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Timeline: The Fight to Get Trump to Return Presidential Material

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WASHINGTON — The National Archives and the Justice Department tried and failed repeatedly for greater than a yr and a half to retrieve classified and sensitive documents from former President Donald J. Trump before resorting to a search of his Mar-a-Lago property this month, in accordance with government documents and statements by Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

The documents, including an unsealed, redacted version of an affidavit from the Justice Department requesting a warrant to conduct the search, clarify the lengths to which the federal government went before pursuing a law enforcement motion to get better the fabric.

Here’s a timeline of the events that led to the search.

Late 2020

The Trump White House begins having conversations about transferring presidential records to the National Archives, as required by the Presidential Records Act.

Notes from conversations amongst White House staff members indicate that there are discussions about material that Mr. Trump had been amassing, and the way to get it back and be certain that the documents are properly handled.

Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, tells others he’ll maintain it, in accordance with people aware of the matter, nevertheless it is unclear whether he ever talks to Mr. Trump.

Jan. 18, 2021

Two days before Mr. Trump is to depart office, at the very least two moving trucks are spotted at Mar-a-Lago, his club and residence in Palm Beach, Fla.

Mr. Trump leaves the White House for Mar-a-Lago on Jan. 20. Photographs show boxes of fabric leaving with him, although those boxes are only a portion of what ultimately made it there.

May 6, 2021

Gary M. Stern, the archives’ general counsel, emails Mr. Trump’s representatives — the lawyers Patrick F. Philbin, Michael Purpura and Scott Gast — saying that the federal government had discovered that the unique correspondence with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, was missing, as was a letter that President Barack Obama had left for Mr. Trump on the White House upon leaving office.

Mr. Stern, sounding impatient, says that Pat A. Cipollone, the previous White House counsel, identified roughly two dozen boxes of fabric that had been within the White House residence but was never transferred to the archives. It was not clear whether he meant Mr. Cipollone specifically or his office. Nonetheless, Mr. Stern asks for help getting all the fabric back.

Based on the affidavit, the archives continued to make such requests for months.

May 18, 2021

Mr. Gast sends Mr. Stern a note indicating that Mr. Trump will return correspondence with the North Korean leader and asks the way to proceed. One other archives official recommends that the letters be sent by FedEx, to which Trump aides object. The letters should not returned.

Summer 2021

Mr. Trump shows off the letters from Mr. Kim, waving them at people in his office, where some boxes of fabric from the White House are being stored. Mr. Meadows, contacted by Mr. Philbin in an effort to facilitate the return of materials from Mar-a-Lago, talks to Mr. Trump in regards to the documents on the club during a visit there. The conversation is transient, and it will not be clear how aggressively Mr. Meadows pursues the problem.

Mr. Trump’s representatives to the archives are still engaged with the agency over unrelated records.

Late 2021

Officials on the archives warn Mr. Trump’s representatives that there could possibly be a referral to the Justice Department or an alert to Congress if the previous president continues to refuse to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

Mr. Trump’s advisers are concerned about who can undergo the documents held at Mar-a-Lago, because appropriate clearances are needed to review classified material and it will not be immediately obvious what’s in them. Mr. Trump ultimately goes through the boxes on the club himself, although he appears to not have undergone all of them.

In late December, Mr. Trump’s lawyers inform the archives that they’ve found 12 boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago and that they’re ready for retrieval.

Jan. 18, 2022

Officials from the archives retrieve 15 boxes containing presidential records and other sensitive material, together with various news clippings and other miscellanea. Based on the Justice Department, the documents “appear to contain national defense information,” sometimes called N.D.I., which is protected by the Espionage Act.

The archives informs the Justice Department, which asks President Biden to request that the archives provide the F.B.I. with access to the boxes for examination. Later, when the Justice Department reviews the materials, investigators come to imagine they’ve not recovered all the things that Mr. Trump must return.

Jan. 31, 2022

The archives makes a public statement about Mr. Trump’s record-keeping practices, noting that a number of the records it received at the tip of his administration “included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.”

About every week later, the archives issues one other public statement about retrieving documents from Mar-a-Lago, asserting that Mr. Trump still has presidential records that ought to have been turned over to the archives at the tip of his time in office.

What we consider before using anonymous sources.
How do the sources know the data? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable previously? Can we corroborate the data? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a final resort. The reporter and at the very least one editor know the identity of the source.

Feb. 9, 2022

The archives tells the Justice Department that a preliminary review of the 15 boxes recovered in January indicated that they contained “a whole lot of classified records,” including highly classified records that were “unfoldered, intermixed with other records and otherwise unproperly identified.”

The following day, the House Oversight Committee declares an investigation into the records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.

Spring 2022

A grand jury is seated to look into the missing boxes of documents. The F.B.I. begins interviewing several of Mr. Trump’s personal aides in addition to three former White House lawyers who had been amongst Mr. Trump’s representatives to the archives.

By now, Mr. Trump has dug in his heels, insisting to his advisers that he has returned all the things and is unwilling to debate the matter further.

April 29, 2022

The Justice Department tells Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the archives has found over 100 documents — greater than 700 pages — with classification markings within the 15 boxes, and says the manager branch must assess “the potential damage resulting from the apparent matter by which these materials were stored and transported and take any needed remedial steps.”

Mr. Trump’s team scrambles to search out lawyers with appropriate classification to review the remaining documents still in his possession. Two of his representatives to the archives, Mr. Philbin and John Eisenberg, decline to get entangled. Mr. Trump’s advisers call several other lawyers with the suitable clearances to see if they are going to help review the materials, but they do not want.

A few of Mr. Trump’s advisers have been telling him for months that he must return the documents. But other allies, including Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, have been telling Mr. Trump that he’s entitled to maintain the documents and never must have been pushed to return them. One adviser, Kashyap Patel, a former senior Trump administration official, offers a defense for Mr. Trump’s handling of the fabric, telling the right-wing news site Breitbart that the previous president had declassified it.

May 11, 2022

Mr. Trump receives a grand jury subpoena in search of additional documents bearing classified markings.

The next week, because the F.B.I. reviews the fabric within the 15 boxes recovered from Mar-a-Lago, the agency identifies classified documents in 14 of the 15 boxes. In total, there are 184 unique documents with classification markings; of those, 67 are confidential, 92 are secret and 25 are top secret.

The markings show that some documents pertained to foreign intelligence surveillance and knowledge gathered by human intelligence sources. Some weren’t to be shared with foreign entities, and others were marked “ORCON,” meaning that the agency that originated the document needed to approve any dissemination beyond the federal government entities approved to see it.

Mr. Trump’s handwritten notes are also found on a number of the documents.

May 25, 2022

M. Evan Corcoran, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, sends the Justice Department a letter asking that the department consider just a few “principles,” including the claim that Mr. Trump had absolutely the authority to declassify the documents.

June 3, 2022

Jay I. Bratt, the Justice Department’s chief of counterintelligence, visits Mar-a-Lago accompanied by F.B.I. agents. Mr. Trump greets them within the dining room. Based on Mr. Trump’s lawyers, the previous president says: “Whatever you would like, just tell us.”

Mr. Bratt inspects a storage room. Christina Bobb, one other of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, signs a written statement asserting that to the perfect of the lawyers’ understanding, they’ve turned over the remaining classified material from the White House boxes, satisfying the subpoena, in accordance with several people briefed on the statement.

June 8, 2022

In a letter to Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Mr. Bratt requests that the Mar-a-Lago storage room where the classified materials were kept be secured. He also asks that every one boxes that had been moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago be preserved in that room until further notice.

“As I previously indicated to you, Mar-a-Lago doesn’t include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information,” he writes, adding that since being taken from the White House, the documents “haven’t been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location.”

Mr. Trump’s team interprets that missive to mean they need to put a second lock on the door of the storage room, in accordance with his lawyers.

June 2022

Members of Mr. Trump’s personal and household staff are interviewed by the F.B.I.

June 22, 2022

The Trump Organization receives a subpoena for surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago and provides it. The 60-day period of footage shows people moving boxes from the basement storage area across the time of one in every of the outreaches from the Justice Department.

Aug. 5, 2022

A federal judge approves a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago. The federal government is given 14 days to execute it.

In the appliance for the search warrant, the Justice Department, using the abbreviation for national defense information, states that “there may be probable cause to imagine that additional documents that contain classified N.D.I. or which are presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain on the premises.”

Aug. 8, 2022

The search warrant is executed by the F.B.I. Eleven sets of classified material, comprising scores of pages, are recovered from the basement storage area, a container on the ground of a closet in Mr. Trump’s office and a former dressing room within the bridal suite above the large ballroom.

Mr. Trump publicizes the search and angrily condemns the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, prompting a wave of threats against law enforcement.

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