Trump’s lawyer told the Justice Department that he had returned classified material

At least one lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump signed a written statement in June stating that all material marked classified and kept in boxes in a storage area at the Mar-a-Lago residence and clubhouse of Mr. Trump had been returned to government. , four people with knowledge of the document said.

The written statement followed a June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago by Jay I. Bratt, the top counterintelligence official in the Justice Department’s homeland security division.

The existence of the signed statement, which has not been previously reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team did not fully communicate with federal investigators about the material. And it might help explain why the department cited a possible violation of a criminal statute related to obstruction as one of the grounds for seeking the warrant to search the home of the former president on Monday, an extraordinary step that generated a political shock. waves

It also helps further explain the sequence of events that prompted the Justice Department’s decision to conduct the search after months of trying to resolve the matter through conversations with Mr. Trump and his team.

An inventory of material taken from Mr. Trump’s home that was made public on Friday showed that FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents during the search with some sort of confidential or secret marking, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”. — Short for “Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information.” Information classified in this way should only be viewed in a secure government facility.

The search included not only the storage area where boxes of material known to the Justice Department were kept, but also Mr. Trump’s office and residence. The search warrant and inventory unsealed Friday did not specify where at the Mar-a-Lago resort the documents marked classified were found.

Mr Trump said on Friday he had declassified all material in his possession while still in office. He did not provide any documents that he had done so.

A spokesman for the former president, Taylor Budowich, said Saturday: “Like every witch hunt manufactured by Democrats before, the water in this unprecedented and unnecessary raid is carried by a media willing to run with suggestive leaks, anonymous sources and no. hard facts”.

The search warrant said FBI agents were conducting the search for evidence related to possible violations of the statute of obstruction, as well as the Espionage Act and a law that prohibits the taking or unlawful destruction of government records or documents. No one has been charged in the case, and the search warrant alone doesn’t mean no one is.

Last year, National Archives officials discovered that Mr. Trump had taken a large number of documents and other government materials with him when he left the White House at the end of his tumultuous tenure in January 2021. This material was supposed to have been sent. to the archives under the terms of the Presidential Archives Act.

Mr Trump returned 15 boxes of the material in January of this year. When archivists examined the material, they found many pages of documents with classified markings and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which launched an investigation and convened a grand jury.

In the spring, the department issued a subpoena to Mr. Trump to request additional documents he believed might be in his possession. The former president was repeatedly urged by advisers to return what was left, despite what they described as his desire to keep some documents.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, Mr. Bratt and other officials visited Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., in early June, meeting briefly with Mr. Trump while they were there. Two of the lawyers of Mr. Trump, M. Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb spoke with Mr. Bratt and a handful of researchers he traveled with, people briefed on the meeting said.

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Mr. Corcoran and Mrs. Bobb showed Mr. Bratt and his team boxes with material that Mr. Trump had taken from the White House that they were being kept in a storage area, the people said.

According to two people informed of the visit, Mr. Bratt and his team left with additional material marked classified, and around that time also obtained a written statement from a Trump lawyer certifying that all material marked classified in the boxes had been turned over.

Shortly after the meeting, according to people briefed on the matter, Mr. Bratt sent Mr. Corcoran sent an email telling him to get a more secure padlock for the room. The team of Mr. Trump complied.

The Justice Department also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, including views from outside the storage room. According to a person briefed on the matter, the images raised concerns among investigators about the handling of the material. It is not clear what era this image was from.

Over the past few months, investigators have been in contact with about half a dozen current assistants of Mr. Trump who knew how the documents were handled, two people briefed on the approaches said. At least one witness provided investigators with information that led them to want to further press Mr. Trump for material, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The concern for the handling of classified information by Mr. Trump goes back to the early days of his administration. When Mr. Trump left office, President Biden quickly took the extraordinary step of barring him from the intelligence briefings traditionally provided to former presidents, saying Mr. Trump could not be trusted because of his “erratic behavior”.

The security of classified information at Mar-a-Lago was also a concern for government officials, even while Mr. Trump was in office. During his presidency, the government built what is known as the SCIF, a sensitive compartmentalized information facility, for Mr. Trump’s use while at the club.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued a public statement saying he had personally authorized the decision to seek the search warrant for Mr. Trump’s property, indicating that the Justice Department would have made the move only after trying less invasive measures. .

Shortly before Garland made the announcement, a person close to Mr. Trump contacted a Justice Department official to relay a message from the former president to the attorney general. Mr. Trump wanted Garland to know that he had consulted with people around the country and found that they were outraged by the search.

“The country is on fire” was the message that Mr. Trump wanted to convey, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “What can I do to reduce the heat?”

The next day, as a judge unsealed the warrant and the inventory of the items the FBI seized, Mr. Trump alternately asserted that he did nothing wrong and also made the baseless claim that officials might have put evidence on him.

Katie Benner contributed to this report.

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