The witness description and images described to The Washington Post offer the most direct account to date of Trump’s actions and instructions that led to the August 8 FBI search of the Florida residence and private club, in which Agents were looking for evidence of Potential crimes including obstruction, destruction of government records, or mishandling of classified information.
People familiar with the investigation said agents have gathered eyewitness accounts indicating that, after Trump aides received a subpoena in May for any classified documents left at Mar-a-Lago, Trump told people to move the boxes to his residence on the property. This description of the events was corroborated by the images from the security camera, which showed people moving the boxes, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich declined to answer detailed questions for this article. “The Biden administration has armed law enforcement and fabricated a false document in a desperate attempt to retain political power,” Budowich said in a statement. “All other presidents have been given time and deference regarding document management, as the president has the ultimate authority to classify records and what materials need to be classified.”
Budowich accused the Justice Department of an “ongoing effort to leak misleading and false information to partisan allies in fake news,” saying doing so “is nothing more than dangerous political interference and unequal justice.” Simply put, it is un-American.”
The employee who worked at Mar-a-Lago is cooperating with the Justice Department and has been interviewed multiple times by federal agents, according to people familiar with the situation, who declined to identify the worker.
In the first interview, these people said, the witness denied having handled sensitive documents or the boxes that might contain such documents. As they collected evidence, officers decided to reinterview the witness, and the witness’s story changed dramatically, these people said. In the second interview, the witness described moving boxes at Trump’s request.
The witness is now considered a key part of the Mar-a-Lago investigation, these people said, offering details about the former president’s alleged actions and instructions to subordinates that may have been an attempt to thwart the demands of federal officials. for the return of classifieds. and government documents.
Multiple witnesses told the FBI they tried to convince Trump to cooperate with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department as those agencies sought months for the return of sensitive or historical government records, people familiar with the matter said. situation.
But pleas from advisers and lawyers who pushed for Trump to return the documents fell on deaf ears with Trump, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Trump got angry this spring after a House Oversight Committee investigation was launched, telling his aides that they had “ruined” the situation, according to people who heard his comments. “These are my documents,” Trump said, according to an aide who spoke with him.
Details shared with The Post reveal two key parts of the criminal investigation that have until now been shrouded in secrecy: an account from a witness who worked for Trump and took instructions from him, and how security footage of Mar- a-Lago have played an important role in reinforcing the eyewitness accounts.
Together, those pieces of evidence helped convince the FBI and the Justice Department to request the court-authorized search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, office and storage room, resulting in the seizure. of 103 documents that were marked classified and had not been turned over to the government in response to the May subpoena. Some of the documents detail the top-secret US operations so closely guarded that many top national security officials are kept in the dark about them. The August 8 search also returned about 11,000 documents not marked as classified.
The failure or possible refusal to return the classified documents in response to the subpoena is at the heart of the Justice Department’s Mar-a-Lago investigation, which is one of the several high-profile ongoing investigations involving Trump. The former president remains the most influential figure in the Republican Party and is outspoken about running for the White House again in 2024.
Within Trump’s orbit, there have been months of dueling accusations and theories about who might be cooperating with the federal government. Some of the former president’s closest aides have continued to work with Trump even as they’ve seen FBI agents show up at their homes to question them and serve subpoenas.
Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the witness’s account has been a closely guarded secret as agents continue to gather evidence in the high-stakes investigation. In addition to wanting to keep the information they’ve collected so far secret, people familiar with the situation said, authorities are also concerned that if or when the identity of the witness eventually becomes public, that person could face harassment or threats. of Trump supporters.
In a Supreme Court filing Tuesday, Justice Department attorneys appeared to allude to witness accounts and the video. when they wrote: “The FBI discovered evidence that the response to the grand jury subpoena was incomplete, that there were likely additional classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and that steps had likely been taken to obstruct the investigation.”
Since the search on August 8, Trump has offered a number of public defenses as to why the documents with classified markings remained at Mar-a-Lago: saying that he declassified the secret documents, suggesting that the FBI planted evidence during the search and suggesting that, as a former president, he may have had a right to keep classified documents. Experts in national security laws have overwhelmingly dismissed such claimssaying they range from implausible to absurd.
Officials at the National Archives began seeking the return of documents last year, after he came to believe that some Trump administration presidential records, such as letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had not been found and were perhaps in Trump’s possession.
After months of back and forth, Trump agreed in January deliver 15 boxes of material. When archivists examined the material, they found 184 documents marked classified, including 25 marked top secret, which were scattered throughout the boxes in no particular order, according to court documents.
That discovery suggested to authorities that Trump had not turned over all the classified documents in his possession. In May, a grand jury subpoena demanded the return of classified documents under a wide variety of markings, including a category used for nuclear weapons secrets.
In response to that subpoena, Trump advisers met with government officials and prosecutors at Mar-a-Lago in early June and handed them a sealed envelope containing 38 other classified documents, including 17 marked top secret, according to court documents. . According to government documents, Trump representatives stated at the meeting that a diligent search had been carried out for all classified documents in the club.
That meeting, which included a visit to the storage room where Trump advisers said boxes of relevant documents were keptit did not satisfy investigators, who were not allowed to inspect the boxes they saw in the storage room, according to government court documents.
Five days later, senior Justice Department official Jay Bratt wrote to Trump’s lawyers reminding them that Mar-a-Lago “does not include a licensed secure location for the storage of classified information.” Bratt wrote that it appears the classified documents “have not been handled properly or stored in a proper location.”
“Accordingly, we request that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents were stored be secured and that all boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be kept in said room in its current state until further notice.”
Agents continued to gather evidence that Trump was apparently not complying with government requests and subpoena demands. After considerable deliberation, Aware that it would be highly unusual for federal agents to search the home of a former president, they decided to seek a judge’s approval to do so.
That Aug. 8 search turned up, in a matter of hours, 103 documents marked classified, including 18 marked top secret, according to court documents. The cache included at least one document that described a foreign country’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities.