On August 8, There Were at Least 73 Items Where the FBI Had Seen 50-55 Boxes on June 3

There’s a propensity when reporting on an FBI investigation to believe that things being reported by the press as new news that the FBI doesn’t know about. We don’t know what the FBI doesn’t know, and so if it’s new to us, there’s a propensity to believe it’s new to people who have the advantage of subpoena power.

But I’d like to point to details that have long been public that suggest the FBI knew boxes had been moved out of Trump’s storage room in advance of Jay Bratt’s glimpse at it on June 3.

On May 6, 2021, NARA General Counsel Gary Stern told Pat Philbin that he understood Trump had taken 24 boxes of documents to Mar-a-Lago.

It is also our understanding that roughly two dozen boxes of original Presidential records were kept in the Residence of the White House over the course of President Trump’s last year in office and have not been transferred to NARA, despite a determination by Pat Cipollone in the final days of the Administration that they need to be. I had also raised this concern with Scott during the final weeks.

Side note: This email was before a bunch of boxes, potentially other boxes, were moved from a Virginia storage facility to Mar-a-Lago.

In any case, when Trump returned 15 boxes of documents in January 2022, NARA (and so the FBI) would have known there were at least 9 boxes missing.

On June 3, 2022, Jay Bratt and three FBI agents went to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve — they were told — the balance of the documents Trump stole. They were handed not 9 boxes, but a folder.

They were also shown the storage room where Trump had been storing some of his stolen documents. Here’s part of how the FBI described the room in the August 5 affidavit to search Trump’s beach resort:

The agents and DOJ COUNSEL were permitted to see the STORAGE ROOM and observed that approximately fifty to fifty-five boxes remained in the STORAGE ROOM. [five lines redacted] Other items were also present in the STORAGE ROOM, including a coat rack with suit jackets, as well as interior decor items such as wall art and frames.

In the same affidavit, the FBI said Trump’s residential suite, Pine Hall — which must have been discussed in the prior seven mostly-redacted paragraphs — was one of the places Trump may have stored the still-missing classified records.

When the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8, they used A-labels for all the items of investigative interest found in what has since been confirmed as the storage closet (see this post for pictures of how this looks in practice, from the search of Josh Schulte’s apartment in 2017). The series goes up through at least 73.

While it’s possible the FBI found Trump’s coat rack to be of investigative interest, it’s far more likely that the labeled items were all boxes, because the FBI wasn’t authorized to seize coat racks.

So on June 3, four witnesses, several highly-trained, estimated or counted 50 to 55 boxes in the storage room.

On August 8, there were at least 73 items of investigative interest — probably boxes — in the storage room.

43 replies
  1. Nick Barnes says:

    A few nitpicks.

    First, “roughly two dozen” is not exactly 24. It could easily be anything from perhaps 18 to perhaps 30. There is no “missing 9 boxes”. I was sorting through my attic storage space last night. If you had asked me yesterday how many boxes are in it, I might have said “a couple of dozen”. I can tell you now that the exact number is 16. And that’s for boxes in a storage space in my own house which I frequently access.

    Secondly, NARA would have no reason to suppose that the 15 boxes produced by Trump in January were *the same boxes* that were taken from the White House. I don’t think we have any documentary evidence that this was even ever suggested to them. Rather, it was represented to them that the boxes produced *contained all the Government documents* that were taken from the White House (of course, they didn’t, but the *number of boxes* is no evidence either way on that point). We have been told that Trump personally prepared the 15 boxes (I’m sceptical of this because he never does a damn thing himself if he can avoid it, but on the other hand the fact that the 15 boxes contained a lot of classified documents does suggest that they were prepared by an idiot, so maybe he did do it), which is a processing step which might well have changed the identity or number of the *boxes* themselves. Part of my own storage sorting last night involved combining things from several boxes into one larger container.

    Thirdly, the May subpoena was for documents bearing classification markings, not for all PRA documents. Of course they produced a folder. Even if they had produced all the responsive documents later found during the August search, it still wouldn’t have been 9 boxes, or even one box.

      • Nick Barnes says:

        Is that in response to my third point?
        Certainly they can, but it seems unlikely that a large fraction of the volume of papers seized in August were classified. There were 103 classified documents seized, and more than 11,000 government documents in total. Of course it’s possible that (say) one of the classified documents was 20,000 pages long, but we have no reason to suppose that was the case.
        38 documents were turned over in June in a Redweld folder, in response to the subpoena. 103 more were seized in the search. If Corcoran had produced all 141 of these documents (the 38 plus the 103), it would probably not have filled 9 boxes. More likely it would have been two or three Redwelds. This is in response to this in the OP:

        They were handed not 9 boxes, but a folder.

      • Hormiguita says:

        Going out on a limb a bit here, but I suspect that most of the documents are short, a few pages at most. All POTUSes are busy people and usually don’t have the time to read through a lengthy tome like a National Intelligence Estimate. Plus, Trump isn’t much given to reading and documents written for his attention would have that taken into account.

        • Rayne says:

          If you believe some intelligence briefings were abbreviated for TRUMP you may have a point but all POTUSes? Hell no. I’m betting after 9/11 the NIEs were read far more closely by POTUSes — with the exception of Donald Trump who needs everything reduced to pictures, bullet points, and what’s in it for him.

          I mean, you do remember the infamous August 6, 2001 NIE briefing for Bush, don’t you?

    • -PeterS- says:

      Your third nitpick doesn’t seem to be relevant to Marcy’s post, which is about the number of boxes/items.

      • Nick Barnes says:

        From the OP:

        On June 3, 2022, Jay Bratt and three FBI agents went to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve — they were told — the balance of the documents Trump stole. They were handed not 9 boxes, but a folder.

        They weren’t told it was the balance of the documents Trump stole (i.e. all Goverment documents, the topic of the earlier parts of the OP, relatable to the number of boxes moved from the White House, the number of boxes returned in January, etc). Rather, they were told it was the balance of documents responsive to the subpoena, i.e. of classified documents. So of course they weren’t handed 9 boxes, nor would they have been even if Corcoran had produced all the responsive documents. That was my third point.

        • -PeterS- says:

          You are being obtuse if you think Marcy said 9 boxes should have been returned. And IMO your comments are unduly combative.

        • Nick Barnes says:

          I don’t mean to be combative, merely to express my disagreement and the reasons for it. And I’m not the one calling names.

        • -PeterS- says:

          Ew’s posts deserve a different tone than mere comments here (you certainly don’t need to give me respect). Again, just my opinion. I’ll say no more.

    • Krisy Gosney says:

      There’s a massive difference in scale you’re ignoring. I have a bunch of ‘banker’s boxes’ stored in an outbuilding on my property. I put them there fairly recently. I’d say there are 30 or so boxes out there. But I’m not a former President of the United States. I wasn’t informed by the Presidential Archives and my aides and lawyers well in advance how to take care of the things in the boxes. And I also wasn’t reminded by the top lawyer of United States just before I stored my boxes in my personal outbuilding where my boxes legally should go. My boxes contain stuff important to my private life; they do not contain things marked Classified and things that could get people killed and things owned by the Presidential Archives. So if I think there are 30 boxes out there but really there are 26- who gives a sh-t but me?

      In contrast there are a lot of people who’s actual job it is to give a huge sh-t about the boxes Trump stole. How would the people with this job know how many boxes are floating around out there and haven’t been consolidated, etc? Eyewitnesses, flight logs and security cameras are ways just off the top of my head.

      We don’t know everything the people who’s job it is to take ownership of these boxes know. We don’t know everyone they’ve been talking to. We don’t know everything they’ve seen. But it’s their job to know. It’s nobody’s job to know how many boxes I have out in my shed.

  2. jeco says:

    Is there anything to prevent Bratt and other FBI from wearing cams while inspecting MALto obtain a more accurate estimate of contents in MAL? Similar to PD wearing body cams, just stealthy.

    FBI is building a case to reinspect MAL and other trump locs based on recent testimony from MAL worker who got direct instructions about packing up gov owned items. (Would re-packing be required for moves within MAL?)

    • Silly but True says:

      The FBI is adverse to what has come to be called the “CSI effect” — the creeping evolution in expectations and even expected standards of others beyond the minimum actions one need take to the point that there becomes a belief that such minimum actions are invalid. It exploded in wake of popularized television shows where people came to expect the show’s fiction should be how real life was supposed to work.

      In this case, the FBI also resists video interviews/interrogations of subjects to investigations as matter of policy and principle.

      There may then become competing pressures where a special agent wearing video for sole purpose of video documenting the state of things has chance encounters that also might be on video with subjects to investigation who might become witnesses or targets. And then that growing body of video might one day delegitimize the instances where the FBI did not video subjects. Adoption of use of video in some areas of investigations might put to risk their policy of non-use of video that they fanatically defend in other areas?

    • SonofaWW2Marine says:

      There are probably two reasons.

      First, it was, & very likely still is, DOJ policy to avoid any act that would make a prosecutor a unique fact witness. That’s why Ass’t US Att’ys don’t accompany search warrant teams, though many DAs’ offices have ADAs attend searches. That’s also why agents do accompany AUSAs to witness proffers, etc. There needs to be a lay witness so the AUSA isn’t disqualified from being an advocate at trial. So Jay Bratt & any other prosecutors wouldn’t be wearing a wire or camera.

      Second, DOJ appears to have been doing its utmost to be scrupulously above-board in this investigation. That’s the best way to protect any future prosecution from attacks on the integrity of the Dep’t & its personnel. So if they were going to video anything during a visit, it would have been overt.

      • SonofaWW2Marine says:

        I’m embarrassed to say that I failed to add one other big reason that DOJ would not use covert microphones or cameras on Jay Bratt’s team: That gets too close for comfort to a warrantless bug. So you won’t do that if you’re DOJ and trying to stay above suspicion.

    • Legonaut says:

      Moving boxes out of the Storage Room before the Bratt visit means one of two things:
      1) There exists an inventory of the boxes, prepared by whoever packed them, with a sufficient level of detail to identify the most “preciousss” ones. Whoever ordered the move could therefore refer to them by label. Repacking would invalidate the inventory and would therefore be avoided.
      2) No inventory exists, and someone who knew which box was which (and which boxes were “precioussss”) picked them for the move. That someone would either have packed the boxes originally (and wouldn’t need to repack them) or would have to inspect them (where a repack would invalidate the the original packer’s knowledge and would be avoided).
      Given the trust issues and/or personal involvement required by 2) above, 1) seems the more likely choice. (Video footage of Trump himself spending time in the Storage Room, or the absence thereof, would be telling.) An inventory, even if only at a “jog-the-memory” level of detail, would at least give a solid box count.

  3. OldTulsaDude says:

    Why has MSM not found an appropriate name for this scandal?
    The Great Coatrack Caper

    All seem appropriate.

    • Nick Barnes says:

      “Watergate”, of course, was once just the name of an office/apartment/hotel complex. I think this current matter is a big enough deal to deserve its own sui generis adjective: “the Mar-a-Lago case”, “more Mar-a-Lago documents”, “another Mar-a-Lago hearing”, “the Mar-a-Lago trials”, “the Mar-a-Lago sentencing”, etc. Maybe in the future it will give rise to a suffix, like “-gate”, and we will get “car-a-Lago” for a scandal about the auto industry, “par-a-Lago” for a crisis in golf, “bar-a-Lago” for a drunken debacle, etc.

      • vvv says:

        Mar-a-won’t-letgo …

        (Do I need to expand my handle?)

        [Sorry but yes, you’ll need to select a new unique username with a minimum 8 letters. Take your time, we know who you are after more than 1200 comments and roughly 4 years. Thanks. /~Rayne]

      • Klaatu Something says:

        why would Trump leak evidence that he committed a crime? Sometimes I cannot follow your thinking (because you usually know more than me)

        • Oldguy says:

          I would guess that if this is a Trump orchestrated leak, the purpose would be to cast the investigation and Trump’s exposure as a NARA document dispute that was obstructed (employee ordered to move boxes) rather than espionage act violation of stealing national defense documents. He has been relentless over the years trying to cast substantive malfeasance as a principled fight against a bureaucracy intent on blocking his executive prerogatives.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The usual reasons are chaos and to get out in front of the public disclosure of something bad that Trump has known about, or feared, for some time. It’s also bait, hoping the DoJ will defend itself in a way that reveals something useful to Trump. Garland’s DoJ is unlikely to bite.

          This story fits the usual Trump mythology. He is a victim, made vulnerable only because he was “betrayed” by a disloyal member of his entourage.

          It posits that there can only be two sides, one of which is a dark, renegade enemy. The other is “honorable” and abjectly loyal to Trump. It’s a variation on the themes one might find in a classic imagineer’s full-length cartoon.

        • obsessed says:

          I was listening with suspicion to Carol Leonnig explaining the article – with the intent of seeing through the Trump>access journalist strategy – but she said something interesting: she implied that the lawyers, Bobb as instructed by Corcoran, who attested to finding nothing after a “thorough search” might have been telling the truth; that Trump was playing 3 card monty with the records – having the mystery employee move them out of the storage room – then having Corcoran thoroughly search – then moving them back. But apparently all this on videotape and the employee lying at first, then coming clean upon realizing he or she was caught on candid camera. Am I missing something here? Otherwise, it might actually be a pretty interesting story – not in the sense that it reveals anything not already known to DOJ, but in the furthering of what the public knows?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          If Leonnig had more than supposition, it would be in the WaPo. Trump does like to play with lawyers, because he’s always the smartest guy in any room he walks into. But Corcoran knew Trump and/or the facts well enough not to sign the certificate he/they gave to Bobb.

        • viget says:

          Totally agree EoH.

          I’m sure he’s front-facing something. Could be that this is an insurance policy against DOJ indicting for obstruction.

          Thinking that is certainly possible since SCOTUS just denied intervening on the 11C stay. Technically, DOJ now has sole possession of the classified docs, and could now use them as evidence in a GJ proceeding.

      • viget says:

        The fact the bylines are Devlin Barrett in WaPo and Maggie Haberman in NYT is really all you need to know.

        I assume this is front-facing something? Not sure what that something is, doubt DOJ is ready to pull the trigger on an obstruction indictment. Any thoughts, EW?

    • Christenson says:

      At least SCOTUS isn’t yet TOTAL calvinball…..even if I do share Rayne’s and Bmaz’s doubts.

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