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Lawyer Declined Trump Request to Tell Archives All Material Was Returned

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Shortly after turning over 15 boxes of presidency material to the National Archives in January, former President Donald J. Trump directed a lawyer working for him to inform the archives that he had returned all of the documents he had taken from the White House at the tip of his presidency, in accordance with two people acquainted with the discussion.

The lawyer, Alex Cannon, had develop into some extent of contact for officials with the National Archives, who had tried for months to get Mr. Trump to return presidential records that he did not turn over upon leaving office. Mr. Cannon declined to convey Mr. Trump’s message to the archives because he was undecided if it was true, the people said.

In reality, Mr. Trump can be found still to have large quantities of presidency records in his possession even after turning over the 15 boxes. They included one set turned over to the Justice Department by Mr. Trump’s aides in June and one other large cache — including some marked with the best levels of classification — seized by the F.B.I. within the search in August of the previous president’s residence and personal club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.

When archives officials opened the initial 15 boxes they recovered in January, they found a big volume of documents with classified markings and notified the Justice Department, setting in motion events that led to a criminal investigation and the search of Mar-a-Lago.

The criminal investigation is ongoing and has been tied up in legal wrangling between the Justice Department and Mr. Trump’s team.

The conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cannon took place after officials on the archives began asking Mr. Cannon, following the return of the 15 boxes, whether additional classified material was at Mar-a-Lago. It was when Mr. Cannon raised this with Mr. Trump that Mr. Trump told him to inform the archives he had given every thing back, the people acquainted with the discussion said.

On the time, the varied investigations related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Mr. Trump’s supporters were ramping up, with quite a few requests for documents, the people acquainted with the discussion said. Mr. Cannon told people who he was concerned that if Mr. Trump was found to be withholding material related to Jan. 6, he can be in a worse situation, in accordance with people acquainted with the discussions.

Mr. Cannon didn’t reply to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t reply to a request for comment.

The archives had struggled from even before Mr. Trump left the White House to get cooperation and accurate answers from Mr. Trump and his team about his handling of presidency material under the Presidential Records Act.

The National Archives has told the Justice Department that one other lawyer representing Mr. Trump indicated to the archives last September that boxes Mr. Trump had taken from the White House included only nonclassified material like newspaper clippings, in accordance with an individual briefed on the matter.

Patrick F. Philbin, a former top White House lawyer who was representing Mr. Trump’s post-presidency office, relayed that message to the highest lawyer on the archives, Gary Stern, in accordance with two people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Philbin indicated to Mr. Stern that the knowledge was based on what Mr. Trump’s final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, believed to be the contents within the boxes, the people said. Mr. Stern preserved his own description of the exchange in an email, one in all the people said.

The conversation between Mr. Cannon and Mr. Trump raises recent questions on Mr. Trump’s try to interfere with the efforts by the archives to regain all of the documents. And the conversation appears to suit a pattern: In June, after turning over a small batch of classified documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago following the return of the 15 boxes, one other one in all Mr. Trump’s lawyers attested in writing to the Justice Department that Mr. Trump had returned all the presidential records the federal government was searching for.

That claim proved misleading. In August, when the F.B.I. executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, it found 1000’s of pages of presidential records, including lots of that contained classified information.

The Justice Department and Mr. Trump are engaged in a court battle about what documents the authorities can view and use of their investigation into how the classified documents were handled, whether he and his lawyers intentionally misled the Justice Department and whether he violated the Presidential Records Act.

In response to one other person acquainted with the discussions, Mr. Cannon had warned Mr. Trump in the autumn of 2021 that officials on the archives were serious about getting their material back, and that the matter could lead to a criminal referral. Mr. Trump deflected Mr. Cannon’s efforts, in accordance with the person acquainted with the discussions.

Mr. Cannon was also concerned about individuals who worked for Mr. Trump going through the boxes of fabric because he didn’t know what was in them and was concerned that they could contain classified material.

Mr. Cannon was not the one one who warned Mr. Trump that he could face legal perils if he didn’t return the fabric. The Recent York Times previously reported that in late 2021, Eric Herschmann, a lawyer who had worked within the White House, met with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago about quite a few issues and told him that he could face legal consequences if he didn’t give the boxes back.

But Mr. Trump continued to seek the advice of with informal advisers who told him what he desired to hear — that the fabric might be considered personal records — akin to the conservative activist Tom Fitton, who isn’t a lawyer but who leads the group Judicial Watch.

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