Didn’t Trump return all the documents? Here are the plausible reasons.

It’s a question that has lingered since the historic search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence two months ago: is it possible that he still did not return all government documents, even after the search?

Multiple developments since then suggest that the Justice Department is concerned about precisely this.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Justice Department told Trump’s legal team that it believed he had not returned all of the documents he took with him when he left the White House. . The report says the top Justice Department official handling the case, Jay I. Bratt, said so in a recent phone call.

As history recognizes, it’s not like this concern came out of nowhere. There was a myriad of evidence not only that Trump sought to hide the documents for more than a year, but that the Justice Department suspected there could be more even soon after the search.

It’s worth checking out the excellent calendar that my colleague Rosalind S. Helderman has put together.

The first thing to note is that Trump clearly resisted handing over any documents. The back and forth with the National Archives dates back to the spring of last year, and Trump spent the following months resisting his demands. Trump then handed over 15 boxes in January, and he handed over another in June after a subpoena. The Mar-a-Lago search in August allowed officers to examine documents Trump had, but only in parts of the property the search warrant allowed them to venture out.

The second is that, through it all, there is ample evidence that Trump and his advisers falsely asserted – and that Trump himself sought to have his lawyers falsely assert – that all of these documents had been handed over:

  • The most stark example is an affidavit signed by Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, in June when Trump’s legal team turned over some documents. He said “diligent research has been conducted” and that “all relevant documentation accompanies this certification.”
  • The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey also reported this week that Trump in early 2022 asked his attorney Alex Cannon to tell the Archives that all documents sought by the agency had been returned. But Cannon refused. Trump then issued a public statement that did not include the assertion that everything had been returned.
  • Alemany, Dawsey and Helderman reported last month that Trump’s former deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin provided similar assurance to the Archives as early as September 2021. Philbin said Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had told him nothing about the Trump material. taken was sensitive or classified, and that Trump only had 12 boxes of clippings.

Philbin’s language — that is, quoting Meadows — and Cannon’s denial both point to the perspective that Trump’s own lawyers don’t fully trust the people they’re dealing with. And part of that might be that Trump hasn’t been very forthcoming. For example, The Post has reported in recent weeks that when certain documents were turned over in January, Trump personally oversaw the packing of the boxes himself “and did so in strict secrecy, refusing to show certain items. even to the principal assistants”.

Third, there’s something else The Times reported in its Thursday night article: that one of Trump’s most recently appointed attorneys, Christopher Kise, advised him to hire a forensic team to conduct a voluntary search. any additional documents. Trump was reportedly on board initially, but was later talked out of it.

A fourth is that Trump’s document-keeping habits were notoriously bad, including tearing up documents and seemingly flushing them down the toilet — and that haphazard treatment extended, The Post reported this week, to classified documents. We already know that the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago were mixed with all sorts of other documents. And even if you don’t believe that Trump deliberately continues to keep additional White House documents, some may have been destroyed or lost.

The final key point is that the Department of Justice has been pointing in this direction for some time.

Questions about other potential documents first emerged in earnest after a district court unsealed an inventory list of documents seized in the August search. The most visible inclusion: the presence of 48 folders described as “empty folders with ‘CLASSIFIED’ banners”.

While it is not clear whether these files contained documents seized during the search or turned over elsewhere, it raised the possibility of whether the documents could be traced to specific files and help determine whether everything had been turned over. (Archive officials had previously described the classified “unfolded” documents as among the “most concerning” items.)

Soon after, the Justice Department made it clear that the prospect of unreturned documents was a priority. A week after the inventory list was released, the Justice Department said in a court filing that it needed access to the seized documents to determine whether documents stored in the files “may have been lost or compromise”. He also cited “efforts to identify the existence of any other classified documents that are not properly stored.”

In another filing with an appeals court, he reiterated the need for the documents, saying he was reviewing them”could lead to the identification of other records still missing.”

This could have been interpreted as a ploy to gain access to the documents, by launching a worst-case scenario and daring the judges to deprive them of the files necessary for the investigation. But the Justice Department reportedly raising the issue with Trump’s own lawyers — and stating it so directly that it believed Trump hadn’t turned it all in — takes things to another level.

And one that wouldn’t seem like a huge stretch, if the past is any precedent.


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