The Justice Department used 35 type pages in a court filing on Tuesday to provide new details about its investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of hundreds of classified documents that were removed from the White House at the end of his mandate.
But the most digestible item of the dossier was appended at the end: a single photograph showing documents with secret and top secret markings laid out on a patterned mat, with a cardboard framed picture on one side. The photograph clearly showed no details about the subject matter of the documents, which were conspicuously bordered in red when labeled secret and yellow for top secret.
On Wednesday, Trump took to his social media site to say that “the FBI, during the Mar-a-Lago raid, randomly threw documents all over the floor (possibly claiming it was I did!), then started taking pictures of them for the public to see.
But the genesis of the photograph appears to conform to standard protocols for how federal agents handle evidence they encounter during a search.
The files were put away by Mar-a-Lago officers after they were removed from what the file said was Trump’s office; they were not discovered strewn on the ground, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
The Department of Justice would not comment on the details of the photograph. But it is standard practice for the FBI to take photos of evidence of materials recovered during a search to ensure items are properly cataloged and accounted for.
The mark “2A” on a folded sheet of paper in the photo corresponds to a list in the inventory of the objects seized during the search which was made public with the search warrant. In this inventory, the item marked “2A” is described as “miscellaneous TS/SCI classified documents”.
Files or documents are not randomly thrown around, even though they may appear that way; they are usually flared so that they can be separately identified by their markings. The ruler seen in the picture is to give an idea of their size relative to other objects.
A noteworthy feature of the photograph, as the Justice Department pointed out in its filing yesterday, is that none of the files bear a label or stamp indicating that Trump declassified them, as he has periodically asserted when questioned about his retention of government records requested by the National Archives. Documents that have been declassified usually contain explicit marks indicating the change.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.