More than 100 classified documents, comprising more than 700 pages, were recovered by the Mar-a-Lago Archives in a first batch of 15 boxes which were transported in January, according to the letter published Monday evening.
The documents included documents marked as compartmented sensitive information, meaning they must be viewed in secure government facilities, and a special access program, a classification that severely limits who can access the information, said archives.
The May letter from Debra Steidel, the acting Archivist of the United States, provides important new details about the months-long interaction between government officials and the Trump team earlier this year following the return of the 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago at the National Archives. .
The letter describes deferential treatment given to the former president, with the FBI waiting more than a month to gain access to a damage assessment of what was found in the 15 boxes, which had been kept in an unresponsive location. not meet the requirements for materials classified as highly sensitive.
When the Archives first informed the Department of Justice earlier this year of the large volume of classified information recovered from Mar-a-Lago, justice officials were reluctant to launch a criminal investigation, told AFP. CNN of people informed about it. Senior officials weighed the national security implications of classified information being stored in an unsecured location, knowing that the political backlash that would come from the FBI and federal prosecutors relaunching an investigation that would have legal repercussions for Trump.
The delay in allowing the FBI to review the documents came as the Archives wrestled with Trump’s potential claim of executive privilege, and the letter outlines discussions involving the Justice Department’s office and legal counsel and the House Blanche on what to do about it, even weighing Nixon-era legal precedents, before letting the FBI do its job.
Ultimately, White House Counsel Biden’s office turned to the Archives, allowing the Biden administration to begin what has now become a full criminal investigation that examines possible crimes, including including mismanagement of national defense information and obstruction of justice.
“Not a close question”
Before sending the May 10 letter, the National Archives had previously informed the Trump team on April 12 that it would provide the FBI with access to the documents, according to the account of its letter. The White House had blessed the Archives’ sharing of the documents with the FBI. But, at the request of the Trump team, the Archives delayed that production until April 29.
Trump’s lawyers then – in letters apparently sent on April 29 and May 1 – asked the Archives to further delay production, according to the account presented in the May 10 letter, because the Trump team said it had need more time to review the documents to decide whether to assert a lien on any of the materials.
In the May 10 letter, the Archives told Trump’s attorney that it denied the request for an additional postponement. The Archives told Trump’s attorney that he consulted with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the entire executive branch, and was told he would there was no precedent in the current situation. The Archives had sought advice from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel after President Joe Biden’s attorney told the Archives that Biden relied on the Archives to determine how to handle Trump’s claims of protective privilege.
“The issue in this case is not close,” the Archives said. “The executive branch here seeks access to records belonging to and in the custody of the federal government, not only to determine whether those records have been unlawfully handled, but also, as the National Security Division explained, to ‘ conduct an assessment of potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials have been stored and transported and take necessary corrective action.'”
Trump pursues ‘witch hunt’ claims
The version of events presented in the new letter shows the steps the Archives was prepared to take to address Trump’s privilege concerns. Yet Trump and his allies pointed the finger at it to claim it showed he had been the victim of a “witch hunt,” not least because of the letter’s mention of communications the Archives had with the Biden White House.
“The White House emphatically stated that they were NOT INVOLVED and knew absolutely nothing about the political witch hunt that was going on with me, and that they knew nothing at all about the Mar-a-Lago burglary “, Trump said on Truth Social.
The letter was made public hours after Trump filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking the appointment of a special master to sift through evidence the FBI obtained during the Aug. 9 search of Mar- a-Lago. The success of the new bet remains uncertain. It was filed two weeks after the search, and Trump’s legal team has yet to file the type of emergency motion that would expedite the review of the claim. The lawsuit, while full of fiery political rhetoric, also lacked solid legal arguments as to why the judge should intervene in the case.
This story has been updated with additional details.