“We also understand that approximately two dozen boxes of original presidential records were kept in the White House residence during President Trump’s last year in office and were not transferred to NARA, despite a Pat Cipollone’s decision in the final days of the administration that they need to be,” Gary Stern, the agency’s chief counsel, wrote in an email to Trump’s lawyers in May 2021, according to a copy reviewed by the Washington Post.
Cipollone was the former White House attorney assigned by Trump as one of his representatives in the Archives. A Cipollone spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday.
The previously unreported email – sent about 100 days after the former president left with the subject line “Assistance needed with presidential records” – shows how early Archives officials realized that many of the documents were missing from the Trump White House. It also illustrates the myriad efforts by archive officials to have the documents returned over an 18-month period, culminating in an FBI raid earlier this month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. in Florida.
Stern, the Archives’ chief counsel, did not say in the email how he determined the boxes were in Trump’s possession. He wrote that he also consulted with another Trump attorney during the final days of Trump’s presidency – with no luck. “I had also raised this concern with Scott over the past few weeks,” Stern wrote in the email, referring to Trump’s attorney, Scott Gast, who is also copied from the email.
In the email, Stern again requests that documents from Trump’s residence be returned.
Gast did not respond to a request for comment. A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Archives did not respond to a request for comment.
Stern’s email to three Trump lawyers takes on an almost pleading tone at times. Cipollone is not copied to the email, which is sent to Gast and two longtime Cipollone MPs.
Stern cites at least two high-profile documents the Archives knew at the time were missing — letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a letter from former President Barack Obama early in Trump’s presidency. .
“We know things are very chaotic, as they always are during a term transition,” Stern writes. “…But it is absolutely necessary that we obtain and report on all presidential records.
Stern did not indicate in the email what the Archives believed to be in the White House residence boxes.
Throughout the fall of 2021, Stern continued to urge several Trump advisers to help the Archives recover the tapes, according to people familiar with the conversations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump only decided to return some of the documents after Stern told Trump officials that the Archives should brief Congress soon, and Stern told Trump advisers he did not want to escalate and brief Congress, these people said.
“‘We just want it all back’ was his message,” according to a Trump adviser.
Trump then returned 15 boxes of documents to the Archives in early 2022, and Archives officials urged Trump’s team to continue searching for more material at the beachfront club. But they also referred the matter to the Department of Justice after realizing there were hundreds of pages of classified documents in the boxes returned to the National Archives.
After lengthy interviews with Trump aides, FBI officials raided Mar-a-Lago on August 8 and seized another 11 sets of classified documents after executing a search warrant, adding to the large volume of secret government documents recovered from the former president’s home.
The Post has Previously reported about the former president’s longstanding habit of retreating to his private White House residence with official documents that steadily piled up. In interviews with former White House staffers, they recalled sending boxes of disorganized material to the residence with Trump’s body man, at the request of the then president. .
Trump and his aides claimed there was a permanent declassification order for all documents brought to the residence, but several former senior administration officials said they were unaware of such an order. Trump also lamented to friends that he did not return the documents because they were his personal property and did not belong to the US government.