Trump Changed the Lock in His Residence before Changing the Lock on the Storage Room

In another motion for a Garcia hearing in the Trump stolen documents case, DOJ revealed that Trump changed a lock on a storage closet in his own residence on June 2, before changing the lock on the storage closet where his classified documents had been stored for months.

At issue is one of three clients of Carlos De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, that DOJ says may testify at trial.

Recall that Stan Woodward represents seven clients interviewed in this matter, and did represent Yuscil Taveras before he got a new lawyer and cooperated against Woodward client Walt Nauta. DOJ tried to describe those conflicts under seal, which Judge Aileen Cannon refused, which may be why DOJ has laid out these conflicts in an unsealed court filing.

The three witnesses whom Irving represents include a Trump Employee 3 — the person who told Nauta that Trump wanted to see him before Nauta flew to Mar-a-Lago and allegedly tried to delete surveillance video, a former Trump assistant (possibly Chamberlain Harris?) who knew of movements of boxes to Mar-a-Lago, and the head maintenance worker at MAL whom De Oliveira replaced, referred to as Witness 1 in the filing.

The most damning testimony the Witness 1 provided debunked the excuse De Oliveira made to explain why he was taking pictures of surveillance cameras at MAL.

Witness 1 was a maintenance worker at Mar-a-Lago who served as head of maintenance before De Oliveira took over that position in January 2022. Witness 1 has information demonstrating the falsity of statements De Oliveira has made to the Government. In addition to the false statements De Oliveira made to the FBI that are the basis for the false-statements charge in Count 42 of the superseding indictment, he also made false statements in an April 2023 interview with the FBI and members of the Special Counsel’s Office in Washington, D.C. In particular, when confronted with video footage appearing to show him photographing surveillance cameras in the tunnel at Mar-a-Lago near the storage room where the FBI recovered some of the classified records, De Oliveira claimed he was (1) looking for a shutoff valve because a water pipe had ruptured on the grounds of Mar-a-Lago, and (2) documenting a broken door below one of the cameras. Witness 1 has information about when the pipe broke and the door needed repairs that is inconsistent with De Oliveira’s statements.

But the more interesting testimony is that De Oliveira changed the lock on “a closet inside Trump’s residence … on June 2, 2022” after moving boxes with Walt Nauta.

Witness 1 also has information about De Oliveira’s loyalty to Trump and about De Oliveira’s involvement in the replacement of a lock—at the direction of Trump—on a closet inside Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago on June 2, 2022, the day Nauta and De Oliveira moved boxes as described in paragraphs 62-63 of the superseding indictment.

De Oliveira’s the guy who changed the lock on the storage room after Jay Bratt instructed Evan Corcoran to secure it, then gave away the key to some whose identity he claimed to forget when the FBI showed up on August 8 last year.

Agents had another concern: The lock on the door to the storage room was flimsy. The officials urged staff to put a better lock on the door, which De Oliveira did — using a hasp and a padlock to keep it secure, the people said. If there were still highly sensitive classified documents in the room, such a lock was far from sufficient, but it was better than nothing.


When FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago the morning of Aug. 8 with a court-issued search warrant, De Oliveira was one of the first people they turned to. They asked him to unlock a storage room where boxes of documents were kept, people familiar with what happened said. De Oliveira said he wasn’t sure where the key was, because he’d given it to either the Secret Service agents guarding the former president or staffers for Trump’s post-presidency office, the people said.

Frustrated, the agents simply cut the lock on the gold-colored door. The incident became part of what investigators would see as a troubling pattern with the answers De Oliveira gave them as they investigated Trump, the people said.

But apparently, sometime before that, De Oliveira added a lock to a closet within Trump’s residence, one that may have stored some subset of the roughly 35 boxes that didn’t get moved back into the storage closet so Corcoran could search them.

Perhaps that lock was designed to ensure that Evan Corcoran didn’t accidentally find the other 35 boxes full of classified documents.

The fact that he changed that lock makes his paltry efforts to secure the main storage closet all the more damning.

Carlos De Oliveira Added a Lock to the Storage Facility Then (Claimed He) Gave Away the Key

My second favorite bullshit spin of the entire stolen documents investigation (the first being claims about Walt Nauta’s cooperation) is the way, in the days after the search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump got journalists to repeat his claim that the fact he replaced the lock on the storage room at Mar-a-Lago proved he was entirely cooperative with DOJ before the search.

Here’s how WSJ presented the claim in one of its first instances:

Aides to Mr. Trump have said they had been cooperating with the department to get the matter settled. The former president even popped into the June 3 meeting at Mar-a-Lago, shaking hands. “I appreciate the job you’re doing,” he said, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “Anything you need, let us know.”

Five days later, Trump attorney Evan Corcoran received an email from Mr. Bratt, the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, who oversees investigations involving classified information.

“We ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice,” according to what was read to The Wall Street Journal over the phone.

Mr. Corcoran wrote back, “Jay, thank you. I write to acknowledge receipt of this letter. With best regards, Evan.” By the next day, according to a person familiar with the events, a larger lock was placed on the door. It was the last communication between the men until Monday’s search of Mar-a-Lago, according to the person.


Mr. Trump and his lawyers contend they have cooperated with a monthslong effort by the government to retrieve some of the material he took from the White House and expressed outrage with Monday’s unannounced visit to Mar-a-Lago. A timeline of events, they say, demonstrates this cooperation, down to quickly fulfilling the June request to place a new lock on the storage door.

Here’s how John Solomon presented the claim in a post that first broke the news of the surveillance video subpoena.

Trump signaled his full cooperation, telling the agents and prosecutor, “Look, whatever you need let us know,” according to two eyewitnesses. The federal team was surprised by the president’s invitation and asked for an immediate favor: to see the 6-foot-by-10-foot storage locker where his clothes, shoes, documents and mementos from his presidency were stored at the compound.

Given Trump’s instruction, the president’s lawyers complied and allowed the search by the FBI before the entourage left cordially. Five days later, DOJ officials sent a letter to Trump’s lawyers asking them to secure the storage locker with more than the lock they had seen. The Secret Service installed a more robust security lock to comply.

Around the same time, the Trump Organization, which owns Mar-a-Lago, received a request for surveillance video footage covering the locker and volunteered the footage to federal authorities, sources disclosed.

It was always clear this was bullshit, not least because CFR guidelines about storing classified documents are really strict. But journalists repeated it credulously for several weeks, until the affidavit was unsealed, showing that in Jay Bratt’s request that Trump secure the storage room, he never mentioned a lock.

On June 8, 2022, DOJ COUNSEL sent FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 a letter, which reiterated that the PREMISES are not authorized to store classified information and requested the preservation of the STORAGE ROOM and boxes that had been moved from the White House to the PREMISES. Specifically, the letter stated in relevant part:

As I previously indicated to you, Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information. As such, it appears that since the time classified documents (the ones recently provided and any and all others) were removed from the secure facilities at the White House and moved to Mar-a-Lago on or around January 20, 2021, they have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location. Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.

On June 9, 2022, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 sent an email to DOJ COUNSEL, stating, “I write to acknowledge receipt of this letter.”

But buried in this Devlin Barrett story about how prosecutors warned Carlos De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, that they believed he was lying way back in April is the BREAKING NEWS that after De Oliveira put a new lock on the door — the thing that Trump bragged about for a month, and a tale that Barrett repeats here — he gave away the key.

Or at least that’s the excuse he gave to the FBI when they showed up in August to seize the documents inside and he refused to let them into the storage closet.

Agents had another concern: The lock on the door to the storage room was flimsy. The officials urged staff to put a better lock on the door, which De Oliveira did — using a hasp and a padlock to keep it secure, the people said. If there were still highly sensitive classified documents in the room, such a lock was far from sufficient, but it was better than nothing.


When FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago the morning of Aug. 8 with a court-issued search warrant, De Oliveira was one of the first people they turned to. They asked him to unlock a storage room where boxes of documents were kept, people familiar with what happened said. De Oliveira said he wasn’t sure where the key was, because he’d given it to either the Secret Service agents guarding the former president or staffers for Trump’s post-presidency office, the people said.

Frustrated, the agents simply cut the lock on the gold-colored door. [snip]

Imagine how outraged investigators must have been last August when Trump was publicly bragging about the new lock when the currently operative story at the time — one that may still be operative — is that within weeks, Oliveira had given away the key.

To whom, he did not know.

I’ve got a lot of guesses about who may really have gotten that key.

But the stunning news from this story is that Trump put a new lock on the storage facility and promptly gave away the key.

Walt Nauta and the Single Box

The section of the less redacted search warrant affidavit showing when Walt Nauta moved boxes in and out of the storage room differs from the timeline shown in the indictment in one key way.

The search warrant affidavit used to demonstrate probable cause doesn’t describe how, on May 22 of last year, the former valet spent over half an hour in the storage room, and then left carrying a single box.

53. On May 22, 2022, NAUTA entered the Storage Room at 3:47 p.m. and left approximately 34 minutes later, carrying one of TRUMP’s boxes.

There are several possible explanations why that description may not be in the search warrant affidavit.

Perhaps investigators didn’t think it important — though that would be hard to believe, given that the affidavit observes something that the indictment does not as explicitly: that all this box moving happened in the same period when Nauta disavowed any knowledge of box movement.

On May 30, 2022, four days after WITNESS 5’s interview with the FBI during which the location of boxes was a significant subject of questioning, WITNESS 5 is observed exiting the ANTEROOM doorway with approximately fifty Bankers boxes, consistent with the description of the FPOTUS BOXES. [my emphasis]

Perhaps investigators simply didn’t see Nauta and the single box on May 22. But note that the surveillance video was motion activated, so any movement on May 22 should show up just like all the other movement did, and in close proximity to his movements captured two days later.

[T]he FBI determined that the drive contained video footage from four cameras in the basement hallway of the PREMISES in which the door to the STORAGE ROOM is located. The footage on the drive begins on April 23, 2022, and ends on June 24, 2022. The recording feature of the cameras appears to be motion activated, so that footage is only captured when motion is detected within each camera’s field of view.

Or perhaps this movement, Nauta spending half an hour in the storage room then leaving with a single box, is one of the surveillance footage gaps that investigators spent much of a year trying to fill and explain.

The different treatment of this one box is more interesting given other details of the timeline.

For example, Nauta retrieved that single box just two days before the original deadline for the subpoena, May 24.

The return date of the subpoena was May 24, 2022.

Nauta retrieved that box the day before Trump met with Corcoran and another attorney who hasn’t been IDed yet, but who may be Boris Epshteyn. At the meeting, a day after presumably getting a box that didn’t show up in the search warrant affidavit, Trump whined that, “I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes!”

54. On May 23, 2022, TRUMP met with Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 at The Mar-a-Lago Club to discuss the response to the May 11 Subpoena. Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 told TRUMP that they needed to search for documents that would be responsive to the subpoena and provide a certification that there had been compliance with the subpoena. TRUMP, in sum and substance, made the following statements, among others, as memorialized by Trump Attorney 1:

a. I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes.

b. Well what if we, what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?

c. Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?

d. Well look isn’t it better if there are no documents?

Amidst all that whining, Trump agreed to let Corcoran search for documents, but only after a ten day delay. And then Trump delayed his departure to Bedminster so he would be at Mar-a-Lago to sort boxes and to see the scheme through.

56. On May 23, TRUMP also confirmed his understanding with Trump Attorney 1 that Trump Attorney 1 would return to The Mar-a-Lago Club on June 2 to search for any documents with classification markings to produce in response to the May 11 Subpoena. Trump Attorney 1 made it clear to TRUMP that Trump Attorney 1 would conduct the search for responsive documents by looking through TRUMP’s boxes that had been transported from the White House and remained in storage at The Mar-a-Lago Club. TRUMP indicated that he wanted to be at The Mar-a-Lago Club when Trump Attorney 1 returned to review his boxes on June 2, and that TRUMP would change his summer travel plans to do so. TRUMP told Trump Attorney 2 that Trump Attorney 2 did not need to be present for the review of boxes.

57. After meeting with Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 on May 23, TRUMP delayed his departure from The Mar-a-Lago Club to The Bedminster Club for the summer so that he would be present at The Mar-a-Lago Club on June 2, when Trump Attorney 1 returned to review the boxes.

Something that doesn’t show up in the indictment but does in the affidavit is that Corcoran then pushed for an extension on the subpoena deadline.

On May 25, 2022, while negotiating for an extension of the subpoena, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 sent two letters to DOJ COUNSEL. In the second such letter, which is attached as Exhibit 1, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 asked DOJ to consider a few “principles,” which include FPOTUS COUNSEL 1’s claim that a President has absolute authority to declassify documents. In this letter, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 requested, among other things, that “DOJ provide this letter to any judicial officer who is asked to rule on any motion pertaining to this investigation, or on any application made in connection with any investigative request concerning this investigation.”

Just one of the two letters Corcoran sent that day has been released — the one falsely claiming Trump had returned documents in good faith earlier that year, though Corcoran may not have known that was false. Nauta would repeat a version of that claim the next day, on May 26, in his FBI interview, though unlike Corcoran, he is credibly accused of knowing well that was a lie.

All the other movement of boxes, then, occurs during that subpoena extension (and this might be another reason why the May 22 movement is not included on the affidavit — perhaps investigators focused on what happened during the subpoena extension). Nauta empties the storage closet of 64 more boxes, moving all these boxes in the same week when, in an FBI interview, he allegedly denied knowing anything about an earlier scheme to sort through boxes.

On May 24, 2022, WITNESS 5 is observed exiting the ANTEROOM doorway with three boxes.

On May 30, 2022, four days after WITNESS 5’s interview with the FBI during which the location of boxes was a significant subject of questioning, WITNESS 5 is observed exiting the ANTEROOM doorway with approximately fifty Bankers boxes, consistent with the description of the FPOTUS BOXES. FBI did not observe this quantity of boxes being returned to the STORAGE ROOM through the ANTEROOM entrance in its review of the footage.

The next day, on June 1, 2022, WITNESS 5 is observed carrying eleven brown cardboard boxes out the ANTEROOM entrance. One box did not have a lid on it and appeared to contain papers.

And then, after Nauta told a female Trump that Trump wanted to pick from all those boxes, Nauta loaded up several of the boxes withheld from Corcoran’s search onto Trump’s plane to take to Bedminster, never to be seen again.

72. Earlier [on June 3], NAUTA and others loaded several of TRUMP’s boxes along with other items on aircraft that flew TRUMP and his family north for the summer.

So it may or may not be a significant detail, but the day before Trump orchestrates this scheme to keep 35 boxes shielded from Corcoran’s search, Nauta spent half an hour in the storage room retrieving a single box.

Some weeks after this scheme, on June 21, the day before DOJ asked Trump Organization for surveillance footage, per the discovery letter, Nauta appeared before a grand jury, his second (and only other) interview with investigators.

A bunch of reports last year, such as this one from Devlin Barrett that likely confuses Nauta with Molly Michael, described that Nauta changed his testimony in what would be this grand jury appearance, admitting that Trump ordered him to move boxes.

When FBI agents first interviewed Nauta, he denied any role in moving boxes or sensitive documents, the people familiar with the situation said in interviews before Nauta’s name became public. But as investigators gathered more evidence, they questioned him a second time and he told a starkly different story — that Trump instructed him to move the boxes, these people said.

But those reports came at a time when DOJ was still trying to get more testimony from Nauta.

Prosecutors have indicated they are skeptical of an initial account Mr. Nauta gave investigators about moving documents stored at Mar-a-Lago and are using the specter of charges against him for misleading investigators to persuade him to sit again for questioning, according to two people briefed on the matter.

So, particularly given that a grand jury appearance would have been in — and so would be charged — in DC, it’s not really clear whether Nauta did correct his story before the grand jury. If he didn’t, Jack Smith could prosecute Nauta individually on a perjury charge that might go to trial within months, not the year the Espionage Act trial is expected to take.

Whether or not he cleaned up his testimony, on June 21, Nauta appeared before the grand jury.

Having locked that testimony in, on June 22 prosecutors asked Trump Organization — probably Alan Garten, from whom discovery has been deficient in past investigations — for surveillance footage.

DOJ COUNSEL has advised me that on or about June 22, 2022, counsel for the Trump Organization, a group of business entities associated with FPOTUS, confirmed that the Trump Organization maintains security cameras in the vicinity of the STORAGE ROOM and that on June 24, 2022, counsel for the Trump Organization agreed to accept service of a grand jury subpoena for footage from those cameras.

Shortly after that, per reporting on some of the last grand jury testimony banked in DC before DOJ took steps to charge the Espionage charges in Florida, Nauta called Chief of Operations for Trump Organization, Matthew Calamari Sr.

To resolve the issue about the gaps in the surveillance footage, the special counsel last week subpoenaed Matthew Calamari Sr, the Trump Organization’s security chief who became its chief operating officer, and his son Matthew Calamari Jr, the director of corporate security.

Both Calamaris testified to the federal grand jury in Washington on Thursday, and were questioned in part on a text message that Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, had sent them around the time that the justice department last year asked for the surveillance footage, one of the people said.

The text message is understood to involve Nauta asking Matthew Calamari Sr to call him back about the justice department’s request, one of the people said – initially a point of confusion for the justice department, which appears to have thought the text was to Calamari Jr.

Then, less than two weeks later, on July 6, Trump Organization provided DOJ with surveillance footage showing Nauta moving a great many boxes out of the storage room, and moving fewer than half of them back in before Evan Corcoran searched them. That’s pretty damning stuff! It provided some of the most compelling evidence in the affidavit justifying a search on the former President’s beach resort.

DOJ only got two months of footage, not the five they had asked for (which would have covered the tail end of the earlier sort of boxes). That’s unsurprising: even normal businesses only retain such footage for a limited period of time.

But in addition to obtaining fewer months than they had requested, the footage Trump Org turned over reportedly had other gaps, gaps that have not yet been charged or even mentioned, at least in unsealed form, in any official DOJ filing.

What’s unclear is whether that May 22 footage, showing that Nauta spent half an hour in the storage closet only to come out with a single box, was originally one of those surveillance gaps or not.

No Crime Alleged in the Mar-a-Lago Indictment Occurred in DC; Other Crimes Did

Today, SCOTUS ruled that the government can retry someone in the proper venue if the original case is thrown out on venue grounds without violating double jeopardy.

The decision matters for Vladislav Klyushin, “Putin’s pen-tester,” whose sole post-trial challenge to his Boston insider trading conviction was on venue grounds. The decision makes it more likely he’ll just move to sentencing and maybe decide to make his life easier by cooperating with the US government.

Contrary to what a bunch of TV lawyers are saying — who adopted this challenge as their favorite explanation for why Jack Smith would charge Trump under 18 USC 793(e) in Southern District of Florida rather than DC — the decision would never have mattered for Donald Trump.

I can’t tell you whether Smith charged Trump in Florida because he knew Trump would have successfully challenged venue elsewhere, because he has a larger strategy in mind, or because he just believes you don’t look for easy wins if you’re going to charge the former President of the United States. I suspect it is all of those things, plus a decision to do as much as possible to convince Republicans that this prosecution is legitimate, not merely an attempt to get Donald Trump.

I know that when Smith spoke publicly for all of three minutes, he mentioned the Florida venue twice.

Frankly, all the hand-wringing about venue in SDFL plays into the Republican doubters’ hands, because it sure makes it sound like you are trying to get Trump rather than prosecute a crime.

I can tell you those who think DC would have worked misunderstand the charge and misunderstand the only way an 18 USC 793(e) charge was going to be viable against the former President.

As a reminder, these are the elements of offense of 18 USC 793(e), taken from the very same jury instructions that a jury in SDFL one day may receive. As I showed in August, there was already abundant evidence that Trump met the elements of offense.

There are five elements:

  • Unauthorized possession (proof he had the documents after such time as he was no longer permitted to have them)
  • National Defense Information (NDI) (reasons a jury would agree that these documents were closely held and important to keeping the US safe)
  • Damage to the US (some kind of proof that Trump knew both that these documents could damage the US and that classified information could generally)
  • Willful (proof that he knew he had the documents, as distinct from — like Pence and probably Biden — he just accidentally removed them from his office along with other papers)
  • Refusal (some proof that he didn’t just not return the documents, but refused to do so)

To charge a former President — as distinct from someone who had clearance and brought stuff home from work — you have to prove two things: One, he knew he had  documents that remained classified after he left the Presidency, and two, that after such time as he realized he still had classified documents, he refused to give them back.

Biden and Pence discovered they had unauthorized possession of classified documents and they rushed to give them back.

By July 2021 — when Trump bragged about having documents that remained classified to a ghost writer — Trump knew he had unauthorized possession of classified documents. The Archives, Trump’s lawyers, and DOJ told him over and over that he had to give them back.

And then, in two different incidents, he took classified documents and removed them from a set of other documents that he did give back. That’s the refusal.

You do not have a crime with which you can charge a former President — as distinct from someone whose possession of classified documents would be unauthorized once he brought them outside the SCIF he had agreed to hold them in — until such time as he realizes he has them, someone asks for them back, and he refuses.

It is the refusing to give the documents back that is the provable crime, not the possession per se.

And Trump’s two big refusals — the two times he went to great efforts to sort through boxes personally to cull out documents he wanted to keep rather than return — were both in Florida, both long after he left the White House.

According to the indictment, Trump committed the act of refusing to give documents back under 18 USC 793(e) twice: once, from November 2021 until January 2022, when having been convinced he had to return documents, he went through box after box and carefully curated the boxes he returned on January 18, 2022 to keep some. The proof that he refused to give everything back in January 2022 is that there were still 38 classified documents when Evan Corcoran conducted a search in June, ten of which are charged as separate counts.

Trump refused again in May and June 2022, when he duped Evan Corcoran into claiming he had done a diligent search when in fact Trump had made sure that Corcoran would only search 30 of the 64 boxes Trump knew he still possessed. The proof that he withheld classified documents in June are the 100-some classified documents that the FBI found him to still have in his possession on August 8 of last year, 21 of which are charged as separate counts.

Jack Smith’s decision to charge this case in Florida — knowing full well he might face Aileen Cannon — was a decision about whether he could prove the elements of the offense of a crime that happened in Florida.

He is provably still considering charging crimes that happened in DC. He might even be contemplating charges for crimes that happened in New Jersey. Or maybe he is contemplating charging crimes that started in DC and ended in New Jersey.

I suspect we’re going to be surprised with the crimes he does charge, as virtually all the people saying this could have been charged in DC were surprised that he did choose to charge 18 USC 793(e), rather than just obstruction.

I wasn’t surprised. I laid out exactly how it would look last August; the big surprise to me are the pretty pictures proving Trump’s possession of these documents in Florida.

I also think virtually everyone is imagining that Smith is searching for the one trial to take Trump down, rather than making decisions about a package of conduct about which he might be able to reach a just resolution for the public interest.

I personally doubt an 18 USC 793(e) trial will happen in Florida (or elsewhere), because 793 prosecutions rarely go to trial.

They plead out.

And I promise you that Jack Smith would prefer to get a plea agreement with Donald Trump — however improbable that may seem to us now — than air 31 of the country’s most classified documents at trial.

The only prosecutorial decision Jack Smith has made public thus far is to charge a crime in Florida that happened in Florida. And none of us know how that decision fits in with the other prosecutorial decisions Smith might make or may already have made.

Trump’s “Beautiful Mind Paper Boxes:” Jack Smith’s Points of Leverage

In this post, I laid out how DOJ really really really tries to plead out 18 USC 793(e) cases if it can do so, to avoid doing any more damage to national security, on top of the original compromise. That’s true even with a garden variety Green Beret who brought classified documents about a gripe home from work. All the more so if it’s the former President who compromised hundreds of highly sensitive documents.

But as we’ve seen over the ten months since the search of his beach resort, Trump is highly unlikely to do that.

What would it take — Jack Smith’s team may have brainstormed before they filed this — to get Trump to enter into a plea agreement?

So I want to return to my argument that the Mar-a-Lago case is tactical — a tactical nuke, I called it. Partly, I think it is designed to give Walt Nauta very good reason to plead and cooperate, to what end and import I only have guesses.

Partly, I think charging 31 incredibly sensitive documents is a different kind of threat to Trump than it is to most people, because of his narcissism.

Those 31 charged documents are, taken together, a bunch of stories that prosecutors can tell about why Trump stole classified documents. The reason prosecutors included some are pretty easy to guess. Document 19, which concerns US nukes, is classified Formerly Restricted. Under the Atomic Energy Act it could not be declassified by the President alone, so that document will be legally easier to prove to be National Defense Information covered by the Espionage Act than others might, even if jurors don’t get the import of protecting information on America’s nuclear weapons. Some, like document 11, an unmarked document that captures military contingency planning of the United States, seem to be another example of stuff that is obviously NDI, information that is closely held precisely because doing so is necessary to protect US security, regardless of classification level (and may have been selected because it doesn’t include classification marks). Others, like document 3 and document 23, appear to have Sharpie notes, which may provide some hints about why Trump stole them. Matt Tait thinks document 7, memorializing October  28, 2018 communications with a foreign leader, might record a call with Putin or Mohammed bin Salman, post Khashoggi execution, both of which could be highly embarrassing for Trump. Based on its date, Tait argues that the other document pertaining to nukes in Trump’s stash, document 5, likely pertains to Russia. Brian Greer thinks the charged documents turned over on June 3, most of which are from the fall 2019 period during impeachment, could be a coherent set. Whatever else document 8 is — it is described as an October 4, 2019 Five Eyes document — the spillage picture from the storage closet would amount to proof that by storing it insecurely, Trump made it accessible to at least two people who no longer had clearances.

Whatever these documents are, his closest aides considered him to be obsessed with them. Employee 2 — according to WaPo, this is Trump’s then-Executive Assistant, Molly Michael — described the boxes as Trump’s “beautiful mind paper boxes” as she debated with a colleague about where to stash them. Trump went to great lengths to curate and keep these documents; they became tied to his self-imagination of power, it seems. He told Evan Corcoran, “I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes.” As bad as it is for Trump that the government seized these documents from him, it might pose a far greater injury to his ego if they were shared in court for all the world to see who he really was. We’re all going to get to look at Trump’s boxes if this goes to trial. All of us.

And while the timing of this prosecution cannot be predicted (aside from that the CIPA process will take a lot of time), such an injury to Trump’s ego might be greater if “his” boxes were to become public in the middle of the general election, which is about the earliest that might happen.

So, bizarrely, as hard as it would be for the spooks to declassify these for trial, it might do as much damage to Trump’s psyche to have the contents of “his” “beautiful mind paper boxes” shared for the entire world to see. It would shred the sense of power that he derived from them (and in many cases, would show that many of his public claims about what — say — Mark Milley had really said were false). And so keeping them secret might be something about which Trump and DOJ could come to some kind of agreement.

But that’s not the only point of leverage that Smith has.

Because Trump decided to announce his Presidential run early in a bid to stave off criminal charges, Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith to oversee both criminal investigations into Trump, the stolen documents case and the January 6 case. At the very least, that means that in the not-too-distant future, Smith will file additional charges against Trump and his close associates, in DC. Since Trump will be dealing with the same prosecutor, Smith, in both, if he wanted to settle one case — say to stave off having his “beautiful mind paper boxes” exposed in Florida — Smith could attempt to include a settlement in a second case in any negotiation.

You still have to get Trump to a position where he wants to settle, but having the same prosecutor oversee both cases simply gives him more flexibility, flexibility that might be able to find a just result for the country.

And the way in which these cases intersect may provide Smith additional tools. Several witnesses in the stolen documents case also have exposure in one or another aspect of the January 6 case. Trump Representative 1 is — again, per the WaPo — Alex Cannon. The January 6 Committee documents showed Cannon to be a key player in (not) vetting fundraising pitches for false claims; but he was also involved in attempts to limit the damage of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony.

No one has yet identified Trump Attorney 2, but it may be Boris Epshteyn, who had his phone seized last September and already sat for two days of interviews with Smith’s prosecutors. Trump will go to court today represented by Todd Blanche, who also represents Boris. And Boris’ close associate and partner in crypto-corruption, Steve Bannon, received a subpoena from the Special Counsel last month.

Perhaps the most important of these players common to both criminal investigations, however, is Michael, and that enigmatic comment, “Oh no oh no … I’m sorry potus had my phone” is one of the reasons why. Michael was one of Trump’s most important gatekeepers leading up to January 6, and the logs of his calls from that period were mysteriously not kept. When the January 6 Committee questioned her about events, Michael professed not to remember a lot of things from that period. When the January 6 Committee asked her about her phone — the phone that Trump would sometimes use — she explained that her lawyer had pulled off any texts relevant to the event, but did not provide more. Because Trump made Michael a central player in his effort to steal classified documents, Jack Smith appears to have obtained her phone, a phone that would show some of Trump’s communications, as well as her own.

Indeed, that reference to Trump having her phone on December 7, 2021, may be as much about what he was doing with it as what she said to Nauta once she got it back.

More importantly, these overlapping players have witness testimony about more than the attack. Most if not all of them, as well as most if not all of their known attorneys, are the beneficiaries of the suspected campaign finance fraud that has become a second prong of Jack Smith’s investigation — the investigation into how Trump raised money from small donors promising to use it on election integrity and instead used it on paying lawyers for other criminal exposure (and, as noted, that’s the area where Cannon’s known legal exposure is greatest). We may learn more about how DOJ feels about that today, if DOJ asks for a conflict review of Stan Woodward’s representation of Walt Nauta.

The indictment charged Nauta. But it is very coy about the degree to which the other named witnesses, especially Michael and Epshteyn, have cooperated or might be exposed elsewhere.

And that’s important because of the other elements that don’t show up in this indictment. Michael is the one who ordered Chamberlain Harris to make copies of Trump’s schedules, for example, which in the process resulted in the dissemination of classified information. Michael is the most likely candidate to be the person who compiled one Secret and one Confidential document into one with messages from a pollster, a faith leader, and a book author. One uncharged crime in Trump’s existing indictment describes him sharing classified information with a representative of his PAC (and the paragraph immediately following that one hints that the information may have subsequently been shared with the press). The last thing Jay Bratt did before obtaining this indictment was to interview Taylor Budowich about shared knowledge of Trump’s employees that he was hoarding documents.

As far as we know, Trump appears to have kept the most spectacular of these documents for himself. “I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes,” Trump told the attorney he had hired to search them. But the more mundane documents — such as the Iran document that disappeared forever after it was publicly aired at Bedminster in July 2021 — appear to have been exploited by the same Political Action Committee that was already the subject of Smith’s increasingly interlocking inquiries.

Trump lied to his small donors about how he was going to use their money. But he also appears to have taken documents when he left the White House — documents that belong to you and me — that he has since put to his own personal and political benefit. Some of those documents are classified.

And so — especially given the suggestion that Smith needed his indictment to go back to a grand jury still working in DC — Jack Smith may have more points of leverage over Trump and his closest associates, including points of leverage that remain almost entirely hidden.

Update: As I was writing this, Lawfare published a similar piece on shoes yet to drop.

Trump Needs Cleared Lawyers, Not Just Any Lawyers

WaPo has a 28-paragraph article on Trump’s scramble to find lawyers to appear at his arraignment today that doesn’t mention several things that are undoubtedly making the search harder.

First, there are all the details in the indictment that reveal how much information Trump withheld from his lawyers: not just the location of the files Evan Corcoran needed to search on June 3, 2022 (and Tim Parlatore tried to search in November and December, only to find none of the documents that remain unaccounted for), but also the sensitivity of the documents he had them claiming before Courts were merely personal records.

Several prominent Florida attorneys declined to take Trump on as a client after two of the key lawyers handling the documents matter — Jim Trusty and John Rowley — resigned last week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trusty and Rowley’s departure was sudden and unexpected, leaving Trump jockeying to identify a lawyer ahead of his Tuesday appearance in federal court in Miami, where rules require practicing attorneys to be a member in good standing of the Florida bar or to be sponsored by one before appearing.

All three lawyers who quit — plus Lindsey Halligan, whose status remains uncertain — signed a letter to Congress claiming that the organization of the boxes returned in January 2022 merely reflect the result of haste and sloppiness by White House staff.

This organization of materials (i.e., schedule of calls for the day, insert page for briefing sheet to prepare for the call, newspapers from the same day) indicates that the White House staff simply [having] swept all documents from the President’s desk and other areas into boxes, where they have resided ever since


We have seen absolutely no indication that President Trump knowingly possessed any of the marked documents or willfully broke any laws. Rather, all indications are that the presence of marked documents at Mara-a-Largo was the result of haphazard records keeping and packing by White House staff and GSA.

The claim is wildly inconsistent with the evidence in the indictment showing how Trump carefully curated these documents over the course of months. That’s the kind of misrepresentation that carries a great deal of personal and professional risk, something that was obvious at the time.

The haste with which Trusty and Rowley abandoned ship, coming shortly after Parlatore’s loud departure, will raise real alarm bells for any attorneys considering the case.

Especially given another detail WaPo doesn’t mention: Lawyers who show up at his table today could get stuck seeing this criminal prosecution through, with far less ability to quit after Trump inevitably fails to disclose other key details in the future. Once a lawyer files a notice of appearance in a criminal case, they often can’t leave until a replacement is found. If, for example, Trump neglected to mention to incoming attorneys that in addition to hoarding documents, he also was disposing of them for personal gain, those attorneys couldn’t quit until a replacement showed up or Trump stopped paying them or Trump fired them.

Finally, there’s the other key thing that WaPo doesn’t mention: Trump needs cleared attorneys, and he should (finally) have the lawyers with Espionage Act experience that might have minimized some of the risk he currently faces.

When courts deal with classified documents like this one will, the judge does not need clearance. (This is a separation of powers issue; members of Congress similarly don’t need clearance.) But the lawyers do. At least one and preferably three of Trump’s lawyers will need to be cleared at the elevated levels the FBI Agents who did the search of Mar-a-Lago had to be read into to even conduct the search. As it was, Trusty was Trump’s only attorney with clearance, and he just split.

Not all lawyers want to go through the trouble of getting clearance. Some — possibly including Chris Kise, was a registered agent for Venezuela in recent years — may not be able to get cleared at that level.

Donald Trump’s trouble finding legal representation is no longer simply the comedy of self-destructiveness it has been for years. Starting today (or shortly thereafter), there will be new obligations and exposures for lawyers representing him.

Trump’s search for a lawyer is not just about finding people who are members of the bar in SDFL. He also needs to find lawyers who are willing to put their security clearance and their reputations at risk on a case where Trump has already been wildly misleading his attorneys.

Update: Without mentioning Kise’s potential unwillingness or inability to try to get cleared, Hugo Lowell describes that Kise will sponsor Todd Blanche and appear just for today. There’s still no hint of Lindsey Halligan’s status — she could also sponsor in Blanche.

After interviewing a slate of potential lawyers at his Trump Doral resort, the former president settled on having Kise appearing as the local counsel admitted to the southern district of Florida as a one-off, with Blanche being sponsored by him to appear pro hac vice, one of the people said.


Blanche is expected to take the lead role in the Mar-a-Lago documents case in addition to leading the team defending Trump against state charges in New York for paying hush money to an adult film star in 2016.

Though Kise is expected to appear alongside Blanche in federal district court in Miami, he has primarily handled civil litigation for Trump since he came off the documents case last October and is not expected to be on the trial team proper, a person familiar with the matter said.

Update: Kise filed what appears to be a permanent notice of appearance, with Todd Blanche filing as well.

NYT’s Pre-DOJ Meeting Attempted Rebuttal

According to multiple outlets, the Trump’s lawyers met with DOJ the other day in part to lodge claims about prosecutorial abuses.

Robert Costa, who first broke this meeting, reported that Trump’s lawyers complained that Jack Smith “overstepped” in the way he dealt with attorney-client privilege.

The NYT didn’t describe what their complaint at the meeting was, but did describe a more detailed version of the letter, asking for a meeting with Merrick Garland, that Trump released as a PR stunt. It talked about strong-arming defense attorneys.

The letter to Mr. Garland was an abbreviated version of a longer one that contained a more detailed account of the concerns by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, according to two people familiar with the matter. Those included the ways in which grand juries have been used in the special counsel’s investigations and attempts to strong-arm defense lawyers involved in the cases, the people said.

Hugo Lowell described that Trump’s lawyers raised concerns about prosecutorial misconduct and mentioned a particular incident that Trump’s lawyers had been complaining about for weeks.

Trump’s lawyers made a general case as to why Trump should not be charged in the Mar-a-Lago documents case and suggested that some prosecutors working under special counsel Jack Smith engaged in what they considered prosecutorial misconduct, the people said.

The exact allegations are not clear but Trump’s lawyers for weeks have complained privately that Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and espionage section at the justice department, once sought to induce a witness into confirming something they declined to, one of the people said. [my emphasis]

That’s why I’m interested in this story the NYT published last week, which provided dramatic details of a recording Evan Corcoran made memorializing the advice he had given Trump.

In complete sentences and a narrative tone that sounded as if it had been ripped from a novel, Mr. Corcoran recounted in detail a nearly monthlong period of the documents investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter.

CNN first reported on how detailed these notes were on May 22.

One source described Corcoran’s notes as “overly detailed.” Another source close to Trump’s legal team said that some of them were surprised about the level of detail in Corcoran’s notes. That source said multiple sets of notes were handed over to prosecutors and that they were significantly redacted to shield Corcoran’s legal opinions in the notes from investigators.

On May 30, more than a week after CNN’s original scoop, in a story that also discussed the notes, Hugo Lowell reported that Evan Corcoran had been “waved off” searching anywhere besides the storage room.

Donald Trump’s lawyer tasked with searching for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after the justice department issued a subpoena told associates that he was waved off from searching the former president’s office, where the FBI later found the most sensitive materials anywhere on the property.

The lawyer, Evan Corcoran, recounted that several Trump aides had told him to search the storage room because that was where all the materials that had been brought from the White House at the end of Trump’s presidency ended up being deposited.


Corcoran also memorialized how he told Trump he could not retain any classified documents at Mar-a-Lago when Trump asked what he was allowed to keep, as well as when he took breaks during the search by walking out to the pool deck nearby, and therefore leaving the storage room unattended. [my emphasis]

Then, on June 3, the weekend before this DOJ meeting (though presumably after it was scheduled), NYT published the dramatization of Corcoran’s notes, what with the description of his full sentences.

Here’s how they rationalize not giving credit to CNN or Lowell for their earlier coverage.

Mr. Corcoran’s notes, which have not been previously described in such detail, will likely play a central role as Mr. Smith and his team move toward concluding their investigation and turn to the question of whether to bring charges against Mr. Trump.

That the NYT didn’t credit another reporter is par the course. What’s novel, here, is how clearly they (or, presumably, their sources) seem to be attempting to rebut Lowell’s report that Corcoran was waved off.

The notes in the recording do not suggest that Mr. Corcoran was waved away from searching anywhere other than the storage room, the people familiar with them said. But they also indicate that no one at Mar-a-Lago — including Mr. Trump — spoke up to tell him that he should look elsewhere. [my emphasis]

Only, NYT didn’t rebut Lowell’s reporting. He was reporting on what Corcoran told other people, not what he recorded in his voice memo. Given how thoroughly Jack Smith has blanketed Mar-a-Lago with subpoenas, those other people are likely to have been subpoenaed as well.

Obtaining witness testimony that conflicts with a written record is the kind of thing that might lead a prosecutor like Jay Bratt to challenge a witness — especially if he were trying to preserve the sterling value of a lawyer testifying against his client. If a prosecutor has witnesses on the record regarding such a topic, it’d be a perfectly justifiable challenge.

Corcoran is not the only attorney witness whose testimony seems to differ from what he later told others. Tim Parlatore, after all, seems to believe that Boris Ephsteyn was less cooperative on searches than he told the grand jury.

If I were a Trump lawyer, I’d worry more about how such discrepancies might put me at risk of being charged right along with Trump than claiming it’s a sign of prosecutorial abuse.

Where the Trump Investigations Stand: Stolen Documents

As noted in this post, I started to write short summaries of where the three main investigations into Trump stand, but they turned into posts. So I’m posting them serially.

In my post on the Georgia investigation, I noted that, as charging decisions have drawn near, Republicans in Georgia have started turning on each other. That’s worthwhile background for Jack Smith’s twin investigations.

That’s particularly true given the report that Boris Epshteyn met for two days with January 6 prosecutors on April 20 and 21, a report that has not yet been followed by any readout of what transpired, as well as the April 4 DC Circuit decision not to stay January 6 testimony from Mark Meadows and others, which similarly has not been matched by any report that Trump’s Chief of Staff has testified.

I’m not saying either man — both of whom are key players in both Jack Smith investigations — flipped. Both are dumbly loyal.

I’m saying that Smith is likely at the same point Willis is: trying to secure key witnesses for an eventual prosecution. Witnesses in a federal investigation might bank on Trump’s ability to beat Biden in 2024 and start pardoning people before they do serious prison time. If not, they might start seeking a deal. The single most useful thing about putting both Trump investigations under Smith is that he can leverage someone’s legal exposure in one part of the investigation to coerce their cooperation in another part where they’re crucial witnesses.

Epshteyn, for example, was the gatekeeper for the obstruction under investigation in the stolen documents case, as well as lawyers like Alina Habba who inexplicably testified in the documents case. But he’s also significantly exposed in the January 6 conspiracy. Plus, DOJ is currently investigating the cryptocurrency scam he and Steve Bannon used to dupe Trump supporters. He’s dumbly loyal. He’s also got a whole lot of criminal exposure.

From what we know of the stolen documents investigation, Smith has focused on three of the main questions he needs to answer for a charging decision:

  • Obstruction (18 USC 1519): What happened in advance and after June 3, 2022 that resulted in Trump’s non-compliance with the May 11 subpoena. Who ordered and who knew about it?
  • Espionage Act (18 USC 793): Are there classified documents that Trump deliberately hoarded about which prosecutors could tell compelling stories that would not, also, result in more damage to national security if declassified for trial?
  • Deliberate removal (18 USC 2071): To what degree did Trump deliberately curate classified documents he wanted to take? Were there documents that his advisors persuaded him should not be declassified that he took when he left anyway? I think this is the least likely charge, unless there’s evidence that Trump stole stuff he had not managed to convince others to release publicly while President.

But there’s another question that may be just as important as the evidence to support the charges, and may elicit quite a debate within DOJ: venue. The easiest way to overcome all the difficulties with charging a former President with 793 would be to charge his retention of documents after the time when:

  1. The Archives had explained that retaining them was unlawful under the Presidential Records Act
  2. Both the Archives and DOJ had asked for them back
  3. Jay Bratt had informed him (through Evan Corcoran) that they were being stored improperly

That is, if he were to charge 793, Smith would likely charge for actions trump took between May and August of last year, at Mar-a-Lago. So (while some smart lawyers disagree) there would be at least a fair argument that it would have to be charged in SDFL.

Ideally any charges against a former President would be strong enough to convince a South Florida jury, but the possibility of Aileen Cannon presiding over such a trial would be daunting. Plus, judges in DC have far more experience dealing with cases involving classified information than most other districts other than EDVA.

Whereas, if Smith were to charge only obstruction, venue in DC is not a stretch at all.

The letter Trump’s lawyers sent to Mike Turner makes clear they believe (or hope) Trump will be charged only with obstruction. Their defense right now is that the Archives never should have referred the 15 boxes of classified records to the FBI (never mind that NARA did the same with Joe Biden), and therefore DOJ should never have issued the subpoena he blew off.

This defense has the advantage of playing to Republican voters who can easily be persuaded that Biden is being treated differently than Trump. That Trump’s lawyers have adopted it may suggest they believe that a President’s unfettered ability to declassify secrets would make 793 charges more difficult.

It would, normally! But DOJ has, at least, laid the groundwork to do just that. Much of what has been perceived as delay really consists of the Archives and DOJ working through each of the reasonable approaches past Presidents, as well as Biden and Mike Pence have adopted to classified documents. But ultimately the subpoena created the conditions in which prosecutors could easily prove the elements of the offense of a 793 charge: that he (1a) refused to give back (2) national defense information (3) in unsecure conditions (1b) after someone asked him to give it back.

Not only are Trump’s attorneys wildly ill-suited to an Espionage case, but as they admit in the letter, they haven’t reviewed the classified documents Trump retained. If, as some of the questions reportedly asked of witnesses seems to have suggested, Trump tried to curate classified documents for his own personal revenge, then it may make 793 charges more compelling.

And some of the last witnesses Smith brought in on this case, even after Evan Corcoran seemingly finalized evidentiary testimony on April 4, were the men who had declassified — but also, in some cases, declined to declassify — documents of unprecedented sensitivity for Trump, often in pursuit of revenge.

There’s one other matter that likely poses a challenge as Smith decides whether to charge this case: the challenge of getting any remaining documents back. Beryl Howell never gave DOJ the contempt ruling they wanted to use to compel Trump’s lawyers to retrieve remaining documents. Another way of doing so would be to conduct a coordinated search at the moment of a defendant’s arrest. But that would require a dramatically different kind of arrest than we expect to see.

Note that Trump has plans to visit his Irish golf resort this week.


Where the Trump Investigations Stand: Georgia

Where the Trump Investigations Stand: Stolen Documents

Where the Trump Investigations Stand: The January 6 Conspiracies

“Lock Him Up!” Trump Calls on Congress to Halt the Criminal Investigation into Joe Biden

Yesterday, four Trump lawyers sent House Intelligence Chair Mike Turner a really risky letter. CNN first reported on the letter.

Boris Epshteyn, who had allegedly been leading Trump’s defense in that investigation, did not sign the letter.

The letter responds to the news that Turner and other Gang of 8 members have recently been given access to the documents found at Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence’s properties.

We understand that DOJ is making the documents marked classified available for your review, and this letter provides the Committee with information that we suspect DOJ has not disclosed to it.

It doesn’t cite its source of information about those reviews, which is one way to obscure that the Gang of 8 actually began to get such access by April 11, two weeks ago.

Since Mike Turner and other Gang of 8 members started reviewing the documents, two things have happened.

First, Joe Biden announced his reelection campaign, without waiting on Special Counsel Robert Hur to report the results of his investigation into Biden for mishandling classified information.

And, about a month after Evan Corcoran testified in a crime-fraud excepted appearance before the grand jury, Boris Epshteyn spent two days last week chatting with Jack Smith’s prosecutors. (Like Epshteyn, Corcoran did not sign this letter, but that’s because his partners forced him to recuse from the investigation after he testified.) Even though Epshteyn has been a likely source for a lot of the press reports on the various investigations into which he has or had visibility, I’m not aware of any report describing his testimony, much less why he testified without any report of a subpoena.

Contemplate the significance of the first item — Biden’s reelection announcement — as you consider the purported point of the letter. Donald Trump — the guy who won the presidency with non-stop chants of “Lock her up!” in 2016 — claims to think that an investigation analogous to the one that targeted Hillary Clinton in 2015 to 2016 is improper.

A legislative solution by Congress is required to prevent the DOJ from continuing to conduct ham-handed criminal investigations of matters that are inherently not criminal.


What is consistent in all three of these cases is that the document handling procedures in the White House are flawed and DOJ is not the appropriate agency to conduct investigations pertaining to the mishandling or spillage of classified material.


The solution to these issues is not a misguided, politically infected, and severely botched criminal investigation, but rather a legislative solution. DOJ should be ordered to stand down, and the intelligence community should instead conduct an appropriate investigation and provide a full report to this Committee, as well as your counterparts in the Senate. Armed with the appropriate knowledge, we respectfully suggest that your Committee hold hearings and make legislative changes to:

1. Correct classified document handling procedures in the White House;

2. Standardize document handling and storage procedures for Presidents and Vice Presidents when they leave office; and

3. Formalize procedures for investigations into the mishandling or spillage of classified material, to prevent future situations where DOJ is inappropriately assigned to conduct an investigation.

President Trump’s legal team would be happy to meet with you or your staff to assist in any way necessary to address these issues. Please know that despite the differences in the cases, we do not believe that any of these three matters should be handled by DOJ as a criminal case. Rather, the stakeholders to these matters should set aside political differences and work together to remediate this issue and help to enhance our national security in the process. [my emphasis]

Donald Trump is asking Congress to intervene to halt not just into the investigation into him — and make no mistake, that is what he’s doing. But he’s also asking Congress to halt the investigation into his opponent!

Having won the presidency in 2016 by demanding the investigation into Hillary be more punitive, he’s now asking Congress to halt the investigation into Joe Biden.

Having won the presidency in 2016 by succeeding in highlighting Hillary’s negligence for mishandling classified information, Trump now wants to forego the opportunity to pursue the same approach in 2024.

At the very least, that’s a pretty good sign that he and his lawyers don’t believe their own claims that the known facts about Biden’s mishandling of classified information are worse than the known facts about Trump’s.

4 Of course, we also recently learned from media reports that President Biden possessed
marked documents in a “personal” folder at the Penn-Biden Center – strong evidence
that he intentionally possessed then after he or someone else secretly removed them,
from the Senate SCIF at least 14 years earlier when he was the Senator from Delaware.
We also now know that after DOJ learned about President Biden’s possession of
classified documents at the Penn-Biden Center, it allowed his personal attorneys to
search for and collect documents from his residence in Delaware making the specific
locations of the documents in the residence difficult, and perhaps impossible, to
determine. And, it has since been publicly reported that there could be even more
classified documents in the 1,850 boxes that Mr. Biden shipped to the University of
Delaware in 2012. DOJ’s reaction to all of this is stunningly different from how it
responded to President Trump’s offer of cooperation regarding the boxes stored at Mara-Largo. [sic: Trump’s lawyers misspell Mar-a-Lago in several different ways in the letter]


When documents were found in President Joseph Biden’s Penn-Biden Center office, despite clear indicators that his violations were more likely the result of willful misconduct, DOJ treated him very differently by forgoing any attempts at manufacturing conflict, while implicitly approving the spoliation of evidence.

The applicable criminal statute prohibits “willful retention” of national defense information, not mere possession. See 18 U.S. § 793 (e). To prove willful retention, a prosecutor must first establish that the possession was knowing. Despite media spin to the contrary, this is the key element that distinguishes President Trump’s retention of documents from that by President Biden. Evidence of knowing possession can be readily inferred from the length of time that President Biden possessed the marked documents since leaving office and the fact that they were moved and stored at multiple locations. In comparison, the materials found at Mar-a-Lago were still stored in the same GSA boxes in which they left the White House, untouched in the relatively short time since the end of President Trump’s term. Perhaps the most damning fact for President Biden is that he possessed marked documents from his time in the Senate—a body that maintains all marked documents in a SCIF, unlike the White House. Further, as you are no doubt aware and as mentioned earlier in this letter, media reports have indicated that classified documents were contained in a folder labeled “personal,”8 which is much more powerful evidence of knowing retention than documents being randomly dispersed into boxes by moving teams.

8 See, e.g., Jamie Gangel et al., “Exclusive: U.S. intelligence materials related to Ukraine, Iran and UK found in Biden’s private office, source tells CNN,” CNN (Jan. 10, 2023),

There is not a chance in hell that Trump would forgo an opportunity to make this race about Biden’s mishandling of classified information if he really believed that Biden’s “violations were more likely the result of willful misconduct.”

Not a chance in hell!

But then, there’s abundant reason to believe that the four lawyers know they’re blowing smoke (to Congress). Heck, I’m so sure of it I think Mark Warner should invite all four of them to give sworn testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

There are the claims this letter makes that conflict with known testimony, such as that Trump didn’t review any of the documents in the boxes ultimately returned to the Archives.

However, due to other demands on his time, President Trump subsequently directed his staff to ship the boxes to NARA without any review by him or his staff.

There are the claims this letter makes that conflict with known details about the case, such as that, because Trump was too busy starting an insurrection, he didn’t have the ability to send his documents to a GSA-leased facility.

When President Trump left office, there was little time to prepare for the outgoing transition from the presidency. Unlike his three predecessors, each of whom had over four years to prepare for their departure upon completion of their second term, President Trump had a much shorter time to wind up his administration. White House staffers and General Service Administration (“GSA”) employees quickly packed everything into boxes and shipped them to Florida. This was a stark change from the standard preparations made by GSA and National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) for prior administrations. As NARA acknowledged in a Press Statement it issued on October 11, 2022:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, assumed physical and legal custody of the Presidential records from the administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, when those Presidents left office. NARA securely moved these records to temporary facilities that NARA leased from the General Services Administration (GSA), near the locations of the future Presidential Libraries that former Presidents built for NARA. All such temporary facilities met strict archival and security standards, and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees.2

Investigators paid by the lead writer of this letter, Tim Parlatore, found two additional documents with classification marks in what is reportedly a GSA-leased facility in Florida.

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.


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.

There’s the claim that DOJ dictated the timing of the June 3 document pick-up, when the record shows Evan Corcoran called FBI and told them to come down the next day.

Ultimately, President Trump’s legal team complied with DOJ’s demands, performing as diligent a search as they could by Mr. Bratt’s arbitrary deadline, and submitted a certification that affirmed the same.

And this letter repeats a bullshit claim that Trump’s lawyers have chanted from the start of his attempts to sucker the press: that the only thing Jay Bratt requested after he had seen the storage room at Mar-a-Lago was to put a lock on the facility.

Although Mr. Corcoran told the DOJ representatives that they were not going to go through boxes together that day, he fully expected DOJ to ask to return to Mar-a-Largo and examine all the boxes. Mr. Bratt reinforced this belief when, five days later, he wrote to Mr. Corcoran requesting that an additional lock be placed on the door. The lock was soon installed, and the boxes kept under lock and key in a facility guarded by armed Secret Service agents.

It’s like Tim Parlatore thinks Mike Turner’s staffers are too stupid to review the unsealed affidavit, which reveals that Bratt’s letter says something else entirely: that the storage facility is not a secure facility authorized to store classified documents.

As I previously indicated to you, Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information. As such, it appears that since the time classified documents (the ones recently provided and any and all others) were removed from the secure facilities at the White House and moved to Mar-a-Lago on or around January 20, 202 1, they have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an approptiate location. Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.

Because the staffers that deal with this document have security clearance they surely want to keep, they’ll undoubtedly know that this is a reference to CFR standards for storage, not a request to add an almost certainly non-compliant lock.

And that’s why I think this letter was ill-advised.

These are just the obvious, affirmatively false things in the letter. There’s a whole bunch more that Trump’s lawyers simply ignore, such as the surveillance video showing Trump’s staffers moving boxes out of the storage facility in advance of the search they’re claiming here was a diligent search or the fact that FBI found 70-some classified documents in the storage facility of which Corcoran had claimed to have done a diligent search.

The only way this document could have the desired effect is if Mike Turner likes being lied to, or is so in the tank that — like Richard Burr before him — he’s willing to risk his own legal exposure to obstruct a criminal investigation.

And that’s assuming Warner didn’t subpoena any or all of these lawyers to repeat these farcical claims to Congress under oath.

All that’s before you consider the asymmetry. Trump’s lawyers — just one of whom (they admit) actually has clearance — acknowledge they have no fucking clue what FBI caught Trump hoarding.

Despite our requests to DOJ, it has refused to tell us whether in its judgment any of the documents remain classified. Similarly, DOJ has refused to allow for inspection of the documents at any time during the last eight months despite the fact that one of our attorneys has sufficient clearance to view the majority of the documents marked as classified.

Mike Turner does know.

Trump’s lawyers claim — or rather confess — that among the files he originally had in his beach resort were call briefings with foreign officials, just like the ones hidden from Congress in the first impeachment.

The vast majority of the placeholder inserts refer to briefings for phone calls with foreign leaders that were located near the schedule for those calls.

Again, I can only imagine how stupid Parlatore thinks Turner’s staffers are to confess this.

But even I know that many of the things Trump kept after DOJ subpoenaed them are not similar. Even I know that Trump compiled two classified documents with messages from a pollster, a book author, and a faith leader. And Mike Turner has reviewed these documents and he knows it too. And I know that he knows it.

So unless Mike Turner is totally in the tank for Trump — worse even than Burr was! — this letter risks pissing Turner off.

Last month, before Evan Corcoran was forced to give crime-fraud excepted testimony against Trump and before Boris Epshteyn spent two days chatting with Jack Smith’s prosecutors, Tim Parlatore — lead author of this insulting letter — said the following about Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case.

Mr. Epshteyn’s legal role with Mr. Trump, while less often focused on gritty legal details, has been to try to serve as a gatekeeper between the lawyers on the front lines and the former president, who is said to sometimes roll his eyes at the frequency of Mr. Epshteyn’s calls but picks up the phone.

“Boris has access to information and a network that is useful to us,” said one of the team’s lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, whom Mr. Epshteyn hired. “It’s good to have someone who’s a lawyer who is also inside the palace gates.”

Mr. Parlatore suggested that he was not worried that Mr. Epshteyn, like a substantial number of other Trump lawyers, had become at least tangentially embroiled in some of the same investigations on which he was helping to defend Mr. Trump.

“Absent any solid indication that Boris is a target here, I don’t think it affects us,” Mr. Parlatore said.

Neither Corcoran nor Epshteyn signed this letter. It’s not yet clear why Epshteyn didn’t.

And that’s as telling as the embarrassing false claims that it makes.

The Espionage Act Evidence WaPo Spins as Obstruction Evidence

The WaPo, with Devlin Barrett as lead byline and Mar-a-Lago Trump-whisperer Josh Dawsey next, has a report describing either new evidence or more evidence of obstruction in the stolen documents case.

Some of it, such as that investigators “now suspect that boxes including classified material were moved from Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served,” is not new — not to investigators and not to the public. The version of the search affidavit released on September 14 showed that on June 24 investigators subpoenaed the surveillance footage for the storage room and at least one other, still-redacted location, going back to January 10, 2022, long before subpoena for documents with classification marks was served on May 11. So unless Trump withheld surveillance footage, then DOJ has known since early July 2022 on what specific dates boxes were moved. And a redacted part of the affidavit explains the probable cause the FBI had in August that there might be classified documents in Trump’s residential suite.

In other words, much of what WaPo describes is that DOJ has obtained substantial evidence since August to prove the probable cause suspicions already laid out in their August warrant affidavit. You don’t search the former President’s beach resort without awfully good probable cause, and they were able to show substantial reason to believe that Trump had boxes moved to his residence after he received the May 11 subpoena, where he sorted out some he wanted to keep, eight months ago.

They’ve just gotten a whole lot more proof that they were right, since.

Other parts of the story do describe previously unknown (to us, at least) details, and those may be significantly more important for Trump’s fate. The most intriguing, to me, is that witnesses are being asked about Trump’s obsession with Mark Milley.

Investigators have also asked witnesses if Trump showed a particular interest in material relating to Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, people familiar with those interviews said. Milley was appointed by Trump but drew scorn and criticism from Trump and his supporters after a series of revelations in books about Milley’s efforts to rein in Trump toward the end of his term. In 2021, Trump repeatedly complained publicly about Milley, calling him an “idiot.”

The people did not say whether investigators specified what material related to Milley they were focused on. The Post could not determine what has led prosecutors to press some witnesses on those specific points or how relevant they may be to the overall picture that Smith’s team is trying to build of Trump’s actions and intent.

Remember that reports on investigations, especially ones that include Mar-a-Lago court reporters, often amount to witnesses attempting to share questions they’ve been asked with other witnesses or lawyers. Trump’s team has no idea what kinds of classified items were seized. This detail suggests that among the classified documents seized are a document or documents pertaining to Milley.

According to Bobs Woodward and Costa in Peril, Milley called China twice in the last months of the Trump administration to reassure his counterpart that the US was not going to attack China without some build-up first.

On Friday, October 30, four days before the election, Chairman Milley examined the latest sensitive intelligence. What he read was alarming: The Chinese believed the United States was going to attack them.

Milley knew it was untrue. But the Chinese were on high alert, and whenever a superpower is on high alert, the risk of war escalates. Asian media reports were filled with rumors and talk of tensions between the two countries over the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy routinely sails ships in areas to challenge maritime claims by the Chinese and promote freedom of the seas.

There were suggestions that Trump might want to manufacture a “Wag the Dog” war before the election so he could rally the voters and beat Biden.


This was such a moment. While he often put a hold on or stopped various tactical and routine U.S. military exercises that could look provocative to the other side or be misinterpreted, this was not a time for just a hold. He arranged a call with General Li.

Trump was attacking China on the campaign trail at every turn, blaming them for the coronavirus. “I beat this crazy, horrible China virus,” he told Fox News on October 11. Milley knew the Chinese might not know where the politics ended and possible action began.

To give the call with Li a more routine flavor, Milley first raised mundane issues like the staff-to-staff communications and methods for making sure they could always rapidly reach each other.

Finally, getting to the point, Milley said, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay. We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.

“General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise. It’s not going to be a bolt out of the blue.

The two Bobs also described how, in the days after January 6, Milley reviewed nuclear launch procedures with senior officers of the National Mission Command Center to make sure he would be in the loop if Trump ordered the use of nukes.

Without providing a reason, Milley said he wanted to go over the procedures and process for launching nuclear weapons.

Only the president could give the order, he said. But then he made clear that he, the chairman of the JCS, must be directly involved. Under current procedure, there was supposed to be a voice conference call on a secure network that would include the secretary of defense, the JCS chairman and lawyers.

“If you get calls,” Milley said, “no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.”

If there was any doubt what he was emphasizing, he added, “You just make sure that I’m on this net. “Don’t forget. Just don’t forget.”

He said that his statements applied to any order for military action, not just the use of nuclear weapons. He had to be in the loop.

Since these details about Milley came out, Trump and his frothers have claimed Milley committed treason, in concert with Nancy Pelosi (who had expressed concerns to Milley about the safety of America’s nuclear arsenal).

The attack on Milley is the same kind of manufactured grievance — often cultivated by investigation witness Kash Patel (who was DOD Chief of Staff during the transition) — as the Russian investigation. That other inflated grievance led Trump to compile a dumbass binder of sensitive documents that didn’t substantiate his grievances. If Trump did the same with Milley, either before or after he left office, those documents might include highly sensitive documents, including SIGINT reports about China’s response to Milley’s contacts.

If DOJ were ever to charge Trump for refusing to give back classified documents under 18 USC 793(e), DOJ would select a subset of the documents to charge, probably from among those seized in August. They would pick those that, if declassified for trial, would not do new damage to national security, documents that would allow prosecutors to tell a compelling story at trial. And given WaPo’s report, there’s good reason to think there’s a story they think they could tell about documents that may be part of Trump’s grievance campaign against Milley.

WaPo also described that witnesses are being asked whether Trump shared documents, including a map, with donors.

As investigators piece together what happened in May and June of last year, they have been asking witnesses if Trump showed classified documents, including maps, to political donors, people familiar with those conversations said.

According to the story, communications from Trump’s former Executive Assistant, Molly Michael, have been key for investigators.

[A]uthorities have another category of evidence that they consider particularly helpful as they reconstruct events from last spring: emails and texts of Molly Michael, an assistant to the former president who followed him from the White House to Florida before she eventually left that job last year. Michael’s written communications have provided investigators with a detailed understanding of the day-to-day activity at Mar-a-Lago at critical moments, these people said.

Michael is likely the person in whose desk drawer at least two of the classified documents seized in August were found: the two “compiled” with messages from a pollster, a faith leader, and a book author, the kind of document you would show to donors. That document, which combines two classified documents obtained before Trump left the White House with messages from after he left, is the kind of smoking gun that shows Trump didn’t just hoard documents because of ego (as Barrett reported even after the existence of this document was made public), but because he was putting classified documents to his own personal use. We learned back in November that there was evidence that Trump had used two classified documents in what sounds like a campaign document. Perhaps one of those classified documents was a map (of Israel? of Ukraine?).

Whatever it is, this is the kind of story prosecutors might like to tell at stolen classified document trials, not just because it would show Trump putting the nation’s secrets to his own personal gain and sharing classified documents with people who never had clearance, but because it would be proof that people on Trump’s team knew of and accessed documents after they lost their need to access such documents. This document would go a long way to proving that Trump didn’t just hoard classified documents out of negligence (which is currently the explanation why both Joe Biden and Mike Pence did), but because he wanted to make use of what he took.

Molly Michael is also the person who ordered a more junior aide to make a digital copy of Trump’s schedules from when he was President, an order that led to documents with classification markings being loaded to a laptop and likely to the cloud. That’s another example of the kind of exploitation of classified documents that would make a good story at trial.

It’s also the kind of story that could expose Michael herself to Espionage Act charges, such that she might work hard to minimize her own exposure. And yes, because she was Trump’s Executive Assistant, both at the White House and after he moved back to Mar-a-Lago, she likely can explain a lot about how Trump used documents he took from the White House and brought to Mar-a-Lago, including documents used as part of his political campaigning afterwards.

Without conceding it was incorrect, WaPo notes that in November, after it was already public that Trump had self-interested reason to refuse to return documents, it reported it was all just ego (it now attributes that conclusion entirely to what Trump told his aides, not — as claimed in the first line of last fall’s story — what “Federal agents and prosecutors have come to believe”).

Such alleged conduct could demonstrate Trump’s habits when it came to classified documents, and what may have motivated him to want to keep the papers. The Post has previously reported that Trump told aides he did not want to return documents and other items from his presidency — which by law are supposed to remain in government custody — because he believed they belonged to him.

Even in a story describing prosecutors collecting evidence about at least two stories about classified records that they might tell at a trial, the WaPo remarkably suggests to readers that obstruction is the primary crime being investigated here.

The application for court approval for that search said agents were pursuing evidence of violations of statutes including 18 USC 1519, which makes it a crime to alter, destroy, mutilate or conceal a document or tangible object “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency.”

A key element in most obstruction cases is intent, because to bring such a charge, prosecutors have to be able to show that whatever actions were taken were done to try to hinder or block an investigation. In the Trump case, prosecutors and federal agents are trying to gather any evidence pointing to the motivation for Trump’s actions.


Investigators have also amassed evidence indicating that Trump told others to mislead government officials in early 2022, before the subpoena, when the National Archives and Records Administration was working with the Justice Department to try to recover a wide range of papers, many of them not classified, from Trump’s time as president, the people familiar with the investigation said. While such alleged conduct may not constitute a crime, it could serve as evidence of the former president’s intent.

By treating this as only an obstruction investigation, WaPo incorrectly claims that lying to NARA (as opposed to the FBI) could not be part of a crime.

Here’s my attempt to lay out the elements of offense of both crimes — what prosecutors would have to prove at trial (I wrote more about the elements of an 18 USC 793e charge here and here).

To prove obstruction, DOJ would focus on the things of which — WaPo describes — Jack Smith’s team has developed substantial proof. Most conservatively, they would pertain to a grand jury investigation, because that application would be uncontroversial. After DOJ sent Trump a grand jury subpoena (which would be presented at trial as proof that Trump had notice of the grand jury investigation, his knowledge of which Evan Corcoran’s recent testimony would further corroborate), Trump took steps to hide documents and thereby prevent full compliance with that subpoena, and so thwarted a grand jury investigation. That’s your obstruction charge.

DOJ could charge a second act of obstruction tied to NARA’s effort to recover documents as part of its proper administration of the Presidential Records Act. But such an application would be guaranteed to be appealed. So the safer route would be to charge behavior that post-dates Trump’s knowledge of the grand jury investigation (and indeed, WaPo describes a close focus on events that took place starting last May).

But Trump’s longer effort to deceive the government in order to hoard documents is proof of 18 USC 793(e). To prove that, DOJ would need to prove that the government, whether NARA or FBI, told Trump he was not authorized to have documents covered by the Presidential Records Act, a subset of which would include documents with classification marks. They would need to show that Trump had been told about why he needed to protect classified records, which Trump’s former White House counsels and Staff Secretary have described (and documented) doing. For good measure they would show that Jay Bratt affirmatively told Trump that he had been (and, the August search would prove, was still) storing classified documents in places not authorized for such storage.

To prove 18 USC 793(e) at trial, you would need to describe specific documents Trump refused to give back and explain to a jury why they fit the definition of National Defense Information, material that remained closely held that, if released, could do damage to the US. That may be why they’re asking questions about Trump’s obsession with Milley or sharing maps with donors: because it’s part of the story that prosecutors would tell at trial, if they were to charge 18 USC 793.

All of which is to say that WaPo not only reported that DOJ has collected more evidence to prove what DOJ already suspected when they did the search on August 8, but they’ve been collecting information that would go beyond that, to a hypothetical Espionage Act charge.

Charging a former President with violating the Espionage Act is still an awfully big lift, and in the same way that charging obstruction for impeding NARA’s proper administration of the Presidential Records Act would invite an appeal, charging 18 USC 793(e) in DC would invite a challenge on venue (and charging it in Florida would risk spending the next three years fighting Aileen Cannon). But in addition to developing more evidence to prove the suspicions that they already substantiated in August, WaPo describes Jack Smith’s team asking the kinds of questions — about specific documents that might be charged as individual violations of the Espionage Act — that you’d ask before charging it.

Asking whether Trump (or Molly Michael or anyone else from Trump’s PAC) showed donors a classified map in a package also showing polling and a faith leader’s support for Trump’s policy in an attempt to raise money doesn’t get you evidence of obstruction. If the map is classified, though, it gets you proof that Trump not only knew he had classified documents, but had turned to profiting off of them.

That’s not a guarantee they’re going to charge 18 USC 793e. It’s a pretty good sign they’re collecting evidence that might support that charge.

Update: CNN has a much more measured story, describing how Jack Smith’s team is locking in the voluntary testimony they got last summer.

The new details come amid signs the Justice Department is taking steps typical of near the end of an investigation.

The recent investigative activity before a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, also includes subpoenaing witnesses in March and April who had previously spoken to investigators, the sources said. While the FBI interviewed many aides and workers at Mar-a-Lago nearly a year ago voluntarily, grand jury appearances are transcribed and under-oath – an indication the prosecutors are locking in witness testimony.


The grand jury activity – expected to continue to occur at a frequent clip in the coming weeks – builds upon several known reactions Trump and others around him had to the DOJ’s attempt to reclaim classified records last year, and which prompted the FBI to obtain a judge’s approval to search Mar-a-Lago in August for classified records.

Some of the evidence the DOJ has used to persuade a judge to allow that search is still under seal.

It also notes that Smith is still pursuing how a box including documents with classification marks came to be brought back to Mar-a-Lago after the search.

Since then, the Justice Department has pushed for answers around how a box with classified records ended up in Trump’s office after the FBI search took place.