Jay Bratt, chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the Department of Justice, spoke to Trump’s attorneys over recent weeks to tell them that they believe Trump is still holding classified documents. Trump’s attorneys reportedly split on a response, with one group suggesting that an outside party be brought in to conduct a new search and another group just insisting on a blank refusal to talk. Refusal seems to be the winner.
In January, Trump personally packed a set of 15 boxes of material to be picked up by a contractor for the National Archives. Trump then tried to get one of his attorneys to sign a statement that this was all the material Trump had, even though he was well aware this was a lie. That attorney refused. Trump stopped using that attorney.
However, partially released correspondence between the National Archives and Trump’s legal team shows that Trump had taken well-known documents and refused to return them in spite of months of negotiation. Some of these items are reportedly still missing in action, even after the search of Trump’s club.
In that search, it was also clear that the storage room that Trump and his attorneys claimed held all the documents removed from the White House was far from the whole story. Officials found both classified documents and presidential records belonging to the National Archives in Trump’s personal office as well as the storage facility. That included classified documents that were found in Trump’s desk.
The question of what classified materials Trump held was made more difficult because as reported by ABC News, Trump returned a large number of documents to the Justice Department in such a state of disarray that the Department of Justice still hasn’t been able to piece them all back together. It can’t even tell if everything Trump sent was actually classified, which makes it very difficult to determine what classified materials Trump may still be holding.
Looking at the non-classified material, what Trump took away from the White House were clearly items of high value; items it would be easy to imagine Trump either showing off to visitors or selling to a deep-pocketed collector. If this search for the most valuable items also extends to the classified material—and what’s been released about this material certainly suggests that this is true—then the Department of Justice is very right to be concerned about any such documents still in Trump’s hands.
If the search at Mar-a-Lago didn’t turn up everything, that raises the question of where else Trump is hiding stolen documents. Trump doesn’t seem to have traveled to any of his overseas properties since leaving office, but he has certainly visited several locations in the U.S., including his former home in New York City and his property in New Jersey. Trump has no fewer than a dozen golf resorts in the U.S., and then there are the hotels, residence towers, and office buildings. When it comes to places to store a box or two (or more) of highly classified information, Trump has plenty of choices.
What we can see from the information available to the public is that:
- Trump removed a large amount of material, which included some of the most obviously valuable on both the non-classified (Obama’s letter) and classified (nuclear secrets of a foreign power) sides.
- During his last days in office, Trump sent the Justice Department a mess of documents that obscured what other materials may have been taken.
- The National Archives was immediately aware of Trump having taken presidential records and sought their return, but Trump resisted for a year before returning anything.
- Trump personally packed up the boxes that were returned to the National Archives, failed to return documents that were known to be missing, and attempted to get an attorney to claim he had no more materials while he had dozens of boxes filled with material.
- At every step—in the White House, in leaving the White House, in negotiating with the National Archives, and in dealing with the Mar-a-Lago search—Trump has mishandled classified documents and lied about his possession of such documents.
- The Department of Justice is concerned about both other documents Trump may still be holding, and to whom Trump has been showing this information.
In selecting what things he would take from the White House, Trump seems to have zeroed in on high-value items. Items he could use to garner influence or outright sell. There are more than 70 empty classified folders just in the material that has been found so far. Each one of those empty folders could represent a deposit into Donald Trump’s bank account. They might also represent a legitimate threat to the strategic balance of the world.