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Documents at Mar-a-Lago Were Moved and Hidden as U.S. Sought Them, Filing Suggests

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sought a search warrant for former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida after obtaining evidence that highly classified documents were likely concealed and that Mr. Trump’s representatives had falsely claimed all sensitive material had been returned, in response to a court filing by the department on Tuesday.

The filing got here in response to Mr. Trump’s request for an independent review of materials seized from his home, Mar-a-Lago. Nevertheless it went far beyond that, painting the clearest picture yet of the department’s efforts to retrieve the documents before taking the extraordinary step of searching a former president’s private property on Aug. 8.

Among the many recent disclosures within the 36-page filing were that the search yielded three classified documents in desks inside Mr. Trump’s office, with greater than 100 documents in 13 boxes or containers with classification markings within the residence, including some at essentially the most restrictive levels.

That was twice the variety of classified documents the previous president’s lawyers turned over voluntarily while swearing an oath that they’d returned all the fabric demanded by the federal government.

The investigation into Mr. Trump’s retention of presidency documents began as a comparatively straightforward try to recuperate materials that officials with the National Archives had spent much of 2021 attempting to retrieve. The filing on Tuesday made clear that prosecutors are actually unmistakably focused on the chance that Mr. Trump and people around him took criminal steps to obstruct their investigation.

Investigators developed evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago after the Justice Department sent Mr. Trump’s office a subpoena for any remaining documents with classified markings. That led prosecutors to conclude that “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the federal government’s investigation,” the federal government filing said.

The filing included one striking visual aid — a photograph of at the very least five yellow folders recovered from Mr. Trump’s resort and residence marked “Top Secret” and one other red one labeled “Secret.”

But department officials will not be expected to file charges imminently, in the event that they ever do. And the precise contents of the materials the federal government recovered within the search remain unclear — as does what risk to national security Mr. Trump’s decision to retain the materials posed.

While the filing provided necessary recent information concerning the timeline of the investigation, much of the data was mentioned, in less detail, within the affidavit used to acquire the warrant, which a federal magistrate judge unsealed last week.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

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Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The discharge on Aug. 26 of a partly redacted affidavit utilized by the Justice Department to justify its search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence included information that gives greater insight into the continued investigation into how he handled documents he took with him from the White House. Listed here are the important thing takeaways:

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The federal government tried to retrieve the documents for greater than a 12 months. The affidavit showed that the National Archives asked Mr. Trump as early as May 2021 for files that needed to be returned. In January, the agency was in a position to collect 15 boxes of documents. The affidavit included a letter from May 2022 showing that Trump’s lawyers knew that he may be in possession of classified materials and that the Justice Department was investigating the matter.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The fabric included highly classified documents. The F.B.I. said it had examined the 15 boxes Mr. Trump had returned to the National Archives in January and that all but considered one of them contained documents that were marked classified. The markings suggested that some documents could compromise human intelligence sources and that others were related to foreign intercepts collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

Prosecutors are concerned about obstruction and witness intimidation. To acquire the search warrant, the Justice Department needed to lay out possible crimes to a judge, and obstruction of justice was amongst them. In a supporting document, the Justice Department said it had “well-founded concerns that steps could also be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts within the affidavit were prematurely disclosed.”

Amongst essentially the most crucial disclosures were those regarding the actions of Mr. Trump’s legal team and whether or not they had misled Justice Department officials and the F.B.I.

The Justice Department effort began in May, after the F.B.I. examined 15 boxes of documents the National Archives had previously retrieved from Mar-a-Lago after months of asking Mr. Trump’s representatives to return missing records. The bureau found 184 classified documents in that initial batch.

On May 11, department lawyers obtained a subpoena to retrieve all materials marked as classified that weren’t turned over by the previous president.

On June 3, his team presented F.B.I. agents with 38 additional documents with classified markings, including 17 labeled top secret.

But considered one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers present during that visit “explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained within the storage room, giving no opportunity for the federal government to verify that no documents with classification markings remained,” the filing said.

Mr. Trump’s team also provided the department’s national security division with a written statement on behalf of his office by considered one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers who was serving because the formal “custodian” of the files. While that person’s name has been redacted in government filings, multiple people have identified her as Christina Bobb.

Ms. Bobb’s statement was attached to the department’s filing on Tuesday. In it, the lawyer wrote that “based upon the data that has been provided to me,” there had been a “diligent” search and all documents attentive to the subpoena were being returned.

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But law enforcement officials soon developed evidence that statement was unfaithful.

The F.B.I. “uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating that the response to the May 11 grand jury subpoena was incomplete and that classified documents remained on the premises, notwithstanding the sworn certification made to the federal government on June 3,” the Justice Department filing said. “Particularly, the federal government developed evidence that a search limited to the storage room wouldn’t have uncovered all of the classified documents on the premises.”

The Justice Department obtained at the very least another subpoena, for security camera footage from inside Mar-a-Lago, and the search warrant affidavit revealed that it had been working with multiple civilian witnesses. The result was the search warrant carried out on Aug. 8.

The filing noted that “the F.B.I., in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings because the ‘diligent search’ that the previous president’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform,” a proven fact that it said “calls into serious query the representations made within the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation on this matter.”

Because the search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump has claimed he had declassified all the documents there, and his request for the appointment of an independent arbiter often known as a special master to review the trove of materials seized by the F.B.I. centered on a claim that among the documents were protected by executive privilege. But prosecutors rejected that argument and said Mr. Trump’s lawyers “never asserted that the previous president had declassified the documents or asserted any claim of executive privilege.”

Tuesday’s filing, which was released minutes before a midnight deadline imposed by a federal judge, accompanied a sealed list of the documents, a lot of them highly classified, that Mr. Trump retained at Mar-a-Lago. That inventory, filed earlier within the day, is prone to be much more detailed than the transient list included within the search warrant unsealed on the request of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

The department, inundated by a torrent of misinformation and vitriol unleashed on federal law enforcement officials by Mr. Trump and his supporters, has been using legal filings, moderately than social media or public comments, to reveal the evidence and legal reasoning behind its actions. On Monday, prosecutors sought permission to increase the length of their response beyond the limit normally set by the federal court, a request that was quickly granted.

Mr. Trump’s legal team, which has at times been slow to answer the federal government’s actions for the reason that search, waited weeks to even file its request for a special master, which was intended to halt the examination of the documents. The delay allowed the federal government to finish its initial assessment of the fabric — potentially rendering the request moot.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department argued that a special master was “unnecessary and would significantly harm necessary governmental interests, including national security interests.”

It also argued that the judge lacked jurisdiction over the matter and that Mr. Trump “lacks standing to hunt judicial relief or oversight as to presidential records because those records don’t belong to him.”

Through the years, Mr. Trump has regularly taken legal steps simply to delay and disrupt efforts by opponents. If the court on this case were to temporarily block investigators’ access to the evidence taken within the search, it could hinder the separate effort to find out the national security risks posed by his possession of the documents, though it will not affect the assessment of the documents that Mr. Trump turned over in January and June.

The Trump appointee hearing the request, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, has signaled that she was inclined to appoint a special master but desired to first hear from the Justice Department.

On Monday, the federal government said it had put aside materials that would potentially be covered by attorney-client privilege, although Mr. Trump’s lawsuit had raised executive privilege, a special issue. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The department’s decision to make use of a court filing as a vehicle to supply a more extensive explanation of the federal government’s actions — and to counter Mr. Trump’s legal claims — evolved over the previous few days, and lawyers wrangled over small details until moments before it was filed, in response to people acquainted with the situation.

Mr. Garland, they said, stays deeply wary of speaking an excessive amount of, cautioned by the instance of James B. Comey, the previous director of the F.B.I. whose high-profile pronouncements during investigations into Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton were considered an egregious violation of departmental policy norms.

But after the Mar-a-Lago search, the department’s senior leaders quickly realized that Mr. Trump would otherwise seize on their silence with distorted claims.

So that they have chosen the normal path, using public filings to make their case — leavening the dense legal passages with explanations aimed toward being more accessible to the general public, officials said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Garland took one other step geared at emphasizing his impartiality and fairness, imposing recent restrictions on partisan activity by political appointees on the Justice Department, a policy change that comes before the midterm elections. The recent rules prohibit employees who’re appointed to serve throughout a presidential administration from attending rallies for candidates or fund-raising events, at the same time as passive observers.

Mr. Trump, for his part, has dismissed concerns concerning the performance of his legal team, and told associates that he’ll ultimately prevail, just as he “won” by avoiding conviction in his two impeachment trials and in avoiding being charged within the investigation into his ties with Russia conducted by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

On Tuesday, hours before the federal government filed its paperwork, Mr. Trump added a member to his legal team to concentrate on the difficulty brewing in Florida, Christopher M. Kise, the state’s former solicitor general and an associate of Gov. Ron DeSantis, in response to two people acquainted with the situation.

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