Trump lawyer Alex Cannon declined to say in February that all the documents had been returned

Former President Donald Trump told one of his lawyers that Trump had returned all materials requested by the agency to the National Archives and Records Administration in early 2022, but the lawyer refused because he did not know if that statement was true, according to people familiar with the matter. matter.

After that, thousands more government documents – Including some highly classified secrets – Stayed at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and private club. Those documents were later discovered through a May grand jury subpoena and an Aug. 8 FBI search of Florida properties. A criminal investigation into possible mishandling Hiding, damaging, or destroying classified materials and government records.

Trump’s attorney, Alex Cannon, facilitated the transfer of 15 boxes of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago to the National Archives in January, after archivists fought for more than a year to “All original presidential records“Then, they have to do it legally. After months of stonewalling by Trump’s representatives, archivists threatened to involve the Justice Department or Congress.

Trump himself eventually packed the boxes that were sent back in January, people familiar with the matter said. The former president seemed determined to announce in February that all materials requested by the archives had been turned over, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations, as did others interviewed for this article.

Inside the bustling Mar-a-Lago is a storage room where secrets are kept

At the same time The Washington Post reports that the archives have been recovered The documents from Mar-a-Lago, the people said, show Trump asked his team to release a statement he ordered. The report said Trump returned “everything” requested by the archives. Trump asked Cannon to send a similar message to archivists, the people said. Also, the former president told his aides that the documents in the boxes were “newspaper clippings” and did not belong in the archives, two of whom said, complaining that the agency charged with monitoring government records was lax in preserving the materials. From his Florida club.

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But Cannon, a former Trump Organization lawyer who worked for the campaign and for Trump after the presidency, told Trump that the archives could not say that all the requested material had been returned. He told others He did not know if the other documents were still with the club and it would be embarrassing to make such a request, people familiar with the matter said. Other Trump advisers also discouraged Cannon from making such a definitive statement, people familiar with the matter said.

The Feb. 7 statement ordered by Trump was never released because of concerns from some in his team that it was inaccurate, people familiar with the matter said. A different report released three days later said Trump had “friendly” delivered the boxes of documents to the archives. It does not claim that all items have been delivered.

“The papers are presented in an easy-going and non-contradictory and very friendly manner, which is different from the accounts drawn by the fake news media,” the February 10 report said. It arrived the same day The Washington Post reported Assorted items were found in 15 boxes.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to specific questions for this article, instead releasing a statement that the Justice Department said “There is no greater ally than the Bezos-funded Washington Post, which serves only as a partisan mouthpiece for leaks and liars buried deep in the bowels of the U.S. government. President Trump is committed to protecting the Constitution and the office of the President, and ensuring the integrity of America for generations to come. (Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos of The Washington Post owner.)

Cannon did not respond to a detailed email seeking comment on Trump and his ties to the archives.

Trump and the Mar-a-Lago Papers: A Chronology

After the 15 boxes were returned, the question of whether Trump — or anyone else — knew there were additional government materials at Mar-a-Lago has become a central issue in the Justice Department investigation.

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Attempts by Trump’s representatives to falsely claim that he has no presidential records in his possession could be evidence that he willfully and knowingly withheld documents. If Trump continues to pressure aides to make false statements even after learning that the Justice Department is involved in retrieving documents, officials may see those efforts as an attempt to obstruct their investigation.

While Trump sought to convey that he had fully complied with the archive’s request, Cannon appeared to have conveyed a different message to officials at the agency.

On Feb. 8, archivist attorney Gary Stern told colleagues at the agency, according to people familiar with the matter. Cannon said he spoke with Cannon and said he did not know if Trump still had the relevant documents. Stern was asking the Trump team to certify that all relevant documents had been returned, and he personally feared they hadn’t, these people.

A few months ago, in late 2021, when the archives requested the return of certain presidential documents, Cannon told Stern He probably has more documents than Trump sent to the agency, but he doesn’t know one way or the other. Cannon also told Stern that he didn’t know where all the documents were, or what the documents were, according to people familiar with the conversations.

According to an account given to Stern’s colleagues, Stern asked Trump lawyer Pat Philbin if there were more documents, the people said. Philbin declined through a spokeswoman to comment for this article.

Cannon’s refusal to declare all retractions strained his relationship with Trump, people familiar with the matter said. Cannon, who has worked in the Trump Organization since 2015, was quickly cut out of discussions about the documents, some said, because Trump relied more on objectionable advisers.

Trump’s legal team is divided over how to handle the Mar-a-Lago investigation

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A separate issue of concern to Cannon and others is whether any material in the recalled boxes will be classified, people familiar with the matter said. One said Cannon did not have security clearance and did not inspect the boxes himself. He had told the other assistants not to re-examine the boxes, saying that doing so would cause them trouble.

A total of 184 classified documents were found in the returned boxes, officials said.

Trump’s team then returned 38 additional classified documents to the Justice Department in June in response to a May 11 grand jury subpoena, which sought documents at Mar-a-Lago with still classified identities.

In August, believing Mar-a-Lago contained more classified material, the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained a warrant to search the property and seized more than 27 additional boxes. Agents recovered 11 sets of classified material in their search — about 100 documents in total. Some of them contained the most closely held secrets of the US government, people familiar with the matter said Information about a foreign country’s nuclear capability.

In response to the May subpoena, other Trump aides agreed to confirm that all requested documents had been returned. Evan Corcoran, Cannon’s replacement, has told the Justice Department he will hand over all relevant materials, people familiar with the matter said. Christina Popp, another Trump lawyer, signed a document saying she was advised Trump’s team had provided all relevant documents after an intensive search.

The National Archives preserves all presidential records under the Presidential Records Act, which states that “any record created or obtained as part of the President’s constitutional, statutory, or ceremonial duties shall be the property of the United States government and administered by NARA at the end of the administration.”

Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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