharp nails in Trump’s legal coffin—are waiting.
From the moment Trump reluctantly left the White House in January 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has worked to retrieve materials that had been improperly taken to Mar-a-Lago. When they finally recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022, they discovered a variety of clearly-labeled classified information scattered within the boxes, including 25 documents labeled “Top Secret.”
The nature of the documents recovered at that point, and the way in which they had been casually stored among old magazines, newspaper clippings, and other unrelated material, made NARA want to go straight to the FBI. However, they decided to work with Trump through the process of the Presidential Records Act. At every step, Trump and his attorneys were slow to respond, failed to respond, or gave responses that didn’t answer questions sent, ultimately stretching out the process for months.
Finally, the fed-up NARA team told Trump’s attorneys that they were going to proceed with referral to the FBI. Trump tried to assert privilege, which NARA rejected. Once the FBI reviewed the records, a criminal inquiry was swiftly opened. In May, a grand jury subpoena was submitted to Trump, demanding the return of all classified documents. Again, Trump’s team slowed the process, applying for an extension that gave them until June 7 to comply.
On June 3, FBI agents and DOJ attorney visited Mar-a-Lago and were given a single “Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape,” containing what were supposed to be the last classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Trump attorney (and OAN host) Christina Bobb then signed a document stating that “a diligent search was conducted“ and no more classified material remained.
When it comes to the infamous storage room, the visiting agents were told that the remainder of Trump’s White House materials were stored there.
Critically, however, the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.
The Redweld envelope turned out to contain 38 classified documents, including 17 marked “Top Secret.” However, the FBI soon “uncovered multiple sources of evidence” that more classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago, and not just in the storage room. How this information came to them is not made clear in the filing, but this seems to very likely be the result of a whistleblower.
And it wasn’t just that Trump was still holding onto classified information after handing over a signed statement that there were no more documents. It’s that there was an active effort underway to hide that information from the government.
The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.
When the FBI finally conducted its search, it found numerous documents outside the storage room, including three classified documents inside Trump’s own desk.
The image above attached to the filing—which shows top secret documents scattered uncovered across a carpeted floor—is purposely of too low a resolution to read details. However, it is possible to make out that some of these documents are marked “HCS,” meaning that they represent human intelligence, generally related to United States undercover assets overseas. Other document are marked “TK,” meaning “talent keyhole.” These are documents related to “space assets,” generally satellite imagery or associated analysis. Neither type of document seems like something Trump could even potentially argue was open to claims of privilege or connected to any legitimate activity.
The Aug. 8 FBI search netted over 100 new classified documents in two hours—after Trump’s attorney swore that there were no more to be found.
With each new filing, the case against Trump becomes more damning. Even following the FBI search, most pundits were ready to write this off as a dispute between Trump and NARA, one that was likely to be ended once all the documents were filed back into their proper places.
But at this point, it’s not just a matter of Trump holding documents he shouldn’t have taken.
- These were classified documents of the highest possible level, including human intelligence and space-based intelligence that could not even vaguely be construed as connected to something Trump would need “for his memoirs.”
- They were extremely clearly marked, shredding any claim that they were taken accidentally.
- Trump took every effort to drag his feet in holding onto these documents, including having his attorney sign off on a patently false claim that there were no more classified documents to be found.
- Far from being stored in any secure location, documents were found scattered across Mar-a-Lago, including in Trump’s desk.
it’s hard to see how the case for outright obstruction, lying to the FBI, hiding classified materials, and interfering with an investigation could be any clearer.
If the appearance of the documents in the DOJ filing represents how they were found, just the image alone raises additional concerns. Why were these document spread out across the floor? They give every appearance of documents that were were either being searched for specific contents, or even photographed.
Every filing so far has made the case against Trump even more obvious, to the point that it’s simply overwhelming.
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