Trump workers moved Mar-a-Lago boxes a day before FBI came for documents
New details, including alleged ‘dress rehearsal’ for moving sensitive papers, show a focus on Donald Trump’s instructions and intent
By Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Spencer S. Hsu and Perry Stein
Former president Donald Trump announces his 2024 presidential bid at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)
Two of Donald Trump’s employees moved boxes of papers the day before FBI agents and a prosecutor visited the former president’s Florida home to retrieve classified documents in response to a subpoena — timing that investigators have come to view as suspicious and an indication of possible obstruction, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump and his aides also allegedly carried out a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers even before his office received the May 2022 subpoena, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors in addition have gathered evidence indicating that Trump at times kept classified documents in his office in a place where they were visible and sometimes showed them to others, these people said.
Taken together, the new details of the classified-documents investigation suggest a greater breadth and specificity to the instances of possible obstruction found by the FBI and Justice Department than has been previously reported. It also broadens the timeline of possible obstruction episodes that investigators are examining — a period stretching from events at Mar-a-Lago before the subpoena to the periodafter the FBI raid there on Aug. 8.
Classified 101: How sensitive information should be handled
Presidents and vice presidents routinely deal with classified documents, but strict guidelines from a variety of statutes have clear guidelines on the subject. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
That timeline may prove crucial as prosecutors seek to determine Trump’s intent in keeping hundreds of classified documents after he left the White House, a key factor in deciding whether to file charges, possibly for obstruction, mishandling national security secrets or both. The Washington Post has previously reported that the boxes were moved out of the storage area after Trump’s office received a subpoena. But the precise timing of that activity is a significant element in the investigation, the people familiar with the matter said.
Grand jury activity in the case has slowed in recent weeks, and Trump’s attorneys have taken steps — including outlining his potential defense to members of Congress and seeking a meeting with the attorney general —that suggest they believe a charging decision is getting closer. The grand jury working on the investigation apparently has not met since May 5, after months of frenetic activity at the federal courthouse in Washington. That is the panel’s longest hiatus since December, shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the probe and coinciding with the year-end holidays.
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Ongoing investigations involving Donald Trump
Donald Trump is facing historic legal scrutiny for a former president, under investigation by the Justice Department, district attorneys in Manhattan and Fulton County, Ga., and a state attorney general. He denies wrongdoing. Here is a list of the key investigations and where they stand.
Justice Department criminal probe of Jan. 6
The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 riot and whether Trump or his aides may have conspired to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of the election result or committed fraud to block the peaceful transfer of power. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to oversee both this and the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
Mar-a-Lago documents investigation
FBI agents found more than 100 classified documents during a search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information. A grand jury is hearing witness testimony as prosecutors weigh their next steps.
Georgia election results investigation
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) is investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia. A Georgia judge on Feb. 15 released parts of a report produced by a special-purpose grand jury, and authorities who are privy to the report will decide whether to ask a new grand jury to vote on criminal charges.
Manhattan district attorney’s investigation
District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) convened a grand jury to evaluate business-related matters involving Trump, including his alleged role in hush-money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. On March 30, the grand jury voted to indict Trump, making him the first ex-president to be charged with a crime. Here’s what happens next.
Lawsuit over Trump business practices in New York
Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit Sept. 21 against Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of flagrantly manipulating the valuations of their properties to get better terms on loans and insurance policies, and to get tax breaks. The litigation is pending.
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Smith also is investigating Trump’s efforts to block the results of the 2020 election. And the former president — who is again a candidate for the White House — has been indicted in New York on charges of falsifying business records and is under investigation for election-related matters in Fulton County, Ga.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in each case. “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that is concocted to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House,” Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, wrote in a statement. “Just like all the other fake hoaxes thrown at President Trump, this corrupt effort will also fail.”
Cheung accused prosecutors of showing “no regard for common decency or key rules that govern the legal system,” and he claimed that investigators have “harassed anyone and everyone who works [for], has worked [for], or supports Donald Trump.”
“In the course of negotiations over the return of documents, President Trump told the lead DOJ official, ‘anything you need from us, just let us know,’” he continued. “That DOJ rejected this offer of cooperation and conducted a raid on Mar-a-Lago proves that the Biden regime has weaponized the DOJ and FBI.”
A spokesman for Smith declined to comment. Justice Department officials have previously said they conducted the search only after months of efforts to retrieve all classified documents at Mar-a-Lago were unsuccessful.
Of particular importance to investigators in the classified-documents case, according to people familiar with the probe, is evidence showing that boxes of documents were moved into a storage area on June 2, just before senior Justice Department lawyer Jay Bratt arrived at Mar-a-Lago with agents. The June 3 visit by law enforcement officialswas to collect material in response to the May 2022grand jury subpoena demanding the return of all documents with classified markings.
John Irving, a lawyer representing one of the two employees who moved the boxes, said the worker did not know what was in them and was only trying to help Trump valet Walt Nauta, who was using a dolly or hand truck to move a number of boxes.
“He was seen on Mar-a-Lago security video helping Walt Nauta move boxes into a storage area on June 2, 2022. My client saw Mr. Nauta moving the boxes and volunteered to help him,” Irving said. The next day, he added, the employee helped Nauta pack an SUV “when former president Trump left for Bedminster for the summer.”
The lawyer said his client, a longtime Mar-a-Lago employee whom he declined to identify, has cooperated with the government and did not have “any reason to think that helping to move boxes was at all significant.” Other people familiar with the investigation confirmed the employee’s role and said he has been questioned multiple times by authorities.
Irving represents several witnesses in the investigation, and his law firm is being paid by Trump’s Save America PAC, disclosure reports show. A lawyer for Nauta, Stanley Brand, declined to comment.
Culled from Washington `Post.