WASHINGTON — In the final weeks of the Trump administration, the West Wing began to empty. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro was spotted carrying a photo of the US and Chinese presidents facing off. He saw the foreman’s wife stuffing a stuffed bird in her car.
He was keen to overcome the November 2020 election defeat. How he conspired to spend his last days meeting with lawyers To settle scores with Republicans Former aides said he had negotiated a pardon with the man who voted to impeach him and his advisers after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
At 12:50 a.m. on January 20, 2021, his last day in office, he released a list of 143 pardons and transfers requiring the transfer of presidential records to the National Archives.
The result was a hasty and chaotic exit from the White House, which is now Mr. Trump is at the center of a federal investigation into his handling of classified documents and other presidential materials after he left office.
“If you start packing with only two days left, you’re running out of time,” said one former aide. “If he’s the one throwing stuff in boxes, who knows what might happen?”
Another former aide said there was uncertainty in the West in the final weeks as the presidential race continued. “It’s a weird time,” the aide said. “It was like, are we doing this? Are we not doing this?”
Last Monday, the FBI agents were removed 11 sets of classified documentsincluding those marked Top Secret and available only at special government facilities—Mr. From Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort After a federal magistrate judge in Florida approved a search warrant. It could not be determined when the records were stored at the resort, during or after his presidency.
Not much is known yet about why the records ended up at Mar-a-Lago and what the motivations of those who placed them there were. Mr. Since Trump left office, officials have noted that his team has had at least two specific government requests to provide material to the National Archives.
In January this year, 15 boxes were recovered following a request by the National Archives. In the spring, the Justice Department submitted additional records. Some of the documents were turned over in a June meeting between Trump lawyers and Justice Department officials, but investigators concluded more documents remained, prompting the search.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers and representatives have said they were in talks with the government when the FBI arrived and that they complied with the Justice Department’s requests.
Records seized by FBI agents include a December 2020 clemency grant to Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation inventory of documents. In 2019, he was convicted in federal court of making false statements, witness tampering and attempting to obstruct a congressional investigation into Russian election interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Investigators, according to the search warrant issued Friday, are seeking all records that could be evidence of violations of laws governing the collection, transmission or maintenance of classified information; disposal of official government records; And records were destroyed in a federal investigation. Investigators have reached out to aides who knew about Trump’s records-management practices, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Trump’s office said in a statement on Saturday that the former president had declassified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Although the president has the power to declassify documents, there are federal regulations that set out the process for doing so. Mr. Neither Trump nor his lawyers have publicly provided any evidence that he properly declassified the documents.
According to former aides, Mr. Trump’s approach has compounded the problem.
When John Kelly was chief of staff, the handling of classified and sensitive information in the White House terrified him, and he sought to establish new protocols for organizing such documents and who was allowed access to them, Mr. Kelly said in an interview Saturday.
FBI agents attempted to search ‘Office 45’ and all storage rooms and other rooms used by the former president.
“It needs to be tightened,” he said, citing a lack of “deep understanding of the processes and procedures of security clearances and the handling of highly classified materials.”
Mr. During Trump’s four years in office, he has revealed classified and sensitive information in conversations with foreign officials, on Twitter and with journalists.
In 2019, for example, he told journalist Bob Woodward that he had built a nuclear weapons system “the likes of which you’ve never seen or heard of.” That year, Mr. Trump sent a tweet saying the US had not crashed the Iranian space station and attached a satellite image from a highly classified US spy satellite known as USA 224.
“Well, I think it’s no longer classified,” a National Security Council official told The Wall Street Journal at the time. Often, when classified information is shared publicly, it can be considered classified.
Mr. Trump said at the time that he had “absolute right” to release the photo.
The National Archives staff It typically collects boxes of records from across the length of an administration and sends its vans to the White House for items to be tagged and cataloged as they arrive. That didn’t happen during the Trump years, said Gary Stern, a carrier archives official. At a January 2021 panel organized by the American Historical Association.
“We couldn’t really start until January, and we couldn’t finish everything by January 20th,” he said when President Biden took office. He said the transition process in the Trump administration was more difficult than usual because White House officials and the then-president did not expect to lose the election.
In recent days, some Trump allies have blamed the General Services Administration, which helps with the moving process, for sending key documents to Mar-a-Lago. Kash Patel, former chief of staff to the acting defense secretary, said on Fox News on Friday that the GSA “mistakenly packed some boxes and moved them to Mar-a-Lago. It’s not with the president.
Christina Wilks, GSA press secretary, said in a statement that the agency does not make such decisions. “The responsibility for making decisions about what items are moved rests with the outgoing president and his staff,” he said. “The content of any materials provided, eg documents, are the responsibility of the former president and his deputy staff and should be forwarded to their office.”
Former advisers said Mr. After the election was called for Biden, they started packing. Members of their office were appointed as point persons. Aides placed the president’s records in filing cabinets and documents that did not need to be retained in “burn bags,” whose contents would be burned.
Some former aides said there was considerable latitude in determining where they went.
“It’s not a serious process where they have oversight and they check that you’ve done it,” said one former White House official, who described the process as cumbersome even by the administration’s freewheeling standards. Document sorting, the former official said, is “like an honor system.”
Mr. During Trump’s tenure, aides often received documents collected from the Oval Office and the White House residence, found them torn, and had to decide what to tape back together to preserve them, a former aide said.
It’s not unusual to walk into the Oval Office and see multiple zippered bags, specially made for transporting classified material because they can be locked — sitting on a decidedly desk with the key in the lock, a former aide said. Attendants are advised to keep keys separate when traveling with bags.
The rare hard copy briefing papers given to Mr Trump are intended to prepare him for phone calls with foreign leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron —Mr. Mr. Trump was referred to as “Little Emmanuel” in conversations with his aides — a departure from protocol, including the president’s personal cell phone. He continued to talk to Trump.
Among the items seized by FBI agents in their search of Mar-a-Lago last Monday was information related to the “President of France,” according to a list of items removed from the property.
Officials routinely took classified information with the president to Mar-a-Lago and other properties he visited, which was not unusual, former aides said. President Mr. Trump had access to what is known as the Sensitive Compartment Information Facility, or SCIF, at Mar-a-Lago, but did not always use it to view sensitive material, a former aide said.
Some aides worry about keeping an important document while the president is at his Florida resort because they don’t always know where the document will end up, the aide said.
Among the letters he received from foreign leaders, including the North Korean leader, Mr. Trump was proud
Kim Jong UnMr. Trump used to read the letters out loud to “anyone who walked into the Oval Office,” recalled one of his top advisers.
At least one of those letters was taken to Mar-a-Lago, and one of them 15 boxes of documents The National Archives was retrieved from the resort in January.
—Jess Bravin and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
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