Dry Run: The Filing Room Came to Trump

Given the reports that former Trump spox Taylor Budowich was questioned by the head of counterintelligence Jay Bratt before a Florida grand jury today, it’s worth revisiting the public statement included in the August 2022 search affidavit to search Mar-a-Lago (my emphasis).

He released this statement after NARA’s discovery of classified documents was made public.

He specifically denied that “the President of the United States, was working in a filing room.”

This earlier response to the NARA appears to be the “dry run” that Beryl Howell invoked in her opinion finding a crime-fraud exception for Evan Corcoran’s interactions with Trump in advance of Trump’s defiance of the May 11 subpoena.

When the chief US judge Beryl Howell forced Corcoran to testify to a grand jury, she opined in a 86-page legal memo that she believed when Trump went through boxes to give materials back to the National Archives last year, it was “apparently a dress rehearsal” for the subpoena.

The Post attributed the “dress rehearsal” line to officials, though it was in Howell’s legal opinion that was reported in March.

We also know that DOJ obtained 5 months of surveillance footage, going back to 8 days before Trump returned these classified documents.

So it may well be that much of what has happened since has involved an attempt to hide that, yes, Trump really was working in a filing room (or at the very least, a filing room came to him).

Update: Hugo Lowell is the first major person covering this stuff to confirm that Trump was told he’s a target. This will all solidify in days ahead. For the moment I’m interested in the timing. He would have been told last week he was a target, and then NYT published their rebuttal of his work, and then Trump’s lawyers either went and did a standard pitch or spewed a conspiracy theory (which John Solomon is pushing).

In other words, what we say in the last 4 days is a response to the target notification.

76 replies
  1. Mike Stone says:

    It is hard, if not impossible, to delegate a task of going through documents to determine which ones are important and you want to keep. Therefore, Donnie probably felt is necessary to do this himself. In addition to whether this was caught on tape is how many people witnessed this as well.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump has gone out of his way to do anything himself since he extorted his siblings to do his homework.

    • Shadowalker says:

      I recall seeing some reports early on, that his lawyers refused to search for the first batch because they didn’t have the necessary security clearances and were afraid of any criminal exposure. Which forced him to go through the boxes himself.

  2. OldTulsaDude says:

    In his mind, I wonder if by denyng he walked down to the storage area Trump is claiming he’s not a peda-file, although I would bet he is a peddler of files.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Spot the perjury avoidance difference:

    The President of the United States, was [not] working in a file room.

    The former President of the United States was, [not] working in a file room.

    Both can be true or false, and one can be true and not the other. Trump has been playing these kinds of semantic games his whole career.

    • Hope Ratner says:

      Every legal filing that he has made since he left office refers to him as *President* not *Former President*. Makes my teeth grind every time I see it. Government filings always refers to him as Former.

  4. Unabogie says:

    Taylor insists he answered every question truthfully. I wonder what kinds of questions they ask that create that sort of response? In other words, if the questions were about actions taken as part of a fact-finding investigation, one wouldn’t feel compelled to insist that you weren’t lying. However, if the questions were about discrepancies between two witnesses, or discrepancies between what you said and what the evidence shows, then you’d walk out insisting you weren’t lying. Maybe you’d insist you merely forgot some key details, or you’d lament a lack of context in the questions, but methinks Taylor is on the hook for something here. Just a hunch, no evidence. But his reaction is odd.

  5. Alan_OrbitalMechanic says:

    I thought something like this might be behind the motivation to try to destroy the camera servers by flooding the room.

    But if the DoJ already got the video files then it doesn’t make sense. Do I have those events reversed?

    BTW, who operates those cameras and servers anyway? Are they under government control or someone who works for Trump? If so I’m surprised that anything was ever recovered from them.

    • PieIsDamnGood says:

      It’s a private security company. I believe DOJ subpoenaed both Trump and the security company for security videos. These particular investigations may be due to discrepancies in their responses.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      What I wonder is whether the Secret Service detail for Trump at Mar-a-Lago asked that all CCTV footage be saved to a cloud-based server in addition to whatever servers were maintained on the property, just to be on the safe side.

    • vicks says:

      Has anyone even confirmed where the server room is at MRL?
      People keep saying “the basement” as if it’s a known fact, but as far as I know the only basement (this is at sea level after all) is under The Great Hall and not a logical place for the pool water to flow.
      I’d also assume any basement built at sea level would have a reasonably sophisticated system to handle flooding

      • xy xy says:

        Is there any mention that any other room was flooded along with the server room?
        If water ends up in one room, it’s going to end up in lots of other rooms.
        Especially if it’s a pool size-flood.

      • emptywheel says:

        There are the tunnels Rudy used to sneak thru (not sure how that works below sea level, as you note).

  6. Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    What are the chances that any conviction coming out of this gets overturned on appeal, based on a finding that the criminal lawyer exception for attorney-client privilege was incorrectly allowed to the prosecutor?

  7. johno says:

    You drain a pool with a pump – and you position the hose from the pump such that it drains out over the lawn or landscaping. There’s a FOUR ACRE lawn adjacent to the MAR pool, and it slopes down to the lagoon.

    • ExRacerX says:

      Sure, sure, but what if you believe there is evidence on your server that might incriminate you—NOW where do you drain your pool?

      • cmarlowe says:

        FWIW, in general water will not damage data already store on a hard drive. Of course new post-flood recordings would be a problem.

  8. boatgeek says:

    As I understand it, the documents case includes the following general potential crimes:
    Removal of the documents (committed in DC)
    Failure to secure documents (FL)
    Refusal to return documents (FL)
    Lying about whether you had returned documents (FL) (note that this one may be sketchier to charge, since the attorneys involved wrote their certifications verrrrry carefully)
    Telling people about classified documents in Trump’s possession (FL, NJ)
    Obstruction of the attempts to get documents back (FL)
    Sale of classified documents to foreign powers (FL, NJ, ??) (note that this is conjecture based on Trump (a) having documents the Saudis would very much like to see and (b) getting vast sums of money from the Saudis for not-well-explained reasons)
    I’m probably missing some, but you get the idea. Also, these are potential crimes that seem well backed by the public record. Innocent until proven guilty, no charges have been filed, we don’t know everything the Special Counsel has, etc.

    I understand why DOJ would want to charge the theft, failure to return, and possibly sale of classified documents in DC. That makes a lot of sense. Where you have a multistate crime like this, would it be normal to consolidate all of the indictments into a single location even if many of the crimes didn’t actually happen there? Would there be advantages to charging some crimes closer to where defendants live/work rather than a plane flight away?

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      But the initial crime, which precipitated everything else, occurred when he took documents he wasn’t entitled to from DC.

      • Ebenezer Scrooge says:

        When Trump took the documents from DC, he was entitled to them. He stopped being entitled at 12:00 on January 20, when he was (I believe) in Florida.

        • Rayne says:

          Trump was never “entitled” to them. They are presidential records and/or documents belonging to the entity which created and classified them. If the executive office created the documents, they were the property of the executive office.

          As soon as the documents were packed into truck even while in DC, the fuckup began because if classified they were not handled according to 32 CFR § 2001.43 – Storage.

        • xy xy says:

          He was not entitled to the SCIF ones.
          Was he entitled to other classified or secret ones?

          [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters. We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. With only (142) comments at this site to date, you will not be grandfathered to keep your existing username. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  9. harpie says:

    Via Teri Kanefield:

    Prosecutors ready to ask for Trump indictment on obstruction and Espionage Act charges The Independent has learned that prosecutors are prepared to ask grand jurors to vote on charges as early as Thursday https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-indictment-espionage-prosecution-charges-b2353397.html
    Andrew Feinberg 8 minutes ago

    The Department of Justice is preparing to ask a Washington, DC grand jury to indict former president Donald Trump for violating the Espionage Act [Section 793] and for obstruction of justice as soon as Thursday, adding further weight to the legal baggage facing Mr Trump as he campaigns for his party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election. […]

    • Tech Support says:

      “Mr Meadows has already given evidence before the grand jury and is said to be cooperating with the investigation into his former boss. It is understood that the former North Carolina congressman will plead guilty to several federal charges as part of a deal for which he has already received limited immunity in exchange for his testimony.”

      • harpie says:

        [Following directly]

        It is not yet known whether the testimony or the charges in question relate to the documents probe, or a separate investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Both investigations are being overseen by a Department of Justice special prosecutor, Jack Smith. […]

    • harpie says:

      […] It is understood that prosecutors intend to ask grand jurors to vote on the indictment on Thursday, but that vote could be delayed as much as a week until the next meeting of the grand jury to allow for a complete presentation of evidence, or to allow investigators to gather more evidence for presentation of necessary.

    • harpie says:

      What Marcy thinks about this article:

      4:23 PM · Jun 7, 2023

      Folks are asking me what I think of it.

      Note, it conflicts w/WaPo’s report, which has 4 journos, w/@hsu_spencer as lead.

      WaPo also doesn’t couch its claims in very passive language.

      This is the WaPo article:
      3:05 PM · Jun 7, 2023

      Welcome to Miami: If there are charges in the Trump documents case, the bulk of them will be filed in Florida, people familiar with the matter tell the Post.
      From @hsu_spencer @JaxAlemany @DevlinBarrett @jdawsey1

      This response to the above has a gift link!
      3:08 PM · Jun 7, 2023

  10. GeeSizzle says:

    Maybe all this ridiculousness was an alternate way to pull off some venue shopping. By doing a bunch of idiotic stuff in FL, they can then run to Dawsey and Barrett and have them claim that most of the charges will be in FL. I mean, it’s not hard to imagine that they really don’t want this case taken up in DC, and if they could pick anywhere to get the most agreeable jury, it would be in MALs home state.


    • bmaz says:

      It may be true, but that is absolutely ridiculous, DC would be light years better and more favorable.

        • bmaz says:

          No, to the government. What Trump wants is irrelevant. The charging venue is up to DOJ/Smith. I hope they don’t fuck it up again by going to FL again as they stupidly did as to the MaL search warrant.

        • GeeSizzle says:

          OK, sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant to say that by having his minions engage in all the various suspicious and obscure undertakings in FL, Trump manages to create enough crimes that the venue ends up there, where he wants it. True, what he wants is irrelevant, except to the extent that somehow this maneuver actually works.

          Despite Smith being the one in charge, it appears they are going to fuck around and eventually find out that they’ve made a similar mistake as the MAL search warrant. I hope I am wrong and enough of the important charges end up in DC.

        • Peterr says:

          If ever there was a defendant who thought “Hey, if I commit more crimes in THIS place, I can avoid going to trial on earlier crimes in THAT place,” it’s Donald J. Trump.

          Granted, it’s a unique method of venue shopping, but Trump is a one-of-a-kind defendant-to-be.

  11. Gatorbaiter says:

    Unconfirmed report says that Mark Meadows has agreed to plead guilty to a couple of felonies and cooperate against the former guy. Hope this is true!

    • Rayne says:

      Don’t spout unconfirmed stuff without a link to a source. Bad enough it’s unconfirmed but no attribution on the reporting doesn’t cut it.

    • bmaz says:

      WaPo v. The Independent? Immediately more credible. It sure appears 72 hours is the timeframe. Maybe 48 hours, though an official announcement may not be made that soon.

      • Shadowalker says:

        Think I’ll wait till the indictment is unsealed. I’ve seen way to many other times where the press has claimed an indictment is “imminent” or “any day now”. Smith seems to know how to professionally conduct his investigation and will seek any charges when he is ready and not at the whims of the press.

    • Peterr says:

      Waiting is something folks in Miami are used to doing, as they’ve been waiting (and appear to have been rewarded) for Lionel Messi to spurn the Saudis and sign with Inter Miami.

      • MarkPalm says:

        I’ll keep this reply real brief to avoid a cactus swipe for an O/T comment, but this truly saddens me. Certainly didn’t want Messi to go to Al-Ittihad, but had hoped things could be arranged for the GOAT to return to Barcelona. His statement on his decision commendably explains why.

      • hollywood says:

        Off topic and out of my league, but what are the antitrust implications of the Saudis seemingly gobbling up the PGA tour? And where do we follow the money there?

      • emptywheel says:

        I’m hoping the Messi pick-up will make locals entirely disinterested in the crime woes of the local beach overlord.

    • RitaRita says:

      Possible indicia of imminent indictments:

      Notification of law enforcement to prepare.
      Republican Presidential candidates start taking pot shots at Trump.
      Republican Members of Congress loyal to Trump ratchet up their rhetoric.

      Maybe the indictments start coming down this week. Maybe the first indictments will be at the Walt Nauta level for obstruction. But the fact that one of the grand jury is still hearing from witnesses and a bunch of subpoenas have gone out for more suggests that the Special Counsel has not yet completed the investigative stage. And the subpoena for Trump Org documents went out in April. Has there been enough time for a compliant Trump Org to comply?

      I hope the indictments come down this week but I don’t think they will.

      • bmaz says:

        The only “notification of law enforcement” was made by that noisy dope Fani Willis in Atlanta, not Jack Smith. And it was improperly specified by Willis as to August, not next week. It has nothing to do with Smith and federal charges.

  12. Peterr says:

    Hearing the reports of Trump’s most recent ranting on his most recent social media posts, I can’t help but think that the re-emergence of Jay Bratt in the public reporting is particularly infuriating.

    You recall Bratt, don’t you?

    “For crimes have been crimed, as we have deducted:
    espionage, theft, and justice obstructed.
    The proof, we believe, will emerge box by box
    from rooms where you’ve kept them without any locks.
    The charges will follow, and names will be named
    and soon the guilty in court will be blamed.

    “Justice is coming,” says Bratt-I-Am,
    and that once-vaunted leader can only say . . .

    See the full background on Bratt v Trump here.

    • Grain of Sand says:

      Thanks for the full background. Missed that jewel the first time around. Brilliant!

  13. greenbird says:

    an example of pre-shooting self in foot ?
    yes – the timing matters: Feb vs Aug.
    Page 9 was not part of the list of pages with marcy’s first cloud-and-pdf for Doc 125.
    so for timing, it matters more to have included Page 9 now.
    also to have marcy knowing inclusion now is important.

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