Still, Mr. Trump returned no boxes.
By the autumn, Mr. Stern was growing increasingly frustrated and by then was coping with Alex Cannon, a lawyer who had worked for the Trump Organization, the 2020 campaign after which Mr. Trump’s political motion committee. Mr. Cannon had also been involved in responding to requests for documents from the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
In a conversation in late October or early November of last yr, Mr. Stern told Mr. Cannon that he had tried other avenues for retrieving the documents and failed. He acknowledged that the Presidential Records Act didn’t contain an enforcement mechanism but suggested that the archives had options, including the flexibility to ask the attorney general to help in retrieving the documents, in line with people briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Cannon told Mr. Stern that the documents could be returned by the tip of the yr, the people said.
Around that point, Mr. Cannon, who told others he fearful the boxes might contain documents that were being sought within the Jan. 6 inquiry, called Mr. Trump, who insisted that the boxes contained nothing of consequence.
Nonetheless, Mr. Cannon told associates that the boxes needed to be shipped back as they were, so the skilled archivists could possibly be those to sift through the fabric and put aside what they believed belonged to Mr. Trump. What’s more, Mr. Cannon believed there was the likelihood that the boxes could contain classified material, in line with two people briefed on the discussions, and not one of the staff members in Mr. Trump’s presidential office at Mar-a-Lago had proper security clearances .
It was around that very same time that Mr. Trump floated the concept of offering the deal to return the boxes in exchange for documents he believed would expose the Russia investigation as a “hoax” cooked up by the F.B.I. Mr. Trump didn’t appear to know specifically what he thought the archives had — only that there have been items he wanted.
Mr. Trump’s aides — recognizing that such a swap could be a non-starter because the government had a transparent right to the fabric Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and the Russia-related documents held by the archives remained marked as classified — never acted on the concept.