Some People Have Sex Toys; Trump [Claims He] Has Empty Classified Evening Briefing Folders

I’d like to situate the details about an empty folder marked, “Classified Evening Briefing,” from this Guardian story into what we know about the searches of Mar-a-Lago. It describes that the folder was first observed, in Trump’s residence, and recorded in a report shared with DOJ by the investigators who did the search of Trump’s properties. But Trump didn’t return the folder because it, itself, was not classified information.

The folder was seen in Trump’s residence by a team of investigators he hired to search his properties last year for any remaining documents marked as classified. The team transparently included the observation in an inventory of Mar-a-Lago and Trump properties in Florida, New Jersey and New York.


The folder is understood to have not been initially returned because the lawyers thought “Classified Evening Briefing” did not make it classified, nor is it a formal classification marking.

“Weeks after” DOJ got the report on Trump’s properties in December, DOJ subpoenaed the folder in January.

Donald Trump’s lawyers turned over an empty manilla folder marked “Classified Evening Briefing” after the US justice department issued a subpoena for its surrender once prosecutors became aware that it was located inside the residential area of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The previously unreported subpoena was issued last month, the sources said, as the recently appointed special counsel escalates the inquiry into Trump’s possible unauthorized retention of national security materials and obstruction of justice.


Weeks after the report was sent to the justice department, the sources said, federal prosecutors subpoenaed the folder.

Here’s the story Trump told to DOJ about the empty classified folder:

The backstory the justice department was told about the folder was that Trump would sometimes ask to keep the envelopes, featuring only the “Classified Evening Briefings” in red lettering, as keepsakes after briefings were delivered, one of the sources said.

It’s just some kink that Trump has, his lawyers want DOJ to believe, that he wants to have “Classified Evening Briefing” folders strewn around his personal residence.

It’s not entirely ridiculous. After all, just two days after the search of Mar-a-Lago, reporters found a folder just like that one at a shrine to the Donald in Trump’s Wine and Whiskey Bar in Manhattan.

There are several problems with this story, though.

Let’s review some chronology of Trump’s stolen document scandal. In May, Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran accepted a subpoena for all documents with classified markings at any Trump property. Trump stalled for almost a month, but then the day before Trump was set to leave for Bedminster, Corcoran told the FBI to come to Mar-a-Lago the next day to retrieve documents. On June 3, Jay Bratt showed up with some FBI agents, and Corcoran handed over a folder of documents — certified by Christina Bobb, not himself — and also showed the people from DOJ the storage room where many, but not all, of Trump’s presidential records were stored. Trump’s story does not match DOJ’s story about whether Trump interacted with Jay Bratt when the senior DOJ official was at Mar-a-Lago.

On June 24, DOJ subpoenaed surveillance footage that, subsequent reporting has made clear, showed Walt Nauta moving boxes out of the storage facility, thereby preventing Corcoran from finding the documents inside in the search he did in advance of June 3. Prior to obtaining the video, Nauta had testified that he didn’t move any documents; afterwards, he testified he had moved boxes to Trump’s residence.

Then, on August 5, DOJ obtained a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. The affidavit for the search specifically mentioned Trump’s residence, “Pine Hall.” And the search warrant authorized the search of “the ’45 Office,’ all storage rooms, and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by FPOTUS and his staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored,” which particularly given DOJ’s knowledge that Trump already had hidden stolen documents in his residence, surely would include the residence. In the weeks after the search, Trump claimed publicly that the FBI had searched Melania’s closet, implying that the FBI did search the residence. But the only way Trump would know what the FBI searched or not would be if those rooms were covered by his own surveillance camera.

Let’s assume, however, that the FBI did at least go through the residence closely enough to ensure no documents remained there after Nauta had stashed them there while Corcoran conducted a search.

The FBI seized no documents from the residence on August 8. Documents were seized from just the storage room (those marked with an “A-” preface on the search warrant return) and Trump’s office (those without).

One thing supports Trump’s claim that he took this — and all the other — empty classified folders, as well as 42 empty aide folders, as trophies. There were 43 empty classified folders and 28 empty aide folders in his leatherbound box, which also had the most sensitive documents. Particularly given the appearance of those documents in the photo the FBI released, it is not inconceivable that Trump stole them as trophies of some events he think reflect well on his presidency, just like he stole the Kim Jong Un letters.

Plus, by appearances, Trump stored those super secret documents right next to his Time Magazine covers. All of which supports his claim that he stole these items as trophies of his time as President.

But that’s not the only place the FBI found empty folders in their August 8 search. They also found them in five other boxes, all stored in the storage room.

With one exception — box A-33 — all the boxes with empty folders also had classified records, though mostly just one or two classified documents.

In other words, even indulging Trump’s excuse — that he stole these empty classified folders as keepsakes — that only explains one of the motives and means by which he stole them. It only explains the folders stored with his other trophies, in the leatherbound box. It doesn’t account for the fact that Trump also stole files that weren’t keepsakes per se, but were boxes of other records, among which some classified records remained. It doesn’t account for the fact that hoarding large amounts of documents, as Trump did, along with sloppy treatment of classified documents while in the White House, will result in the theft of classified documents. Along with some empty classified folders.

More importantly, the discovery of an empty classified briefing folder in his residence, which was not found during the no-notice search on August 8, but was found during the search for which Trump would have had advance notice, could not readily be explained by the kink trophy explanation.

Which is why this currently operative story — and the fact that Trump’s lawyers have decided to share it publicly now — should focus on the other investigative steps that took place in the same time.

Back in October, before Attorney General Garland appointed Jack Smith, Trump was reportedly still considering letting the FBI do a further search of his property, like Joe Biden and Mike Pence have since done. But then, probably after the appointment of Smith and the 11th Circuit ruling overturning the Special Master, Trump decided to have a private firm do the search instead. After the search of (some of) Trump’s properties — this probably happened at the end of November and beginning of December — the contractors provided an inventory to DOJ, which is how DOJ learned of the empty folder. Because Trump’s lawyers refused to certify the searches themselves, DOJ immediately tried to hold Trump in contempt for violating the May 11 subpoena. That request — to hold Trump’s lawyers in contempt — happened at the same time (around December 6) as a bunch of inconsistent stories serially revealed the search of four of Trump’s properties and, the stories claimed, the discovery of just two more classified documents.

We now know those stories were false, classic Trump limited hangout. Yesterday’s stories reveal that when Trump’s lawyers told journalists the search firm had only found two documents marked as classified in December, they were hiding the Trump calendars and the classified folder. They were lying to hide the stuff just revealed yesterday.

Beryl Howell did not make a final decision on contempt, though the same Trump lawyers also falsely told journalists she had made a final decision.

Then, after some back in forth, early in January, DOJ got Beryl Howell to require Trump to turn over the names of the people who did the search. That’s the first we learned that, contrary to the headlines you’d read based on the December 2022 stories, Howell had not made a final decision on contempt.

That’s all background to the mad set of stories yesterday, announced even as Pence admitted FBI found one more classified document at his house. It should tell you something that the leaks yesterday resemble the ones from December 7, when Trump’s lawyers told two lies: That Howell had already decided not to hold them in contempt, and that the search firm had found only two more classified documents. Based on past experience, we should assume yesterday’s stories, like the ones in December, had as their primary goal to tell a false story.

What we know, though, is that after attempting to hold Trump’s lawyers in contempt in early December, DOJ took steps that would be necessary preparation for interviewing the people who did the search. First, forcing Trump to share the names. Then, interviewing two of three lawyers involved in Trump’s obstruction last June, Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb. And then, obtaining the things found in the search that weren’t immediately turned over as positive search results, which would be necessary preparation to interviewing those who did the search.

Trump told DOJ in December that this empty folder, which the FBI didn’t find when they showed up to MAL unannounced on August 8, 2022, had found its way to Trump’s residence in time for the contracted search, because he has an empty folder fetish.

He certainly does appear to have an empty folder fetish.

But that cannot explain why the folder — full or empty — was not found in August but was found in December.

I’ve updated my resource page on Trump’s stolen documents here.


May 11, 2022: Subpoena for all documents bearing classification marks

June 3: Corcoran hands over folder with 38 classified records

June 24: DOJ serves a subpoena for surveillance footage

July 6: Trump provides surveillance footage

October 19: Trump still considering letting FBI search his properties for further classified documents

November 18: Merrick Garland appoints Jack Smith Special Counsel

December 7: A series of inconsistent stories reveal, serially, the search of four properties and the discovery of just two more classified documents

Late 2022: DOJ reaches out to Alina Habba, who last summer claimed to have done a thorough search of Trump’s properties

December: Trump returns box of presidential schedules, which includes classified information

January 4, 2023: Beryl Howell orders Trump to turn over names of investigators to DOJ

Early January: Trump turns over aide’s laptop and DOJ subpoenas both empty folder and

Early January: Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb appear before the grand jury

February 2: Tom Fitton appears before grand jury

February: Robert O’Brien subpoenaed for both stolen documents and attempted stolen election investigations

45 replies
  1. phred says:

    Thanks EW. This suggests that the empty classified folder may have been at one of his other properties back in August, conveniently dusted off now as a prop.

    In your estimation, what is the likelihood that this (or other carrying on by Team Trump) leads to FBI searches of other Trump properties?

    • john gurley says:

      From CBS’s time line for events leading up to the Mar a Lago search.

      May 6, 2021: The Archives requests that Trump turn over his missing records, and continues to ask for the documents until late December.

      December, 2021: 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, 2022: Fifteen boxes of records, some containing classified material, are retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by Archives representatives.

      Feb. 7, 2022: The Archives confirms that in mid-January, it arranged for the 15 boxes and 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, 2022: The Archives’ Office of the Inspector General sends a referral to the Justice Department requesting it 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.

      April 12, 2022: 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 also advises Trump’s counsel it intended to provide the FBI with the documents the next week.
      On that day, Trump’s attorney requests another delay before the records are given to the FBI and says if the extension was not granted, his letter serves as a “protective assertion of executive privilege.”

      May 11, 2022: 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.

      June 3, 2022: Three FBI agents and Bratt, the Justice Department counterintelligence chief, travel to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the materials in response to the subpoena.
      But the Justice Department says government personnel were prohibited from opening or looking inside any boxes that remained in the storage room, “giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.”

      June 24, 2022 : Federal investigators issue a subpoena for security-camera footage at Mar-a-Lago.

      Aug. 5, 2022: The Justice Department seeks and obtains a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago from a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach.

      • GrantS01 says:

        Thank you for this addition. EW truncated for obvious reasons but it highlights Trump’s gamesmanship of this whole event.

        Howell is too kind by not holding them all in contempt.

  2. rattlemullet says:

    Thank you EW, always on top of your reporting. Your capacity for digesting information is impressive to say the least. So what are the ramification of returning empty classified folders? Is wrong for me to assume that every classified folder has some recorded data base so by the marking on the folder, the missing contents are known? Are there any comparable empty folder returns in recent history that would provide a guide as to how previous cases of empty folder returns and the consequences? Surely it is not like losing a library book.

    • phred says:

      FDL yes, but not Well times (I’m not actually familiar with that one : )

      A few other places, but not many and not so much recently as in the FDL/The Next Hurrah/early-Emptywheel days.

      For what it’s worth, I asked bmaz awhile back about the new 8 character naming convention here and he said since I’ve been around since forever, I can stick with my 5 letter moniker. But I have less time these days to hobnob online than I once did, so I only turn up intermittently.

      • Rayne says:

        I will confirm this is the same “phred” who has been a commenter at emptywheel’s site since 2007.

        I’m glad Verrückte Pferd asked about your identity because this is a perfect example of one of the challenges we have with usernames. After 16 years this site has had a number of users with identical names drop in, making it difficult for community members to know if they’re communicating with the same Tom/Dick/Harry they communicated with in threads here a decade ago. There are a small number of folks who have usernames less than 8 letters long who will be grandfathered — bmaz and I are both among them — because they have been here over a decade and/or thousands of comments and we can still confirm their identity.

        But nearly all other commenters with short usernames, and/or infrequent comments, and/or more recent first-time comments will need to move to the new standard.

        There can be only one phred, in other words. Happy 4739th comment, by the way. :-)

        • phred says:

          OMG Rayne, I had no idea you could actually look that sort of thing up. It makes sense, don’t get me wrong, but it’s weird to see that level of detail : ) In any case, here’s to #4740!

          Thanks Rayne : ) And thanks for the grandfathering, it would pain me to change it after all these years. 2007, though? How did so much time go by so fast? ; )

          Thanks for keeping the lights on and the liquor cabinet well stocked!

          • GWPDA says:

            I can’t quite remember where The Well was (TCM? – my bad! Salon, of course), but there was which rescued us all. And you’ll never make me change my acronym, not after all this time…

            • bmaz says:

              Welp, you are going to have to at least modify it to get to the eight character minimum requirement to comment here.

            • Rayne says:

              You have a whopping 57 comments accumulated at this site:

              1 – 12/27/2008

              1 – 03/06/2019

              The remaining 55 since 08/12/2022 and under three different email addresses, which in itself is an example of an identity problem trolls can exploit.

              You have not amassed enough comments here to be grandfathered, and your current identity is too easily spoofed. You will eventually need to change your identity or salt it with additional letters to meet the 8-letter minimum, or you will not be able to comment once the new system has been implemented.

              Still don’t want to change your acronym after all this time? Okay, it’s your decision not to participate. As the kids say, FAFO.

  3. HikaakiH says:

    Is it a reasonable suspicion that the ‘magic’ folder that turned up at M-a-L in December after being not there in August must have been at some other place under Trump’s control in August? And based on the fact that bunches of empty folders under Trump’s control often have had some classified documents with them, is it also a reasonable suspicion Trump may have other classified documents hanging out with other bunches of folders in other places than M-a-L? Or was that magic folder hidden under his pillow when M-a-L was searched in August? Or did Trump just get someone still in government to gift him a folder to satisfy his ‘kink’?

  4. Deborah Terhune says:

    There is a very good reason Trumps law firm (before politics) made sure two of the firms lawyers were with all meetings with Trump, so that he could not later deny or add to what was said.

    • bmaz says:

      Is it? And what exactly do you base that on?? What admissible evidence do you have? How will you get that into evidence? How will you overcome affirmative and other defenses? Blathering things on the internet is a hell of a lot easier than proving them in court to a jury.

      • Peterr says:

        The possession of government property by a former government official is illegal, and the documents seized under the search warrant are proof of the crime. Trump was told on multiple occasions that his possession was illegal, and that all presidential records (classified or not) are the property of NARA, not Trump. After months of prevaricating and pouting, a large batch of illegally retained documents were recovered. There is no affirmative defense for this ongoing theft, as Judge Dearie appeared to make clear to Trump’s legal team. There is no conceivable reason Trump can claim to own these documents.

        IANAL, but this strikes me as easy case to make as prosecuting a bank robber who was found walking in the parking lot outside of the bank holding the bag with the loot.

        • bmaz says:

          Lol, yeah sure, everybody thinks it is easy and a slam dunk and whatnot. It never is. And without facts to support it, saying that about “the aide” is ridiculous.

          • BruceF says:

            Yeah, Trump can always use the telepathically declassified defense he previewed on his buddy Hannity’s Faux show…

            • bmaz says:

              Thanks, but that is not in the least what I am talking about. Things are a bit different when you have to have admissible evidence, get it all into evidence and apply actual law.

              • BruceF says:

                Yeah, and all those things really do not matter when you take your case to Judge Aileen Cannon knowing you have her in your back pocket. You still operate under the supposition America operates under “Rule of Law.” Sorry, but that supposition was destroyed over a short four year period. Wish it were not true and respect all those who dedicated their lives to maintaining the admirable position you hold. Our legal system has been overturned and it now resembles a third world nations! I am doubtful that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can put the mess together again. Wish I could believe in the purity of the system like you— I can’t!

                • bmaz says:

                  Lol, total what a load of total bunk. You would have never in your life heard of Aileen Cannon but for this on stupid case that DOJ totally screwed up. And a bunch of people that don’t know much clacking on the internet. And, yet, it still got the right result in the end. No other cases that matter here at EW as to Trump are likely going to SDFL, much less Cannon, so that is a total red herring.

                  • BruceF says:

                    Is the overturning of a fifty year precedent in a case that required no broad ruling another legal red herring? Look, I respect your reverence for our legal system. I acknowledge you are invested in preserving that system. Based upon what I am witnessing, I find it impossible to share your belief in the system, or, to be optimistic about the direction our nation’s legal system is moving! I wish something you said could cure my deep seated and growing cynicism!

                    • bmaz says:

                      You are just another person on the internet yammering about thing they know next to nothing about. I am in all levels of courts every week of the year, and they by and large work just fine. Before you come back blathering again, go to a few courts in person, watch a few jury trials, and get a grip.

  5. Vinnie Gambone says:

    If you were giving/ selling some one classified documents might it make sense to you to not give them the folder?

  6. Katherine Williams says:

    It seems that if Trump has a fetish for cover folders of classified documents, its likely he also has a fetish for the documents themselves. It is easy to visualize him showing off classified docs to guests, and equally easy to visualize him selling the same documents, or copies of them, to his good friends in Russia and Saudi Arabia. Maybe even North Korea. Why the heck wouldn’t he?

    • JamesJoyce says:

      Yes on all accounts.

      Water flows with gravity’s pull.

      Danger! Danger!
      Will Robinson.

      Meanwhile Trump walks free..

      What a “racket”Vincenzo!

      More honor among common thieves than political grifters..

  7. NVGrumps says:

    Are the folders unique, serial numbered to differentiate it from any other folder? A test, such as applying heat via a candle to determine if there are hidden numbers and symbols. I’m surprised that the crime scenes haven’t been flooded with folders.

    Handle was NVG and now to be in compliance its NVGrumps

    • Jeffrey Gallup says:

      In my experience, folders and cover sheets are typically generic, with no indication of what their contents are or were beyond the classification. Very sensitive documents may have a log attached where everyone who reads the document must sign for it and indicate when it was received and returned. Folders and cover sheets (allegedly genuine) can be bought online. Google top secret cover sheets folders.

      • Max404Droid says:

        Precious. Found this on Amazon:

        Top Secret – Classified – Confidential: Spy Gear Journal For Kids, A Book with all documents needed for a Secret Agent Crime Scene Investigation … (Birthday Gift for Tween Boys & Teen girls) Paperback – December 6, 2019

        A cool journal that has all the documents needed for amateur Detectives or Secret agents who want to solve and investigate murder mystery crimes. It can be used by kids and adults for pretend play, for a detective theme party, or as Spy Birthday Party Favors and in many others way… The interior of the notebook includes:

        Murder Mystery Character Sheets (to build your story or play)
        Clue Chart forms
        Evidence forms
        Suspect profile forms
        Fingerprint forms
        Pages for notes
        Perfect Size 7″x10″ to keep in Backpack or in the Spy Gear toy box.
        Great as a Christmas Gift, Stocking Stuffer, Birthday Gifts For Boys & Girls. Buy this book today to create cheerful and lasting memories!

        The new defense: preparation for his Spy Birthday Party !

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Does it really specify “tween boys” and “teen girls”? Shouldn’t those adjectives be reversed?

  8. soundgood2 says:

    The description of the folder sure seems similar to the one on display in Trump’s restaurant. That could lead an attorney to believe it was not a document with classified markings as no one has asked for that one to be returned. Nevertheless, I would think an attorney would have included it just to be on the safe side. That leads me to believe it wasn’t found during the search and just not included. The possibility that it was part of the documents uploaded to the thumb drive makes sense to me. Those documents might have been discovered during the investigation of the Pac at which time the attorneys asked around and found it along with the laptop and thumb drive.

  9. Rugger_9 says:

    Doesn’t the presence of that allegedly empty folder in Manhattan (Good Liars pic above) almost invite a search to figure out where it came from? Options would appear to be limited, in that it is real and shouldn’t be there or it’s fake and therefore fraudulent like the famous Time cover in M-a-L. The former might be criminal and the latter might be worth a civil case (though IANAL) for misrepresentation. I suppose the latter would require a rube willing to testify that they were scammed by that being there.

  10. LaMissy! says:

    Trump was just trying to get some shut eye. Nothing to see here, folks.


  11. e.a. foster says:

    so what happened to the contents of the empty folders? If the outside of the folder says, evening briefing notes, what happened to them? Were they thrown out, burnt, misfiled. It has sometimes happened that paper is filed in the wrong folder, but from the sounds of it, that must have happened a lot, if that is what happened. All very, very strange.
    Given Trump likes to “show off” it might be he kept the folders as soveniers, but my guesss would be he kept the notes also. They don’t appear to have surfaced in other file folders or perhaps no one has looked for them.


  12. Spencer Dawkins says:

    The range of possible explanations for Trump having empty classified document folders, and the apparent nuttiness of many of those explanations, discourages me from trying to pick out one or two that are most likely, but how can it be Trump and his minions don’t realize that having empty classified document folders doesn’t make Trump look LESS guilty.

    Occam’s Razor tells me that the easiest explanation for possession of an empty folder is that the folder arrived with a document inside, and someone took the document out of the folder. If Trump could name someone who delivered empty folders to him from time to time as keepsakes, that would be SWELL. Otherwise, people have to keep on digging.

    • Marinela says:

      If you have a folder with classified documents, what prevents you from making copies of the document?

      Yes, missing document from the folder could mean he did something nefarious, but also having the folder with the document doesn’t mean Trump didn’t copy and operate the copy in nefarious way.
      Unless they can tell if a copy was made from the original classified document. The copy has the same info as the original, same monetary value to a potential new owner.

      As I understand this, they can check the printers as long as the copy is made inside the facility, unless FBI took printers out of MAL to investigate if copies were made.

        • Shadowalker says:

          My rather limited understanding is that the printer number and date and time is micro-printed on every page (front and back). Not sure how legible it would be if it were copied.

          It has been speculated that is how Reality Winters was caught, but that was an original.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Something similar has been in effect since the days of the break-in at the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania.

  13. Trinity says:

    I have to wonder why the National Archive and whoever is producing these documents have such a lousy document-handling protocol. Empty folders? Where are the contents? Have they been returned? We have no way of knowing and that’s just sloppy. Government inaction.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; your previous username, “Trinity Alps,” was compliant with our 8-letter minimum. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah? And exactly what would you do different to maintain total protection of classified information across the sprawling US Government?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The National Archives starts by accepting what’s given to it by government personnel and agencies responsible for depositing documents with it. It does not generate the content or records management methods. Moreover, you must be aware that the material Trump unlawfully retained never made it to the Archives.

Comments are closed.