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Trump Lawyer Told Justice Dept. That Classified Material Had Been Returned

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At the least one lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump signed a written statement in June asserting that each one material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and club had been returned to the federal government, 4 individuals with knowledge of the document said.

The written declaration was made after a visit on June 3 to Mar-a-Lago by Jay I. Bratt, the highest counterintelligence official within the Justice Department’s national security division.

The existence of the signed declaration, which has not previously been reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team weren’t fully forthcoming with federal investigators in regards to the material. And it could help explain why a possible violation of a criminal statute related to obstruction was cited by the department as one basis for looking for the search warrant used to perform the daylong search of the previous president’s home on Monday, a rare step that generated political shock waves.

It also helps to further explain the sequence of events that prompted the Justice Department’s decision to conduct the search after months wherein it had tried to resolve the matter through discussions with Mr. Trump and his team.

A listing of the fabric taken from Mr. Trump’s home that was released on Friday showed that F.B.I. agents had seized 11 sets of documents in the course of the search with some form of confidential or secret marking on them, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI” — shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.” Information categorized in that fashion is supposed to be viewed only in a secure government facility.

The search encompassed not only the storage area where boxes of fabric known to the Justice Department were being held but in addition Mr. Trump’s office and residence. The search warrant and inventory unsealed on Friday didn’t specify where within the Mar-a-Lago complex the documents marked as classified were found.

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he had declassified all the fabric in his possession while he was still in office. He didn’t provide any documentation that he had done so.

A spokesman for the previous president, Taylor Budowich, said on Saturday, “Identical to every Democrat-fabricated witch hunt previously, the water of this unprecedented and unnecessary raid is being carried by a media willing to run with suggestive leaks, anonymous sources and no hard facts.”

The search warrant said F.B.I. agents were carrying out the search to search for evidence related to possible violations of the Espionage Act and a statute that bars the illegal taking or destruction of presidency records or documents, in addition to of the obstruction law. Nobody has been charged within the case, and the search warrant by itself doesn’t mean anyone can be.

Last 12 months, officials with the National Archives discovered that Mr. Trump had taken a slew of documents and other government material with him when he left the White House at the top of his tumultuous term in January 2021. That material was presupposed to have been sent to the archives under the terms of the Presidential Records Act.

Mr. Trump returned 15 boxes of fabric in January of this 12 months. When archivists examined the fabric, they found many pages of documents with classified markings and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which began an investigation and convened a grand jury.

Within the spring, the Justice Department issued a subpoena to Mr. Trump looking for further documents believed to be in his possession. He was repeatedly urged by advisers to return what remained, despite what they described as his desire to proceed to carry onto some documents.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, Mr. Bratt and other officials visited Mar-a-Lago in early June, briefly meeting Mr. Trump. Two of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb, spoke with Mr. Bratt and a handful of investigators he traveled with, people briefed on the meeting said.

What we consider before using anonymous sources.
How do the sources know the knowledge? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable prior to now? Can we corroborate the knowledge? 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.

Mr. Corcoran and Ms. Bobb showed Mr. Bratt and his team boxes holding material Mr. Trump had taken from the White House that were being kept in a storage area, the people said.

In line with two people briefed on the visit, Mr. Bratt and his team left with additional material marked classified, and around that point also obtained the written declaration from a Trump lawyer attesting that each one the fabric marked classified within the boxes had been turned over.

A short while after the meeting, based on people briefed on it, Mr. Bratt sent Mr. Corcoran an email telling him to get a safer padlock for the room. Mr. Trump’s team complied.

The Justice Department also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, including views from outside the storage room. In line with an individual briefed on the matter, the footage prompted concern amongst investigators in regards to the handling of the fabric. It isn’t clear what time period that footage was from.

Over recent months, investigators were involved with roughly a half-dozen of Mr. Trump’s current aides who had knowledge of how the documents were handled, two people briefed on the approaches said. At the least one witness provided the investigators with information that led them to wish to further press Mr. Trump for material, based on an individual conversant in the inquiry.

Concern about Mr. Trump’s cavalier handling of classified information dates back to the early days of his administration. When Mr. Trump left office, President Biden quickly took the extraordinary step of barring him from receiving the intelligence briefings traditionally provided to former presidents, saying that Mr. Trump couldn’t be trusted due to his “erratic behavior.”

The safety of classified information at Mar-a-Lago was also a priority for presidency officials even while Mr. Trump was in office. During his presidency, the federal government built what’s often known as a SCIF — a sensitive compartmented information facility — for Mr. Trump’s use while he was on the club.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made a public statement saying he had personally authorized a search warrant being executed on Mr. Trump’s property, and he indicated that the Justice Department would only have made such a move after trying less invasive measures.

Shortly before Mr. Garland made the announcement, an individual near Mr. Trump reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message from the previous president to the attorney general. Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Garland to know he had been checking in with people across the country and located them to be enraged by the search.

“The country is on fire,” Mr. Trump said, based on an individual conversant in the exchange. “What can I do to scale back the warmth?”

The next day, as a judge unsealed the warrant and the inventory of things that the F.B.I. took, Mr. Trump alternately claimed he did nothing incorrect and likewise made the baseless statement that officials can have planted evidence on him.

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

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