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FBI Found Empty Folders That Had Contained Classified Documents at Trump’s Home


WASHINGTON — The F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida club and residence last month turned up 48 empty folders marked as containing classified information, a newly disclosed court filing shows, raising the query of whether the federal government had fully recovered the documents or any remain missing.

The filing, an in depth list of things retrieved within the search, was unsealed on Friday as a part of the court fight over whether to appoint an independent arbiter to review the materials taken by federal agents once they descended on Mr. Trump’s estate, Mar-a-Lago, on Aug. 8.

Together with the empty folders with classified markings, the F.B.I. discovered 40 more empty folders that said they contained sensitive documents the user should “return to staff secretary/military aide,” based on the inventory. It also said that agents found seven documents marked as “top secret” in Mr. Trump’s office and 11 more in a storage room.

The list and an accompanying court filing from the Justice Department didn’t say whether all of the contents of the folders had been recovered. However the filing noted that the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s handling of the documents remained “an lively criminal investigation.”

The inventory also sheds further light on how documents marked as classified were stored haphazardly, mixed with on a regular basis items.

Among the many items present in one box: 30 news clippings dated from 2008 to 2019, three articles of clothing or “gift items,” one book, 11 government documents marked as confidential, 21 marked as secret and 255 government documents or photographs with no classification markings.

The list suggests the files Mr. Trump took to his Florida home were stored in a slapdash manner and appeared to underline concerns that he had not followed rules for safeguarding national security secrets.

It also offered the clearest indication yet that guarantees by Mr. Trump’s team that each one sensitive records had been returned were unfaithful.

The inventory listed seven batches of materials taken by the F.B.I. from Mr. Trump’s personal office at Mar-a-Lago that contained government-owned documents and pictures, some marked with classification levels as much as “top secret” and a few that weren’t marked as classified. The list also included batches of presidency records that had been in 26 boxes or containers in a storage room on the compound.

In all, the list said, the F.B.I. retrieved 18 documents marked as top secret, 54 marked as secret, 31 marked as confidential, and 11,179 government documents or photographs without classification markings.

A federal judge in Florida, Aileen M. Cannon, ordered the inventory list to be released during a hearing on Thursday to find out whether to appoint an outdoor expert often known as a special master to review the federal government records for any that may very well be privileged. Judge Cannon said that she would issue a written decision on the matter “sooner or later.”

Mr. Trump appeared to acknowledge on social media this week that he knew that much of this material was at his estate, complaining a couple of photograph that the Justice Department released on Tuesday night cataloging a number of the evidence that had been recovered.

The photograph showed several folders with “top secret” markings and a few files with classification markings visible. All the fabric was arrayed on a carpet near a placard labeled “2A,” presumably to document what was in a box of that number before the F.B.I. removed it from Mar-a-Lago.

A shorter inventory, released earlier, said Box 2A contained materials present in Mr. Trump’s personal office. In a social media post, the previous president declared that the folders had been kept in “cartons” slightly than “sloppily” left on the ground, suggesting that he had been aware of the presence of the materials.

In May, after prolonged negotiations between the National Archives and Mr. Trump’s lawyers did not end in the return of any documents from Mar-a-Lago, the Justice Department issued a grand jury subpoena for all materials marked as classified that remained there. In early June, two lawyers for Mr. Trump turned over a number of the records while telling investigators that no others remained.

Within the filing on Friday, prosecutors noted that the Justice Department’s review of the materials seized in August was only “a single investigative step” in an “lively criminal investigation.”

“The investigative team will proceed to make use of and evaluate the seized materials because it takes further investigative steps, similar to through additional witness interviews and grand jury practice,” the filing said.

The federal government released a less detailed inventory of the seized items three weeks ago, at the identical time it unsealed the warrant used to look Mar-a-Lago. And in a court filing this week, the Justice Department revealed that the F.B.I. had found 13 boxes or containers with documents marked as classified, amounting to “over 100 unique documents with classification markings” on the estate.

Shortly after the detailed inventory was unsealed, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, Taylor Budowich, denounced the federal government on Twitter.

“The brand new ‘detailed’ inventory list only further proves that this unprecedented and unnecessary raid of President Trump’s home was not some surgical, confined search and retrieval that the Biden administration claims, it was a SMASH AND GRAB,” he wrote.

The expanded inventory didn’t disclose the particular kinds of classification markings that were on the documents or give any hints about whether or not they contained information that would reveal confidential human sources or foreign intelligence surveillance abilities.

In contrast, a redacted version of the affidavit for the search warrant application listed specific classification markings that had been found on documents in 15 boxes of presidency files that the National Archives faraway from Mar-a-Lago in January.

The invention of files within the trove marked as classified led the archives to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, prompting what initially began as an investigation into how classified documents were taken to Mar-a-Lago.

That inquiry expanded after the Justice Department retrieved additional documents marked as classified from Mar-a-Lago on June 3 in response to a subpoena. At the moment, two lawyers for Mr. Trump told investigators that was all that remained.

The F.B.I., which obtained surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago and interviewed multiple witnesses, acquired what it said was evidence that additional classified documents were on the property and that the federal government’s efforts to retrieve them had been obstructed.

In obtaining a search warrant, the bureau described the opportunity of three crimes as the premise of its investigation: the unauthorized retention of national security secrets, obstruction and concealing or destroying government documents. None require a document to have been deemed classified, despite Mr. Trump’s repeated and unproven claims that he had declassified the whole lot he took from the Oval Office.

On the hearing on Thursday, the Justice Department said it had performed its own review and put aside greater than 500 pages of records that may very well be protected by attorney-client privilege.

But lawyers for the department fiercely contested Mr. Trump’s request for a review of the materials based on executive privilege, which protects confidential executive branch communications from disclosure.

The lawyers argued that executive privilege couldn’t be utilized by a former president to maintain a part of the chief branch, just like the department, from reviewing government files as a part of its official responsibilities.

Judge Cannon was not entirely persuaded by that argument and left open the likelihood that she would grant Mr. Trump a special master to conduct a wide-ranging review, encompassing each attorney-client and executive privilege.

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