The initial batch of documents retrieved by the National Archives from former President Donald J. Trump in January included greater than 150 marked as classified, a number that ignited intense concern on the Justice Department and helped trigger the criminal investigation that led F.B.I. agents to swoop into Mar-a-Lago this month in search of to recuperate more, multiple people briefed on the matter said.
In total, the federal government has recovered greater than 300 documents with classified markings from Mr. Trump since he left office, the people said: that first batch of documents returned in January, one other set provided by Mr. Trump’s aides to the Justice Department in June and the fabric seized by the F.B.I. within the search this month.
The previously unreported volume of the sensitive material present in the previous president’s possession in January helps explain why the Justice Department moved so urgently to search out any further classified materials he may need.
And the extent to which such numerous highly sensitive documents remained at Mar-a-Lago for months, at the same time as the department sought the return of all material that ought to have been left in government custody when Mr. Trump left office, suggested to officials that the previous president or his aides had been cavalier in handling it, not fully forthcoming with investigators, or each.
The particular nature of the sensitive material that Mr. Trump took from the White House stays unclear. However the 15 boxes Mr. Trump turned over to the archives in January, nearly a yr after he left office, included documents from the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and the F.B.I. spanning quite a lot of topics of national security interest, an individual briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Trump went through the boxes himself in late 2021, in response to multiple people briefed on his efforts, before turning them over.
The highly sensitive nature of a number of the material within the boxes prompted archives officials to refer the matter to the Justice Department, which inside months had convened a grand jury investigation.
Aides to Mr. Trump turned over a number of dozen additional sensitive documents during a visit to Mar-a-Lago by Justice Department officials in early June. On the conclusion of the search this month, officials left with 26 boxes, including 11 sets of fabric marked as classified, comprising scores of additional documents. One set had the very best level of classification, top secret/sensitive compartmented information.
The Justice Department investigation is continuous, suggesting that officials are usually not certain whether or not they have recovered all of the presidential records that Mr. Trump took with him from the White House.
Even after the extraordinary decision by the F.B.I. to execute a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, investigators have sought additional surveillance footage from the club, people conversant in the matter said.
More Coverage of the F.B.I. Search of Trump’s Home
It was the second such demand for the club’s security tapes, said the people conversant in the matter, and underscored that authorities are still scrutinizing how the classified documents were handled by Mr. Trump and his staff before the search.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.
Mr. Trump’s allies insist that the president had a “standing order” to declassify material that left the Oval Office for the White House residence, and have claimed that the General Services Administration, not Mr. Trump’s staff, packed the boxes with the documents.
No documentation has come to light confirming that Mr. Trump declassified the fabric, and the potential crimes cited by the Justice Department in in search of the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago wouldn’t hinge on the classification status of the documents.
National Archives officials spent much of 2021 attempting to get back material from Mr. Trump, after learning that roughly two dozen boxes of presidential records material had been lingering within the White House residence for several months. Under the Presidential Records Act, all official material stays government property and needs to be provided to the archives at the top of a president’s term.
Among the many items they knew were missing were Mr. Trump’s original letters from the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and the note that President Barack Obama had left Mr. Trump before he left office.
Two former White House officials, who had been designated as amongst Mr. Trump’s representatives with the archives, received calls and tried to facilitate the documents’ return.
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Mr. Trump resisted those calls, describing the boxes of documents as “mine,” in response to three advisers conversant in his comments.
Soon after starting their investigation early this yr, Justice Department officials got here to imagine there have been additional classified documents that they needed to gather. In May, after conducting a series of witness interviews, the department issued a subpoena for the return of remaining classified material, in response to people conversant in the episode.
On June 3, Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterespionage section of the national security division of the Justice Department, went to Mar-a-Lago to satisfy with two of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb, and retrieve any remaining classified material to satisfy the subpoena. Mr. Corcoran went through the boxes himself to discover classified material beforehand, in response to two people conversant in his efforts.
Mr. Corcoran showed Mr. Bratt the basement storage room where, he said, the remaining material had been kept.
Mr. Trump briefly got here to see the investigators throughout the visit.
Mr. Bratt and the agents who joined him got a sheaf of classified material, in response to two people conversant in the meeting. Mr. Corcoran then drafted a press release, which Ms. Bobb, who is claimed to be the custodian of the documents, signed. It asserted that, to one of the best of her knowledge, all classified material that was there had been returned, in response to two people conversant in the statement.
Mr. Corcoran didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment. Ms. Bobb didn’t reply to an email in search of comment.
Soon after that visit, investigators, who were interviewing several people in Mr. Trump’s circle concerning the documents, got here to imagine that there have been other presidential records that had not been turned over, in response to the people conversant in the matter.
On June 22, the Justice Department subpoenaed the Trump Organization for Mar-a-Lago’s security footage, which included a well-trafficked hallway outside the storage area, the people said.
The club had surveillance footage going back 60 days for some areas of the property, stretching back to late April of this yr.
While much of the footage showed hours of club employees walking through the busy corridor, a few of it raised concerns for investigators, in response to people conversant in the matter. It revealed people moving boxes out and in, and in some cases, appearing to alter the containers some documents were held in. The footage also showed other parts of the property.
In in search of a second round of security footage, the Justice Department need to review tapes for the weeks leading as much as the Aug. 8 search.
Federal officials have indicated that their initial goal has been to secure any classified documents Mr. Trump was holding at Mar-a-Lago, a pay-for-membership club where there may be little control over who is available in as guests. It stays to be seen whether anyone will face criminal charges stemming from the investigation.
The mixture of witness interviews and the initial security footage led Justice Department officials to start drafting a request for a search warrant, the people conversant in the matter said.
The F.B.I. agents who conducted the search found the extra documents within the storage area within the basement of Mar-a-Lago, in addition to in a container in a closet in Mr. Trump’s office, the people said.
Mr. Trump’s allies have attacked the law enforcement agencies, accusing the investigators of being partisan.
The extreme public interest has now spurred a legal fight to see the search warrant’s underlying affidavit. On Monday, a federal magistrate issued a proper order directing the Justice Department to send him under seal proposed redactions to the affidavit underlying the warrant used to go looking Mar-a-Lago by Thursday, accompanied by a memo explaining its justifications.
Within the order, the judge, Bruce E. Reinhart, said he was inclined to release portions of the sealed affidavit but desired to wait until he saw the federal government’s redactions before making a choice.
Glenn Thrush and Alan Feuer contributed reporting.