According to people familiar with the situation, the Justice Department is interested in learning how a box containing classified documents that was strewn among copies of presidential schedules ended up at Mar-a-Lago late in 2022, long after numerous rounds of searches by federal agents and aides to former President Donald Trump. Paula Reid of CNN reports.
In recent weeks, investigators for special counsel Jack Smith spoke with a Trump aide who had downloaded secret data from the box onto a laptop using her phone. One of the sources claims that once authorities subpoenaed the password to the laptop and conducted a voluntary interview with the assistant, she complied.
The Justice Department instructed Trump’s legal team to undertake yet another search for records at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in December, and that’s when the secret materials that were in the box were found.
People with knowledge of the Trump legal team’s search for documents describe a perplexing series of events that prevented the box from being found, including having its contents uploaded to the cloud, emailed to a Trump employee, and moved to an offsite location before returning to the Mar-a-Lago bridal suite that serves as Trump’s office — the exact location that the FBI had searched just weeks earlier.
Trump’s legal team has confirmed in recent weeks that they handed the box and a laptop containing its scanned contents to the special counsel. Yet according to sources, prosecutors have persisted in probing why it wasn’t handed over to the Justice Department earlier and what, if any, involvement or information Trump may have had regarding its movements.
According to persons acquainted with the line of inquiry from federal prosecutors, Smith’s probe into the improper handling of secret materials at Mar-a-Lago has recently focused on the voyage of the box. The careless handling of documents that wound up online, on computers, and moved around to various locations may make it harder for Trump to defend himself in a case that could result in criminal charges.
Federal investigators are believed to be suspect of a “shell game with classified documents,” according to one source who recounted the travels of the box and the special counsel’s investigation into it. The insider claimed that prosecutors’ inquiries also heavily center on Trump’s daily activities and directives to personnel.
In a CNN interview earlier this month, Trump’s lawyer Tim Parlatore claimed that the aide had not seen the confidential markings.
“After we did the search in December and found within this box of thousands that there were a couple of pages that had a little marking at the bottom, which we turned over, after that, we found out that she had scanned the box so that it would be digitized,” Parlatore said. “She had no idea that there was any classification markings on anything. And as soon as we found out about that, we called up the DOJ to let them know and immediately provided them access to it.”
The box was initially sent to a lower-level Trump assistant who has worked for the former president since he left office by a longstanding Trump staffer at the White House and Mar-a-Lago in the fall of 2021. The staff member asked that the box’s copies of the president’s schedules be scanned.
The staffer brought the item to the “tennis cottage” where she worked at Mar-a-Lago. According to people familiar with the situation, the aide used an Adobe program on her phone to convert the documents into scanned files before sending them to a laptop owned by Trump because there was no scanning equipment available there for her to use.
The individual’s claimed that when she combed through the tens of thousands of pages over several days, she failed to realize that the presidential records included classified materials.
The box was transported to a General Services Administration-funded facility in downtown Palm Beach in November 2021 after its contents had been scanned, according to the people.
The box remained there even after Trump’s team donated 15 boxes to the National Archives in January 2022 that contained classified and other federal records. In May 2022, the Justice Department issued a subpoena requesting the return of all classified documents in Trump’s possession. In June 2022, investigators from the Justice Department visited Mar-a-Lago and toured the property in an effort to recover additional documents, and Trump’s lawyers provided some additional documents to them.
After that, the FBI conducted a search of Mar-a-Lago in August while Trump was at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. They found more than a hundred documents that were classified in a number of the club’s rooms, including a bridal suite that had been turned into Trump’s office and other places where boxes were kept.
But throughout that search, this specific box was at the Palm Beach office. The box was taken from the Palm Beach office and delivered to the bridal suite at Mar-a-Lago where the assistant was now working with Trump in a new job when Trump and his aide returned to the estate last fall, according to people familiar with the situation.
According to the Trump attorneys, the FBI already searched Mar-a-Lago in August. But, the Justice Department insisted that Trump’s attorneys conduct their own second search of the property after threatening to hold Trump in contempt if they didn’t.
According to those acquainted with the search efforts, the box holding the small number of classified documents mixed in with Trump’s presidential schedules was finally uncovered during the search of Mar-a-Lago in December.
“It was initially assumed that the FBI merely overlooked the box during the search warrant when the crew discovered it. But after looking into it more, the legal team learned that an assistant had moved it as part of her duties “a source stated.
The people claimed that by that time, the box had been placed in a closet in the suite where Trump’s campaign material was kept. The Justice Department then received the box from Trump’s attorneys.
Prosecutors have recently obtained grand jury testimony from the two individuals who were hired to examine Trump’s properties last autumn, and they are now demanding responses from his attorneys.