The federal criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents escalated in a significant and unprecedented manner this week, with the FBI executing a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort home.
The Justice Department’s investigation concerns documents Trump removed from the White House as his term ends in January 2021. Earlier this year, officials from the National Archives and Records Administration, known as NARA, recovered 15 boxes of presidential documents in Mar. – Lake
Trump’s lawyers previously worked with NARA to voluntarily turn over some of the documents, but the Mar-a-Lago search clearly signals a new phase in the investigation. Trump has denied wrongdoing and says the investigation is a politically motivated hoax aimed at derailing his bid to return to the White House.
Here’s a timeline of key moments in the blockbuster investigation.
A NARA official contacts Trump’s team after realizing that several important documents were not delivered before Trump left the White House. In an effort to find the missing items, NARA attorney Gary Stern contacted someone who served in Trump’s White House legal office, who was the contact for records matters. Among the missing documents are some of Trump’s correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as a map of Hurricane Dorian, which Trump maliciously altered with a sharpie pen.
NARA is frustrated with the slow pace of document turnover after months of talks with the Trump team. Stern has turned to another Trump lawyer to intervene. The archivist asks about several boxes of records that were apparently moved to Mar-a-Lago when Trump relocated to Florida. NARA has yet to receive the White House documents being sought.
After months of discussions with Trump’s team, NARA acquires 15 cases of Trump White House records from Mar-a-Lago. The boxes contained some material that was part of “special access programs,” known as SAPs, a classification that includes protocols to significantly limit who would have access to information. NARA said in a statement that some of the records it received at the end of the Trump administration were “broken by former President Trump” and had to be co-recorded by White House officials. Not all of the broken documents were reconstructed, NARA says.
News outlets, including CNN, have reported that NARA asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records and whether he violated the Presidential Records Act and other laws related to classified information. The Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by a president be turned over to the National Archives at the end of the administration.
NARA has notified the Department of Justice that some of the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago contained classified material. NARA also tells the department that, despite being warned that it was illegal, Trump shredded the documents while president, and that senior Trump administration officials failed to properly preserve social media posts, draft tweets and deleted tweets.
On April 7, NARA publicly admits for the first time that the Department of Justice is involved, and news reports say prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents. At this time, FBI agents are interviewing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago aides about the handling of presidential records as part of the broader investigation.
The FBI is asking NARA for access to the 15 boxes it removed from Mar-a-Lago in January. The request was formally forwarded to NARA by President Joe Biden’s White House counsel’s office, as the sitting president controls presidential documents under NARA’s custody.
The Justice Department is sending a letter to Trump’s lawyers as part of its effort to access the 15 boxes, informing them that more than 100 classified documents, totaling more than 700 pages, were found in the boxes. The letter says the FBI and US intelligence agencies need “immediate access” to these materials “due to important national security interests.” Even today, Trump’s lawyers are asking NARA to delay its plans to give the FBI access to those materials. Trump’s lawyers have said they want time to review the materials to see if anything is privileged, and are filing an “executive privilege protection assertion” over all the documents.
Trump’s lawyers are writing again to NARA, again asking NARA to delay its plans to give the FBI access to materials taken from Mar-a-Lago in January.
Debra Steidel Wall, the acting archivist of the United States who heads NARA, has told Trump’s lawyers that she rejects claims of “protective” executive privilege over all materials taken from Mar-a-Lago and will therefore hand over the materials. to the FBI and US intelligence agencies. In a four-page letter, Wall says he made the decision after consulting with senior lawyers from the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office.
The Justice Department will subpoena Trump, seeking documents with classified markings still at Mar-a-Lago. Trump ordered his staff to search the rest of the classified material to comply with the subpoena, according to a lawsuit he later filed.
News reports said investigators subpoenaed NARA for access to classified documents obtained from Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena, which is part of the process for investigators to obtain NARA documents, is the first public statement by the Justice Department using a grand jury in its investigation.
According to a lawsuit later filed by the former president, Trump invites FBI officials to come to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve subpoenaed materials.
Four investigators, including a senior Justice Department counterintelligence official, visit Mar-a-Lago in search of more information about classified material that was brought to Florida. The four investigators meet with Trump’s lawyers and look around the basement room where the documents are kept. Trump stops briefly to greet officials at the meeting, but does not take any questions. During the meeting, federal officials discuss a grand jury subpoena for sensitive national security documents on the premises and remove the subpoenaed documents. At some point in June, a Trump lawyer sends a letter to the Department of Justice stating, without specifics, that there are no classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s lawyers receive a letter from federal investigators asking them to secure more rooms where documents are stored. In response, Trump aides add a padlock to his Mar-a-Lago basement room.
Federal investigators subpoena the Trump Organization, asking for Mar-a-Lago surveillance video. Trump’s company complies with the subpoena and returns the footage. CNN reported that it was part of an effort to gather information about those who had access to the club’s sites where government documents were stored.
The FBI executes a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, a major escalation in its investigation of classified documents. The search focused on the area of the club where Trump’s offices and personal residences are located. Federal agents remove boxes of material from the property. The raid was the first time in American history that a former president’s home had been raided as part of a criminal investigation.
Trump sent a message through his lawyer to Attorney General Merrick Garland, saying he was “outraged” that “people across the country have heard about the attack” and that “anything I can do to take the heat, take the pressure off, just report it,” he later filed a lawsuit. hours later, after three days of silence, Garland makes a brief public statement about the investigation. He reveals that he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant, and that the Justice Department will continue to enforce the law “without fear or favor.” Garland said, “The FBI and Justice He also pushed back against what he called “baseless attacks on the department’s professionalism.” Garland also announced that the Justice Department will ask a judge to seal some search warrant documents in the interests of transparency.
Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart agreed to seal the Mar-a-Lago search warrant and its property receipt after the Justice Department requested and agreed to release Trump’s lawyers. The warrant reveals that the Justice Department is looking into the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and criminal handling of government records as part of its investigation.
Trump is filing a federal lawsuit seeking the appointment of a third-party counsel, known as a “special master,” to independently review materials seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago. In the lawsuit, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the Justice Department cannot be trusted to conduct its own review of potentially privileged material that should be excluded from the criminal investigation.
Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over Trump’s civil suit, announces her “anticipatory intent” to appoint a special master to examine the seized Mar-a-Lago materials.
Federal prosecutors have clashed with Trump’s lawyers in court in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of the case in which Trump is seeking a special master’s appointment.
In a major ruling, Cannon approves Trump’s request for a special master to review materials seized from Mar-a-Lago. He says the special master will have the power to search documents covered by attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. The result is a big win for Trump.
The Justice Department is appealing Cannon’s decision in the special capital case. Prosecutors are also asking Cannon to temporarily block two key parts of his ruling pending an appeal: First, he blocked the Justice Department from using seized materials in its criminal investigation while the special master reviewed the materials. , and second, the portion of his ruling that required the Department of Justice to turn over classified documents to the special master.
Cannon appoints Chief Judge Raymond Dearie as special master and sets a Nov. 30 deadline for a federal judge in Brooklyn to complete a review of the seized materials. Cannon also rejects a request by the Justice Department to temporarily suspend two key parts of his earlier ruling, which prosecutors said were interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation.
This story has been updated with additional developments.