Former U.S. President Donald Trump left Washington with more than 700 pages of classified documents, including some containing the government's top secrets, when his presidency ended last year, the National Archives disclosed Tuesday.
The disclosure came in a letter dated May 10 from the acting U.S. archivist, Debra Steidel Wall, to one of Trump's lawyers, Evan Corcoran, as she rejected claims from Trump's representatives that the former president should be allowed to keep some of the documents by claiming executive privilege from his time in the White House.
Wall described the growing alarm in the Justice Department's National Security Division about the "potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported" to Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate rather than being turned over the National Archives when his presidency ended, as required by U.S. law.
Her letter said there were "over 100 documents with classification markings" in the 15 boxes of materials the government retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January, the first of three times this year that the FBI and U.S. archivists have collected boxes of classified materials from Trump's wintertime residence and private club on the Atlantic coastline.
Trump and his aides handed over more documents in June, and then FBI agents, acting with a court-approved search warrant, retrieved another two dozen boxes, including 11 boxes of classified files on August 8, as they searched his office, a basement storage area and other rooms at the estate.
Some of the documents retrieved have been classified as "TS/SCI," which stands for "Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information," or labeled as "Special Access Programs," which contain some of the government's most closely held secrets and are supposed to be viewed only in secure government facilities, not a residence like Mar-a-Lago. Aside from being Trump's home several months a year, it is a high-end dinner club and hotel for dues-paying members.
Trump has claimed that he declassified the materials before his term ended on Jan. 20, 2021, and Joe Biden became the U.S. president, but neither Trump nor his aides have produced any documented evidence of such a declassification.
John Solomon, one of Trump's allies in the news media and one of the former president's liaisons to the archives, first disclosed the Wall letter Monday night and the archives then released it on Tuesday.
The new disclosure came as Trump's lawyers on Monday asked a federal court to temporarily block the FBI from reviewing documents recovered from his Florida estate until a special master can be appointed to separate out any materials covered by executive privilege and return them to him.
Federal investigators are probing whether Trump illegally kept the records at Mar-a-Lago, contending in a search warrant it used for the August 8 search that he might have violated three U.S. laws, including the U.S. Espionage Act.
The New York Times reported Monday that overall, the government has recovered more than 300 classified documents from Trump's estate, including CIA, National Security Agency and FBI materials, although the content of the material has not been disclosed.
Trump has criticized the proceedings, and his legal filing called the August 8 FBI search a "shockingly aggressive move."
Attorney General Merrick Garland said he had authorized the search, and a federal magistrate approved it after the FBI asserted in an affidavit that it believed a crime could have been committed.
Trump's allies have asserted that he had a "standing order" to declassify material taken out of the Oval Office at the White House, but no paperwork has been produced confirming he did so.
Following the August 8 search, some of the biggest U.S. news organizations asked federal magistrate Bruce Reinhart in Florida to make public the FBI affidavit detailing the probable cause for conducting the search. The Justice Department opposes release of the document for fear it would jeopardize its investigation and divulge the names of cooperating witnesses.
The magistrate judge said he was considering releasing a redacted version of the affidavit but acknowledged Monday that if key portions of it were blacked out, as requested by government prosecutors, its release would be virtually meaningless. He has ordered prosecutors to present their proposed redactions by Thursday.