Timeline: The government’s efforts to get sensitive documents back from Trump

Timeline: The government’s efforts to get sensitive documents back from Trump

Washington — Efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration to retrieve materials taken by former President Donald Trump at the end of his administration have spanned more than a year and a half, resulting in an extraordinary filing by the Justice Department in late August alleging efforts were “likely taken to obstruct” a federal investigation into the missing records. The submission was made by the Justice Department in response to Trump’s request for a federal judge who would appoint a third person to review documents seized in the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago in South Florida. The judge granted Trump’s request on Sept. 5, saying she would name a “special master” to review the material for privileged information. Raymond Dearie, a New York-based veteran federal judge, was appointed to the post on Sept. 15.

In their earlier 36-page filing, federal prosecutors provided the most detailed look yet at the attempts by the Archives and Justice Department to retrieve the materials taken from the White House and brought to Mar-a-Lago, some of which contained classified and national defense information, they said.

The Justice Department is looking into Trump’s alleged mishandling classified documents and possible obstruction of the probe. Prosecutors have stated that. The former president claimed that he and his representatives worked with officials to retrieve the records. He also claims that he declassified the materials. However, the accounts of FBI agents as well as prosecutors do not support these claims.

Legal proceedings continue around the search and investigation. Here are some details about the events that took place during the government’s efforts to recover the documents. These were gleaned from court filings and government records, as well as media reports. A timeline of the ensuing legal battle over the documents can be found here.


Jan. 14: Six days before the presidential transition, movers are photographed wheeling boxes out of the White House complex and placing them on nearby trucks.

Washington, DC Prepares For Potential Unrest Ahead Of Presidential Inauguration
Workers move boxes onto a truck on West Executive Avenue between the West Wing of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 14, 2021.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Jan. 18: CBS Miami reports moving trucks are observed at Mar-a-Lago.

Jan. 19: Trump tells the Archives that he has designated Mark Meadows, Pat Cipollone, Pat Philbin, Scott Gast, Steven Engel and Michael Purpura, who served in his administration either within the White House or Justice Department, as his representatives to handle matters pertaining to records from his presidency.

May 6: The Archives requests that Trump turn over missing records, and continues to ask for the documents until late December.

December: A Trump representative informs the Archives they located 12 boxes of material at Mar-a-Lago and the agency arranges for them to be securely brought back to Washington. Archives officials say they “did not visit or ‘raid’ the Mar-a-Lago property.”


Jan. 18: Fifteen boxes of records, some containing classified material, are retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by Archives representatives.

Jan. 31: The Archives says in a statement that some of Trump’s presidential records it received included “paper records that had been torn up by” the former president.

“As has been reported in the press since 2018, White House records management officials during the Trump Administration recovered and taped together some of the torn-up records,” the agency said. These records were handed over to the National Archives at Trump’s end, along with many other torn-up records that hadn’t been reconstructed by White House. “

The Archives notes that under the Presidential Record Act, all records created by presidents must be handed over to the agency at the end of their administrations.

Feb. 7: The Archives confirms that in mid-January, it arranged for the 15 boxes containing presidential records to be transported from Mar-a-Lago to the agency. It says Trump’s representatives are “continuing to search” for more records that belong to the Archives and notes that under federal law, they should’ve been transferred from the White House at the end of the Trump administration.

Feb. 9: The Archives Office of the Inspector General sends a referral asking the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of records. The referral notes a preliminary review of the 15 boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago indicated they contained newspapers, printed news articles, photos, notes, presidential correspondence and “a lot of classified records. “

“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the referral stated.

Feb. 18: David Ferriero, then-archivist of the United States, sends a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney informing her some of the boxes retrieved by the Archives in mid-January contained items marked as classified national security information, and asked Trump’s representatives to continue searching for any additional presidential records that had not been transferred to the Archives.

Ferriero tells Maloney that because the Archives identified classified information in the boxes, its staff had been in communication with the Justice Department.

April 11: The White House Counsel’s Office formally transmits a request that the Archives provide the FBI access to the 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago for its review.

Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago, the estate of Donald Trump, in Pa
Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago, the estate of former President Donald Trump, in Palm Beach, Florida.

John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

April 12: The Archives says it communicated with Trump’s “authorized representative” about the 15 boxes of seized records and told his attorney Evan Corcoran about the Justice Department’s “urgency” in needing access to them. The agency advised Trump’s counsel that it would provide the FBI with the documents within the week.

Corcoran later requests the Archives delay the disclosure to the FBI to April 29.

April 29: The Justice Department’s National Security Division tells Corcoran that there are “important national security interests in the FBI and others in the intelligence community getting access to these materials. “

More than 100 documents with classification markings totaling more than 700 pages were among the materials in the boxes retrieved by the Archives from Mar-a-Lago, according to the Justice Department, some of which include the “highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program materials. The department states that access to the documents is required “for purposes of our ongoing investigation into criminal activity.” On that day, Trump’s lawyer requested another delay before the FBI records were given to him. He stated that if the extension was denied, his letter is a “protective assertion” of executive privilege. “

May 10: Acting Archivist Deborah Steidel Wall informs Corcoran in a letter that there is “no basis” for the former president to make a “protective assertion of executive privilege,” and she therefore would not honor Trump’s “protective” claim of privilege.

Wall also tells Corcoran that the Archives would provide the FBI access to the records taken from Mar-a-Lago as early as May 12.

May 11: The Justice Department obtains a grand jury subpoena seeking “any and all” documents bearing classification markings that are in Trump’s possession at Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena sets a May 24 deadline for the requested records to be turned over and for Trump’s custodian of records to appear in federal district court in Washington. Jay Bratt wrote to Evan Corcoran expressing gratitude for his “agreement to accept service” on the subpoena. Bratt also stated that Trump’s custodian may comply with the subpoena, by giving the FBI the responsive documents. He also noted that the custodian of records will need to provide a sworn certificate that the documents “represent all relevant records.” “

May 16-18: FBI agents conduct a preliminary review of the 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago and find classified documents in 14 of them. The trove includes: 184 documents bearing classification markings, including 67 marked confidential, 92 marked secret and 25 marked top secret.

May 24: Trump’s lawyer asks for an extension for complying with the subpoena, and the government ultimately pushes back the date to June 7.

May 25: Corcoran tells the Justice Department in a letter that Trump has the absolute authority to declassify documents.

June 2: Corcoran reaches out to the Justice Department and requests FBI agents retrieve the documents that are responsive to the May 11 subpoena from Mar-a-Lago.

June 3: Three FBI agents and Bratt, the Justice Department counterintelligence chief, travel to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the materials in response to the subpoena, and try to find a resolution to the Archives’ dispute with the former president.

Trump’s attorney and custodian of records are present and turn over one large envelope, “double-wrapped in tape,” that contains documents. Federal prosecutors filed a report detailing the encounter and stated that neither Trump nor his attorney claimed executive privilege or declassified the records.

The custodian for Trump’s records post-presidential office signs an acknowledgment attesting that a thorough search was made of boxes that were moved from the White House and Mar-a-Lago in order to locate documents that were subject to the grand jury subpoena. Also, that the certification was provided with “any and all responsive documents.”

Trump’s lawyer claims that all records taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago were stored in one location, a storage area on the premises. There are no records stored in private offices or in other locations on the property. He also claims that all boxes on the property were searched.

FBI agents and Bratt are given access to the storage room, which contains boxes containing “clothing and personal items” of Trump and first lady Melania Trump, according to Trump’s lawsuit. The Justice Department states that government personnel are not allowed to open or look inside boxes in the storage room. This is contrary to Trump’s 09lawsuit. “

The FBI goes on to review the documents contained in the envelope and finds 38 unique documents bearing classification markings, including five documents marked confidential, 16 marked secret and 17 marked top secret.

June 8: Bratt sends a letter to Trump’s team warning that “Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information” and asking the room be secured.

Trump’s attorneys acknowledge receipt of the letter a day later. Trump orders his staff to put a second lock on the storage room’s door, as he states in his lawsuit.

June 19: Trump designates Kash Patel, a former Pentagon official, and John Solomon, a conservative commentator, as his “representatives for access to Presidential records,” in a letter to the Archives.

June 24: Federal investigators issue a subpoena for security-camera footage at Mar-a-Lago, and Trump’s team complies, turning over the footage to the U.S. government. (On Sept. 7, the Justice Department said the grand jury subpoena for Mar-a-Lago’s security cams was issued on June 24, and not June 22, as Trump’s lawsuit had stated.)

Aug. 5: The Justice Department seeks and obtains a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago from a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach. The department claims that the FBI had “uncovered multiple sources” of evidence that classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago before they sought the warrant. This is despite the June 3 sworn certification.

Federal prosecutors say the FBI also “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation. “

The search warrant approved by the judge allows the FBI to search the “45 Office,” which is Trump’s office space at Mar-a-Lago, as well as all storage rooms and other rooms used or available to Trump and his staff where boxes could be stored.

Aug. 8: The Justice Department executes the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago beginning around 10 a.m. At least two of Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb and Lindsey Halligan, are present, and Bobb signs a receipt listing the property seized by the FBI at 6: 19 p.m.

The FBI Executes A Search Warrant At Former President Trump's Mar-A-Lago Estate
A woman talks to Palm Beach police officer in front of former President Donald Trump’s house at Mar-A-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.

Eva Marie Uzcategui / Getty Images

Among the items taken by agents are Trump’s passports, which are later returned. In a later filing, the Justice Department stated that the government had seized the contents a desk drawer containing classified documents and governmental records mixed with other documents, in accordance with the parameters of the search warrant. This included two passports.

” The location of the passports is relevant evidence during an investigation of unauthorized storage and mishandling national defense information. However, the government decided that it would return the passports at its discretion,” federal prosecutors wrote in the filing.

During execution of the warrant, the government seizes 33 boxes, containers or items of evidence from both the storage room and Trump’s office. An investigative team reviewing the materials finds that 13 boxes or containers contain documents with classified markings, including more than 100 unique documents with classification markings. Three documents marked classified are located in desks in Trump’s office, prosecutors said, and 76 more were found in the storage room. A partially redacted photo from the Justice Department filing shows that some documents found in Trump’s office contained colored cover sheets that indicated their classification status. The records range from “CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET information, and certain documents included additional sensitive compartments that signify very limited distribution,” the Justice Department says.

Aug. 11: Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement about the search and reveals he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department also moves to unseal the warrant amid requests from media companies, including CBS News, for the magistrate judge to also unseal the underlying affidavit laying out the reasons for the search.

Special report: Garland announces move for Mar-a-Lago to be unsealed search warrant

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Aug. 12: Trump does not oppose the release of the search warrant, and the federal magistrate judge unseals it.

The Archives also issues a statement refuting claims by Trump about former President Barack Obama’s handling of records. The agency says it “assumed exclusive legal and physical custody of Obama Presidential records when President Barack Obama left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

Aug. 15: The Justice Department returns Trump’s passports to his lawyers. A Trump spokesperson tweets that the FBI used a filter to screen evidence not responsive to the warrant but was seized.

Aug. 18: The federal magistrate judge who approved the search warrant application holds a hearing about requests to make public the underlying affidavit and asks the Justice Department for potential redactions, to be submitted a week later.

Aug. 22: Trump files a lawsuit against the Justice Department asking for the appointment of a special master to review the seized records. The request comes more than two weeks after the initial search.

Aug. 24: The acting archivist sends a letter to staff addressing the investigation, characterizing their agency as “fiercely non-political” and refuting claims of harboring political motivations.

Aug. 25: The Justice Department submits a redacted version of the underlying search warrant affidavit. The magistrate judge approves the submission and orders its release one day later.

Aug. 26: The redacted affidavit is made available to the public.

Trump FBI
Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are photographed Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

Jon Elswick / AP

Separately, in a letter to Congress, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines confirms the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are facilitating a classification review of relevant materials seized. The intelligence office will also review national security risks.

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