Agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate recovered records with highly classified marking mixed in boxes with other personal items like books and clothing, according to a government inventory unsealed in a court filing Friday.
The filing comes a day after a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, heard arguments from the Justice Department and Trump’s legal team about potential restraints on the department’s access to the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. The disclosure that several empty folders with classified markings were seized raises questions about whether the government was able to recover all of the most sensitive documents from Mar-a-Lago that may have been in Trump’s possession. It is not clear whether the documents held in the empty folders were removed.
The more detailed description of items seized during the Aug. 8 search also shows dozens of empty folders with classified marking, and many labeled “return to staff secretary/military aide.”
The document seizure has brought focus to the White House staff secretary position, which is responsible for the flow of documents to the president, and was vacant for the final weeks of Trump’s presidency after Staff Secretary Derek Lyons left the role in late December 2020. Federal investigators have interviewed Lyons, according to the New York Times and CNN. The Jan. 6 select panel also interviewed Lyons and released excerpts of his testimony about a confrontational Dec. 18, 2020 White House meeting involving Trump’s outside advisers and their plans to overturn the election.
“Everything that goes to the president usually comes back to the staff secretary. So [the folders] could be lots of different things for archiving or filing or for implementation,” said Rajesh De, who served in former President Barack Obama’s White House as staff secretary. De now runs the law firm Mayer Brown’s national security practice. “The point is that it’s something that went to the president and may well have implications for policy or execution.”
Trump’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Trump spokesperson Tayor Budowich tweeted Friday the new inventory proved the court-ordered search was “unnecessary” and amounted to a “smash and grab,” even though the warrant specifically contemplated seizing items found alongside classified documents. The government indicated in filings earlier this week that the placement of classified materials among personal items were part of the potential evidence of a crime.
The items listed in the inventory appear to coincide with an earlier receipt provided to Trump’s legal team about boxes that were taken from Trump’s estate. The receipt described an order for clemency for Trump ally Roger Stone— who was convicted in 2019 on seven felony charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and information about the president of France. In the new inventory, those items are described as a document with a “secret” marking and another two documents with no classification markings.
The detailed inventory also shows that a raft of items marked as top secret were discovered in a leather bound box found in Trump’s office. These items were among those displayed in a photograph released by the Justice Department earlier in the week showing the documents containing some of the government’s most highly classified secrets.
The new inventory shows that along with those records marked classified in one box of documents recovered from Trump’s estate were 99 press clippings, 69 government records without classification markings, 43 empty folders with “classified” banners and 28 empty folders marked “Return to Staff Secretary/Military Aide.”
DOJ and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are leading a separate review of the documents’ classification, and ODNI has also started an assessment of potential risks to national security posed by the materials.
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