Trump was warned to return documents to archives, unsealed documents show

Trump was warned to return documents to archives, unsealed documents show

In late November 2021, as National Archives officials tried to persuade former President Donald J. Trump to return a trove of documents he took from the White House when he left office, one of Mr. Trump advised him in the harshest manner. possible conditions for returning the materials, recently unsealed documents show.

“Whatever you have, give it all back — let them come here and take it all back,” the anonymous associate told Mr. Trump, according to an interview the person gave to the FBI. “Don’t give them a noble reason to charge you, because they will.”

Less than two years later, that warning has proven prescient. Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Trump last June with violating the Espionage Act, accusing him of illegally possessing more than 30 highly classified documents and obstructing repeated government efforts to recover them.

A summary of the interview with the partner with federal agents was among nearly 400 pages of investigative files that were unsealed Monday by the judge overseeing Mr. Trump’s classified documents case. The identity of the associate has been removed from the summary.

The records were initially attached as sealed exhibits to a motion filed by Mr. Trump’s lawyers in January seeking additional evidence from the government. But the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, made the exhibits public after ruling two weeks ago that prosecutors could remove the names of several potential witnesses to protect their identities and safety.

The anonymous associate who warned Mr Trump about the threat of indictment – ​​identified in unsealed files as Person 16 – described approaching the former president at a card room or a library at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, while Mr. Trump was dressed in golf attire.

Person 16 told the FBI that Mr. Trump responded to his warning with a “strange ‘you’re the man’ response” and left the impression that he would in fact return the documents to the archives. Their conversation was interrupted when a Mar-a-Lago club member and a “much younger woman” approached, Person 16 recalled, and asked to have their photo taken with Mr. Trump.

Person 16 also suggested that some of Mr. Trump’s children had been responsible for persuading him to return the presidential records to the archives. The person told the FBI that one of the children was told, “There’s trouble with the boxes.” They belong to the government. Talk to your father about returning them. It’s not worth it.

Although the unsealed exhibits did not significantly change the basic story of the classified documents affair, they did provide some new details.

Some evidence revealed, for example, that the FBI used the code name “Plasma Echo” in its initial investigation into classified documents that Mr. Trump took to Mar-a-Lago.

Another exhibit contained a minute-by-minute timeline of the FBI’s search of the property in August 2022, approximately a year before the indictment was returned, documenting precisely when agents entered the property, when they gained access to Mr. Trump’s safe “via technical means.” means” and when the evidence seized during the search arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport for transport to Washington.

Another piece suggests the office at one point considered conducting “loose” surveillance of Mr. Trump’s plane to “determine whether boxes are being loaded onto the plane.”

But Person 16’s interview with the FBI was among the most informative unsealed documents. The person asked the agents not to record their conversation, fearing that any recording would pose a “risk to him in Trump world.”

Yet Person 16 was unusually candid with the FBI, giving his interviewers gossipy details about members of Mr. Trump’s legal team.

One of the lawyers, according to the interview, was hired after being seen by Mr. Trump on television. Another member of the team was hired by Mr. Trump, Person 16 said, because of the way they “dressed” and placing themselves directly in Mr. Trump’s “field of vision.”

Person 16 also suggested to the FBI that Mr. Trump might have told his personal assistant, Walt Nauta, who was ultimately indicted as a co-defendant in the case, that he would receive a pardon if Mr. Trump was in newly elected.

“Nauta was also told that even if he was accused of lying to the FBI, the FPOTUS” – short for the former President of the United States – “would pardon him in 2024.”

Judge Cannon has yet to rule on the underlying motion to which the newly unsealed exhibits were attached.

The motion is an attempt by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to persuade the judge to grant them access to communications between prosecutors working for the special prosecutor, Jack Smith, and officials at the archives and national security and intelligence agencies. The lawyers want the information to bolster their possible defense at trial that members of the so-called deep state conspired with the Biden administration to have the indictment filed against Mr. Trump.

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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