Lawyers for Donald Trump found at least two items marked classified after an outside team hired by Trump searched a storage unit in West Palm Beach, Fla., used by the former president, according to people familiar with the matter.
The search was one of at least three searches for classified materials conducted by an outside team at Trump properties in recent weeks, after Trump’s legal team was pressed by a federal judge to attest that it had fully complied with a May grand jury subpoena to turn over all materials bearing classified markings, according to people familiar with the matter.
There has been a lengthy and fierce battle between Trump’s attorneys and the Justice Department in a Washington federal court in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Much of the legal wrangling remains under seal by a federal judge, but people familiar with the matter say the Justice Department has raised concerns about what prosecutors view as a long-standing failure to fully comply with the May subpoena by Trump’s team.
Emails released by the General Services Administration, which assists former presidents during their transition to private life, show that the government agency helped rent the storage unit at a private facility in West Palm Beach on July 21, 2021. The unit was needed to store items that had been held at an office in Northern Virginia used by Trump staffers in the months just after he left office.
The emails show that the GSA and Trump staffers worked together to arrange to ship several pallets of boxes and other items weighing more than 3,000 pounds from Northern Virginia to the Florida storage unit in September 2021.
A person familiar with the matter said the storage unit had a mix of boxes, gifts, suits and clothes, among other things. “It was suits and swords and wrestling belts and all sorts of things,” this person said. “To my knowledge, he has never even been to that storage unit. I don’t think anyone in Trump World could tell you what’s in that storage unit.”
There was no cataloguing of what was put in the storage unit, Trump advisers said — just as there was no cataloguing of what classified documents were taken to a room underneath Mar-a-Lago.
The Washington Post could not immediately determine specifically what was in the items marked classified. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ultimate significance of the classified material in the storage unit is not immediately clear, but its presence there indicates Mar-a-Lago was not the only place where Trump kept classified material. It also provides further evidence that Trump and his team did not fully comply with a May grand jury subpoena that sought all documents marked classified still in possession of the post-presidential office.
In addition to the storage unit, the team hired an outside company to carry out the search of Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., and, more recently, Trump Tower in New York, according to people familiar with the matter. The outside team also searched at least one other property.
The team offered the FBI the opportunity to observe the search but the offer was declined, the people said. It would be unusual for federal agents to monitor a search of someone’s property conducted by anyone other than another law enforcement agency.
Trump’s lawyers have told the Justice Department that the outside team did not turn up any new classified information during their search of Bedminster and Trump Tower, according to people familiar with the process, and have said they utilized a firm that had expertise in searching for documents.
“President Trump and his counsel continue to be cooperative and transparent,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said, accusing the Justice Department of committing an “unprecedented” and “unwarranted attack” against Trump and his family.
Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell told Trump’s legal team to continue to search for documents after the Justice Department expressed concerns that the team had not fully complied with a subpoena earlier this year. Howell, according to people familiar with the matter, did not give specific orders on how a search should be done.
Howell’s instructions followed a breakdown in the government’s trust in Trump’s attorneys that led prosecutors in August to seek a court-authorized FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Since that time, prosecutors have continued to question whether Trump has returned all materials with classification markings, although what steps the government might take to retrieve such materials or procedures it might require Trump’s advisers and lawyers to implement remain unclear.
Trump’s team has sought to avert another federal high-profile search of his properties, the people familiar with the matter said.
According to the people, at least one of Trump’s lawyers has previously advocated for a less combative approach toward the Justice Department investigation of Trump and his advisers for three potential crimes: mishandling of national security secrets, obstruction and destruction of government records.
That attorney, former Florida solicitor general Christopher Kise, had proposed such a search months earlier. Many of the other lawyers on Trump’s team have rebuffed Kise’s advice, and he has taken a reduced role in the classified documents case while taking a larger role in the New York investigations into the former president, the people said.
Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, communicated to Trump’s lawyers after the FBI search that the department was concerned Trump still may not have returned all the classified documents in his possession. The Post has previously reported that officials at the National Archives also believe that there may still be more records missing. Previous attempts by Trump’s attorneys to identify and return documents proved unsatisfactory to investigators.
At times in the past, Trump has misled his own lawyers as to what was in the boxes that were taken from Mar-a-Lago, The Post has reported.
For example, he told some on his team that he possessed only newspaper clippings and personal items in 2021. One of his former lawyers, Alex Cannon, declined Trump’s entreaty to tell the National Archives he had returned all items, because Cannon was not sure whether it was true, and his team in February did not release a statement dictated by Trump that claimed he had returned all materials, The Post has reported.
Trump lawyers Christina Bobb and Evan Corcoran met with investigators in June, handing over a taped-up folder of 38 documents collected from the former president’s residence in response to a May subpoena, according to court documents and people familiar with the matter. Prosecutors called the response “incomplete” in court documents and said that they collected evidence of “obstructive conduct” regarding the failure to fully comply with the subpoena.
Bobb signed a certification swearing that she had been told that “a diligent search” was conducted of boxes of records shipped from the White House to Florida when Trump left office and that the file handed over to investigators contained “all documents that are responsive to the subpoena.” Corcoran told the visiting investigators he had been advised that all available boxes placed in a storage room — and nowhere else — had been searched in response to the subpoena, The Post reported.
Soon after, investigators obtained video surveillance of the club and conducted more interviews with Trump staffers, leading them to seek a search warrant from a judge on the basis of new evidence that sensitive material still remained at Mar-a-Lago, The Post has reported. When agents executed the search warrant in August, they found additional documents with classified markings in the storage room and in Trump’s office, along with thousands of other government papers and items, according to court records.
Perry Stein contributed to this report.