NewsUSAExclusive: How a box of classified documents ended up in Donald Trump's office months after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago

Exclusive: How a box of classified documents ended up in Donald Trump’s office months after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago

(CNN) — The US Department of Justice wants to know how a box containing a handful of classified documents scattered among copies of presidential agendas turned up in Mar-a-Lago late last year, long after several rounds of searches of the property by of federal FBI agents and aides to former President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

Investigators working for special counsel Jack Smith have in recent weeks interviewed a Trump aide who copied classified materials found in the box using his phone to put them on a laptop. After a voluntary interview with the assistant, prosecutors cited the laptop’s password, which she provided, according to one of the sources.

The classified documents contained in the box were discovered in December, after the Justice Department told Trump’s legal team to conduct another document search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

People familiar with Trump’s legal team’s efforts to locate the documents describe a confusing chain of events that delayed the discovery of the box, including its contents being uploaded to the cloud, emailed to a Trump employee, and moved to an offsite location before eventually ending up back in a Mar-a-Lago bridal suite that is now Trump’s office, the same location the FBI had searched just weeks before.

An aerial view of the Mar-a-Lago home of former US President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 15, 2022. (Credit: Marco Bello/Reuters)

Trump’s legal team has acknowledged in recent weeks that they delivered the box and a laptop with its scanned contents to the special counsel. But prosecutors have continued to question why he did not turn himself in to the Justice Department sooner, and what role or knowledge Trump may have had in his movements, if any, the sources said.

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The box odyssey has been a recent focus of Smith’s investigation into the mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, according to people familiar with federal prosecutors’ line of questioning. The messy handling of documents that ended up online, on computers and moved to multiple locations could further complicate Trump’s case in an investigation with criminal implications.

A person describing the movements of the box and the special counsel’s investigation into it described federal investigators as suspects of a “game of trile o musket with classified documents.” The person said Trump’s daily movements and instructions to staff from him are a central part of prosecutors’ questions as well.

Tim Parlatore, a lawyer for Trump, said in an interview with CNN earlier this month that the aide had not seen the classified marks.

“After we did the search in December and found inside this box of thousands there were a couple of pages that had a little mark on the bottom, which we turned in, after that, we found out that she had scanned the box to be digitized,” said Parlatore. “She had no idea there were classification marks on anything. And as soon as we found out, we called the Department of Justice to let them know and we immediately gave them access to her.”

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

From “tennis shack” to bridal suite

In the fall of 2021, a former Trump employee at the White House and Mar-a-Lago initially sent the box to a lower-level Trump adviser, who has been employed by the former president since he left office. The clerk wanted copies of the presidential agendas in the box to scan.

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The deputy took the box to the Mar-a-Lago “tennis shack” where he worked. There was no scanning machine there, so he converted the documents into scanned files using an Adobe app on his phone and uploaded them to a laptop owned by Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

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As he worked through the thousands of pages over several days, he didn’t realize there were classified documents among the presidential records, the people said.

In November 2021, after the box’s contents were scanned, the box was moved to a downtown Palm Beach office funded by the General Services Administration, the people said.

The box remained there even after Trump’s team turned over 15 boxes containing classified and other federal records to the National Archives in January 2022. The Justice Department then subpoenaed for the return of all classified records in Trump’s possession. in May 2022, and his lawyers turned over some additional documents to Justice Department investigators who visited Mar-a-Lago and toured the space in an attempt to claim more documents in June.

The FBI then searched Mar-a-Lago in August, while Trump was at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, and recovered more than a hundred records marked classified in certain rooms at the club, including a bridal suite converted into a Trump’s office and other places where boxes were kept.

But this particular box was in the Palm Beach office during that search. When Trump returned to Mar-a-Lago last fall, along with his aide, the box was recovered from the Palm Beach office and taken to the bridal suite at Mar-a-Lago, where the aide was now working alongside Trump. in a new role, people familiar with the matter said.

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Tracking the journey of the box

In November, at the urging of the Justice Department, Trump’s legal team hired two people to search four other classified documents: Bedminster, Trump Tower in New York, a storage unit in Florida and the Palm Beach office where the box had been for almost a year.

During those searches, two other classified documents were found in the storage unit, which they turned over to prosecutors.

Trump’s team hoped their November searches — and written assertions that they had searched Trump’s properties and turned over all classified documents — would dispel prosecutors’ doubts.

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Trump’s lawyers argued that the FBI had already searched Mar-a-Lago in August. But the Justice Department demanded that Trump’s lawyers also make another search of the property themselves while threatening to hold Trump in contempt.

During the December search at Mar-a-Lago, the box containing the handful of classified documents interspersed with Trump’s presidential agendas was finally discovered, according to people familiar with the search efforts.

“When the team found the box, it was initially believed that the FBI had simply overlooked it during the search warrant. But upon further investigation, the legal team discovered that an assistant had moved it as part of her job function.” said one of the sources.

At the time, the box had been moved to a closet in the suite where Trump campaign memorabilia was stored, the people said. Trump’s lawyers then turned the box over to the Justice Department.

In recent weeks, prosecutors have obtained grand jury testimony from the two people hired to search Trump’s properties last fall and have been seeking answers from their attorneys.

With information from Kaitlan Collins and Kristen Holmes.


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