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Merrick Garland Hasn’t Done the Specific Thing You Want because DOJ Has Been Busy Doing Things They Have to Do First

The passage of the election has set off the Merrick Garland whingers again, people who like displaying their ignorance by claiming there has been no sign of progress on the investigations into Trump when (often as not) there were signs of progress that the whingers are ignoring in the last few days.

Yes. It has been almost a week since the close of polls last Tuesday. No. Merrick Garland has not carted Trump away in a paddy wagon yet (nor would the FBI, if and when they ever did arrest him).

Yes. We actually know why Garland hasn’t done so — and it’s not for want of actions that might lead there.

There are still known steps that have to or probably will happen before Trump would be indicted in any of the known criminal investigations into him. For those demanding proof of life from the DOJ investigations into Trump, you need look no further than the public record to find that proof of life. The public record easily explains both what DOJ has been doing in the Trump investigations, and why there is likely to be at least a several month delay before any charges can be brought.

The reason is that DOJ is still pursuing the evidence they would need before charging a former President.

Here’s an update on the various investigations into Trump (I’ve bolded the two appellate deadlines below).

Stolen documents

The reason I’m particularly crabby about the Merrick Garland whinging is because people were accusing DOJ of inaction hours after DOJ’s most recent step in the investigation into Trump’s stolen documents. On November 3, for example, DOJ compelled Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury under grant of use immunity, testimony that would be necessary, one way or another, before charging Trump, because DOJ would need to rule out or at least account for any claim that Trump mass-declassified the documents he stole.

DOJ continues to fight to ensure it can keep the documents it seized on August 8, and to be permitted to use the unclassified documents it seized in the investigation. The most recent filings in that fight, as I wrote up here, were filings about the disputes Trump and DOJ have about the seized documents, which Special Master Raymond Dearie will use to rule on those designations by December 16. After Dearie does that, Trump will dispute some of Dearie’s decisions, and Judge Aileen Cannon will make her own decision de novo. She has not set her own deadline for how long that decision would take. But if the Special Master process is the means by which DOJ guarantees its access to the evidence against Trump, it won’t be resolved until after the New Year, even assuming DOJ won’t have to appeal some ridiculous Cannon ruling.

Short of doing a search on another Trump property, preferably in Virginia but possibly in New Jersey or New York, this case cannot be charged until DOJ can present documents the custody of which it has guaranteed to a grand jury. DOJ has to make sure they have the evidence they would use to charge Trump (though adjudicating these disputes now might make any prosecution quicker on the back end).

That said, DOJ may guarantee custody of the documents it seized in August more quickly, via its challenge to Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master in the first place, in the 11th Circuit. Trump’s response to that appeal, which he submitted on November 10, seemed desultory, as if Chris Kice knows they will lose this appeal (indeed, that seems likely given that both the 11th Circuit and SCOTUS have already declined to see the case in the way Trump would prefer). DOJ’s response is due on November 17. Because of the way the 11th Circuit has scheduled this appeal, the panel reviewing it will be prepared for oral argument on rather quick turnaround. Even so, DOJ is not likely to guarantee access to these documents via any favorable 11th Circuit decision (which Trump will undoubtedly appeal) before December 1, and it would take about a week to present any case to the grand jury. So the very earliest that DOJ could indict this case would be early- to mid- December.

Update: In a filing submitted on November 8 but only unsealed today, DOJ asked Raymond Dearie to recommend that Judge Cannon lift the injunction on the 2,794 out of 2,916 documents over which Trump is making no privilege claim.

Update: The 11th Circuit has set a hearing for November 22, so DOJ may actually have access to those files sooner than December 1, though not all that sooner.

January 6 investigation(s)

There are at least four ways that Trump might be charged in conjunction with January 6:

  • For asking Mike Pence to illegally overturn legal votes and then threatening him, including with violence, when he refused
  • For setting up fake electors to contest the election
  • For fundraising off false claims of voter fraud and using the money to benefit those who helped the attack
  • Via people like Roger Stone, in a networked conspiracy with those who attacked the Capitol

DOJ sent out subpoenas in the first three prongs of this just before the pre-election pause. This post summarizes who was included.

These are all (and have been) intersecting conspiracies (this CNN story describes how many areas the subpoenas cover). For example, since January, it has been clear that the top-down investigation most visible in the January 6 Committee work and the crime-scene investigation visible in ongoing prosecutions had converged on the pressure both Trump and the mob focused on Mike Pence. It’s unclear how DOJ will treat the intersection of these investigations, and whether DOJ will wait for all prongs to converge before charging.

The Mike Pence prong is where DOJ made its most obvious progress during the pre-election pause. On October 6, Mike Pence Counsel Greg Jacob testified before a grand jury. October 14, Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short testified. Also in October, DOJ asked Beryl Howell to compel Trump’s White House Counsels Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin as well. I’m not aware of the status of appeals on that (or whether Judge Howell compelled testimony from the two Pats in the meantime). We know that all four men would describe the debates over the extent of Pence’s authority to reject lawful electors, including the recognition from people like John Eastman that their legal theories were unsupported by law. The two Pats would also testify about Trump’s reaction to the mob, as he watched the attack on the Capitol from inside the White House dining room, including the tweet that specifically targeted Pence. These are all very credible first-hand witnesses to Trump’s words and actions both in advance of and during the attack. Obtaining their testimony would be necessary before charging a former President. But DOJ’s efforts (and success) at obtaining their testimony reflects the seriousness of the investigation.

The publication of Pence’s book, which relays his version about exchanges with Trump, would seem to invite a demand from DOJ that he testify about the same topics to the grand jury as well, particularly given the way he spun the story in ways that might help Trump. If I were a prosecutor contemplating charging the former President, I would want that potentially exculpatory (to Trump) locked in under oath. And any claim from Pence that he can’t share these details because of Executive Privilege seem ridiculous in the face of a book tour. But if DOJ decided they needed Pence’s testimony it might result in delay.

It’s unclear how much progress DOJ has made on the subpoenas issued before the pause. None of those subpoenaed have been spotted at grand jury appearances at Prettyman (though that may change this week). In particular, there are a bunch of senior Republicans involved in the fake elector plots from whom I expect DOJ to try to lock in testimony.

But two things may cause delay in any case. First, as I wrote here, subpoenas (generally served on people who might be expected to comply) are easy, because they require the person who received the subpoena to do the search for the subpoenaed materials. But it takes time to exploit phones, all the more so if the phone was seized without some way to open it. Here’s how long the communications of various high profile people have taken to exploit:

This is not indolence. It is physics and due process: it just takes time to crack phones, to filter the content, and to scope what is responsive to a warrant.

Among the steps taken before the pause, in early September, DOJ seized the phones of Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman. While it’s possible DOJ will be able to accelerate the process of exploiting these phones (they have done so with Oath Keeper lawyer Kellye SoRelle’s phone, as last week DOJ submitted material that had gone through a filter review from the phone seized from her in early September in the sedition case), you should not assume they can fully exploit these phones (with whatever Signal content is on them) in less than six months, so March. In Epshteyn’s case, his claims to be playing a legal role in the stolen document case may cause further delays because of a filter review.

As someone involved in vote fraud efforts, Latinos for Trump, and the Oath Keepers, SoRelle is one of the pivots from the White House and Willard focused activities to the crime scene. DOJ seems closer to moving against others at that pivot point. Roger Stone, for example, has been mentioned over and over in the Oath Keeper trial. But that’s probably several months off. Alex Jones sidekick Owen Shroyer has been given until the end of the month to decide whether he wants to plead or take his chances on further charges. And I expect DOJ will wait until the verdict at least in the Oath Keeper case (they might not even get through all the defense witnesses this week), and possibly in the more complex Proud Boy case (which would be February barring likely unforeseen changes), before going too much further.

There’s one more thing that may delay any more spectacular charges in January 6. The oral argument for DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier decision on the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the insurrection won’t happen until December 12. It drew a pretty unfavorable panel for that hearing (listed as Joseph Fischer here): Trump appointees Greg Katsas (like Nichols, a former Clarence Thomas clerk, who also worked as Deputy White House Counsel in 2017) and Justin Walker (who is close to Mitch McConnell), and Biden appointee Florence Pan (who presided over January 6 cases before being promoted to the Circuit Court). It’s possible, but by no means certain, that the Trump appointees will do something nutty, in which case, DOJ would surely appeal first to the full DC Circuit panel; if they overturn Nichols, Garret Miller and the other January 6 defendants who got their obstruction charges thrown out will presumably appeal to SCOTUS.

Nichols’ decision, which ruled that January 6 did count as an official proceeding but ruled that any obstruction had to involve some kind of documents, probably wouldn’t stall any charges relating to the fake electors, which were after all about using fraudulent documents to overturn the vote certification. But it might lead DOJ to pause for other charges until the legal application is unquestioned. 18 USC 1512 is the charge on which DOJ has built its set of interlocking conspiracy charges, and so this decision is pretty important going forward.

Unlike the stolen document case, I can’t give you a date that would be the soonest possible date to expect indictments. But for a variety of reasons laid out here, unless DOJ were to indict on charges specifically focused on Mike Pence (with the possibility of superseding later), it probably would not be until March or April at the earliest.

Georgia investigation

The Georgia investigation, like the Federal one, was paused for a period leading up to the election (it’s unclear whether the run-off between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will further delay things). But during the pre-election period, DA Fani Willis won decisions for testimony from Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich. Those grand jury appearances were scheduled for the end of this month (though may be pushed back). In any case, Willis has indicated that any charges from this investigation may come before the end of the year.

To be clear, none of this is a guarantee that DOJ (or Willis) will indict Trump and/or his closest aides. It is, however, a summary of the reasons that are public that all these investigations have been taking steps that would have to happen before they could charge Trump, and that most have additional steps that would have to happen before prosecutors could even make a prosecutorial decision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NARA Asked for 24 Boxes … Trump Gave Them 15

The Archives (NARA) has released several sets of documents pertaining to the documents Trump stole, including the email that kicked off the entire hunt for documents on May 6, 2021. In it, NARA General Counsel Gary Stern emailed Pat Philbin, Mike Purpura, and Scott Gast talking about known missing items (including the love letters from Kim Jong Un).

Of those love letters, Stern described that Trump had a binder of them made right before he left office, just like he had a binder of the records pertaining to the Russian investigation.

[I]n January 2021, just prior to the end of the Administration, the originals were put in a binder for the President, but were never returned to the Office of Records Management for transfer to NARA.

More hilariously, Stern told the Trump lawyers that he knew of around 24 boxes of records that had been kept in Trump’s residence that weren’t returned. Stern told Trump’s lawyers that he knew that Pat Cipollone had told Trump to give them back — all 24 boxes of Presidential Records!

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

NARA emailed Trump’s lawyers and told them he knew that there were roughly 24 boxes that Trump’s own White House Counsel had determined belonged to NARA.

And after an extended fight, Trump returned just 15.

Trump apparently thought a building full of archivists would just round up from 15.

Trump’s Shaky Privilege to Hide His Pence Pressure

CNN, NYT, and WaPo have now reported on why Evan Corcoran, John Rowley, and Tim Parlatore were at Prettyman Courthouse on Thursday afternoon. They were trying to support Trump’s invocation of Executive Privilege to limit testimony about his own actions and words.

CNN first confirmed the reason.

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys are fighting a secret court battle to block a federal grand jury from gathering information from an expanding circle of close Trump aides about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

The high-stakes legal dispute – which included the appearance of three attorneys representing Trump at the Washington, DC, federal courthouse on Thursday afternoon – is the most aggressive step taken by the former President to assert executive and attorney-client privileges in order to prevent some witnesses from sharing information in the criminal investigation events surrounding January 6, 2021.

The court fight over privilege, which has not been previously reported and is under seal, is a turning point for Trump’s post-presidency legal woes.

WaPo suggests this is primarily and NYT reports it is at least in part about getting Marc Short and Greg Jacob’s testimony.

One person familiar with the matter said that the dispute concerned the testimony of two top aides to former vice president Mike Pence — his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and former counsel, Greg Jacob. The men appeared before the grand jury in July and answered some, but not all, questions, based on Trump’s assertion of privilege, people familiar with the matter said.

But for the five people known to be involved — Short and Jacob, plus former White House Counsels Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Eric Herschmann — the privilege claims would be closely related. Short and Jacob have refused to disclose conversations they witnessed between Trump and Mike Pence. The Two Pats and (to a lesser extent) Herschmann have refused to tell what they said to or witnessed Trump say directly.

Based on their January 6 Committee testimony, we know some very specific details about what the men have hid via privilege claims:

  • Greg Jacob declined to describe precisely how, in an in-person meeting on January 4 including John Eastman, Pence rejected Trump’s pressure to refuse to certify the vote certification
  • Pence’s aides had stepped out of the room when Pence spoke to Trump by phone on the morning of January 6; numerous people witnessed (and told the Committee) about the Trump side of it, but no one is known to have shared Pence’s side of it
  • Cipollone refused to describe how he or the other White House Counsels advised Trump to make a statement asking the rioters to leave the Capitol
  • None of the White House Counsels described precisely what they said to Trump about his Tweet focusing on Pence
  • Cipollone wouldn’t describe the conversations he had with Trump about rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence”
  • Cipollone refused to say that Trump was among the people at the White House who didn’t want rioters to leave the Capitol

There are surely other conversations of interest. If Cipollone shared directly with Trump some version of his advice that, as Cassidy Hutchinson described, if Trump went to the Capitol, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” including obstruction of the vote certification and incitement, it would be crucial evidence in any obstruction charge against Trump. I’m hoping, too, that the White House Counsels get asked about Trump’s offers of pardons to those who participated in his coup attempt.

Parlatore’s involvement in the Prettyman event may reflect more junior staffers who invoked privilege too.

The three outlets vary about how clearly they describe something that is obvious: If DOJ is moving to overcome privilege claims invoked to protect what specific advice Trump got about the legality or illegality of his actions leading up to and on January 6, they’re doing so with an eye towards charging Trump, not because they want to see whether Pat Cipollone was sufficiently alarmed about the implications of an attack on the Capitol. And just WaPo notes that this privilege claim — in the context of a criminal investigation and made within the Executive Branch, rather than (as with the January 6 Committee) between two branches of government — should be an easier question for SCOTUS than the decision authorizing the Archives to share Trump’s communications with the Committee.

Three more dynamics deserve mention. First, Marc Short, the one non-counsel known to be affected by this privilege fight, is represented by Emmet Flood, perhaps the lawyer who has best protected the prerogatives of the Presidency ever since he helped Bill Clinton avoid conviction with impeachment and helped George W Bush (and Dick Cheney) close out their Administration without bigger legal consequences. Flood may not even care about Trump at this point, but he cares about protecting the Presidency.

But the shenanigans Trump engaged in — instructing witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without formally invoking it — may shift the posture of any dispute. DOJ was always going to come back and push for more testimony. But after much haranguing, Herschmann seems to have forced Trump to do what he had not before: put something in writing. That may either force Trump to go back and do so for the others, or may allow DOJ to get a privilege waiver for Herschmann that would implicate the others. That’s important because Herschmann might not wait around for any appeals of privilege waivers. All this is largely happening behind closed doors, but it may matter that at the end of this process, Herschmann forced Trump’s hand and that may give DOJ something more tangible to challenge before Chief Judge Beryl Howell. I sort of suspect that may have been the point.

Finally, if and when DOJ wins this fight (it should not be a close contest, and won’t be at least for Howell), it gets DOJ one step closer to considering whether they need Pence himself to testify.

DOJ is making an effort to get what — we know from public privilege invocations — includes a lot of damning evidence against Trump involving Pence. And has been clear since at least January, Trump’s pressure on Pence and his efforts to get the mob to pressure Pence tie the coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol together.

Only Eric Herschmann (and Maybe Christina Bobb) Learned the Steve Bannon Lesson

There’s a lot to unpack in this NYT story about the in-fighting on Trump’s legal team.

It confirms that prosecutors have asked to interview Christina Bobb and notes that she “added language to” the declaration that Evan Corcoran wrote about his search for documents “to make it less ironclad a declaration before signing it.” (If I had to guess, I’d say this pertains to the limits on the search having taken place at Mar-a-Lago.) The story proclaims ignorance about whether Bobb actually has testified. But the shift in how DOJ has discussed Corcoran — describing him claiming he “was advised” about certain topics in the search warrant affidavit, but then stating he “represented” those same topics at the June 3 meeting in their response to Trump’s request for a Special Master — is consistent with Bobb refusing to be made the fall-gal. DOJ’s assertion that Trump’s lawyers might be “witnesses,” plural, in their motion for a stay to the 11th Circuit also suggests some inside knowledge about things that another Trump lawyer may have done (note, the reference in the affidavit to Corcoran as FPOTUS Counsel 1 suggests another Trump lawyer is described in it later in the affidavit).

NYT also describes Eric Herschmann’s famously candid opinions, this time about the value of Boris Epshteyn’s legal advice.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you [Corcoran and John Rowley] or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

I have been wondering whether Epshteyn, in particular, were just exploiting Trump for his own objectives before he moves onto some other convenient vehicle for extremism after Trump is crushed by legal troubles inadequately defended, and this anecdote would be consistent with that.

But the larger story describes how Herschmann refused to simply just bullshit his way through privilege invocations before a January 6 grand jury. The story is based on an email thread in which Corcoran — who helped Steve Bannon get convicted of contempt — attempted to persuade Herschmann to follow the exact same approach to testifying that Bannon (and John Rowley client Peter Navarro) adopted with the January 6 Committee: To refuse to testify based off a claim of Executive Privilege that Trump had not formally invoked.

Incidentally, that’s the very same approach Trump has used before Aileen Cannon. Thus far it has worked like a charm for her. It has been less successful with every other investigative body.

In fact, Herschmann seems to have made precisely the same point I have in the past, to Corcoran (and Rowley): Executive Privilege doesn’t work the way Corcoran claimed it did when he was busy shepherding Bannon to a contempt conviction.

In his emails to Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Rowley, Mr. Herschmann — a prominent witness for the House select committee on Jan. 6 and what led to it — invoked Mr. Corcoran’s defense of Mr. Bannon and argued pointedly that case law about executive privilege did not reflect what Mr. Corcoran believed it did.

So after repeated insistence that he get a real privilege invocation and after refusing to discuss these things without a documentary trail, the morning before Herschmann would have testified, Trump’s lawyers acceded to Herschmann’s demand for a proper invocation of privilege.

After ignoring Mr. Herschmann or giving him what he seemed to consider perplexing answers to the requests for weeks, two of the former president’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, offered him only broad instructions in late August. Assert sweeping claims of executive privilege, they advised him, after Mr. Corcoran had suggested that an unspecified “chief judge” would ultimately validate their belief that a president’s powers extend far beyond their time in office.

[snip]

Mr. Corcoran at one point sought to get on the phone with Mr. Herschmann to discuss his testimony, instead of simply sending the written directions, which alarmed Mr. Herschmann, given that Mr. Herschmann was a witness, the emails show.

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

Mr. Epshteyn declined to respond to a request for comment.

Nearly four weeks after Mr. Herschmann first asked for an instruction letter and for Mr. Trump’s lawyers to seek a court order invoking a privilege claim, the emails show that he received notification from the lawyers — in the early morning hours of the day he was scheduled to testify — that they had finally done as he asked. [my emphasis]

So let’s talk about the timing of all this — and also about how Glenn Thrush, who is a politics reporter who knows fuckall about DOJ, keeps getting scoops about details that would be known to those being investigated, including this email chain that would be protected by the same principles of attorney-client privilege that Corcoran claimed to be vigorously protecting in it.

The emails were obtained by The New York Times from a person who was not on the thread of correspondence. Mr. Herschmann declined to comment.

According to a slew of reports, Herschmann was first subpoenaed around August 15. Given the timeline laid out in the story, describing that Herschmann asked for four weeks before getting a formal privilege letter, it would suggest he didn’t get a formal privilege invocation until around September 12 — days ago, perhaps even more recently than that.

According to an equally coordinated set of stories, the two Pats — Cipollone and Philbin, who happen to be law partners — were subpoenaed earlier than that. Those reports, which came out on August 3, eleven days before the stories about Herschmann being subpoenaed, described how there was some discussion about how to handle Executive Privilege claims.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone in its investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

The sources told ABC News that attorneys for Cipollone — like they did with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — are expected to engage in negotiations around any appearance, while weighing concerns regarding potential claims of executive privilege.

As ABC pointed out, before he testified to the January 6 Committee, Cipollone made a similarly big fuss about Executive Privilege.

But when he testified to the Committee, Cipollone made specious privilege invocations to avoid testifying about the former President cheering violence, including violence directed at his Vice President.

UNKNOWN: My question is exactly that, that it sounds like you from the very outset of violence at the Capitol, right around 2:00, were pushing for a strong statement that people should leave the Capitol. Is that right?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I was, and others were as well.

UNKNOWN: Pat, you said that you expressed your opinion forcefully. Could you tell us exactly how you did that?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yeah, I can’t — I don’t have, you know, I have to — on the privilege issue, I can’t talk about conversations with the President, but I can generically say that I said, you know, people need to be told, there needs to be a public announcement fast that they need to leave the Capitol.

[snip]

UNKNOWN: Do you remember any discussion at any point during the day about rioters at the Capitol chanting hang Mike Pence?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yes, I remember — I remember hearing that about that, yes. I don’t know if I observed that myself on TV.

UNKNOWN: I’m just curious. I understand the — the privilege line you’ve drawn, but do you remember what you can share with us about the discussion about those chants, the hang Mike Pence chants?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I can tell you my view of that.

UNKNOWN: Yeah, please.

PAT CIPOLLONE: My view of that is that is outrageous. And for anyone to suggest such a thing of the vice president of the United States, for people in that crowd to be chanting that I thought was terrible. I thought it was outrageous and wrong, and I expressed that very clearly.

ADAM SCHIFF: With respect to your conversations with Mr. Meadows, though, did you specifically raise your concern over the vice president with him, and — and how did he respond?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I believe I raised the concern about the vice president, and I — and I — again, the nature of his response, without recalling exactly was he — you know, people were doing all that they could.

ADAM SCHIFF: And — and what about the president? Did he indicate whether he thought the president was doing what needed to be done to protect the vice president?

UNKNOWN: Privilege. You have to assert it. That question would —

PAT CIPOLLONE: That would call for — I’m being instructed on privilege.

[snip]

LIZ CHENEY: And who on the staff did not want people to leave the Capitol?

PAT CIPOLLONE: On the staff?

LIZ CHENEY: In the White House, how about?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I don’t — I — I can’t think of anybody, you know, on that day who didn’t want people to get out of the — the Capitol once the — you know, particularly once the violence started, no. I mean —

ADAM SCHIFF: What about the president?

LIZ CHENEY: Yeah.

PAT CIPOLLONE: She said the staff, so I answered.

LIZ CHENEY: No, I said in the White House.

PAT CIPOLLONE: Oh, I’m sorry. I — I apologize. I thought you said who — who else on the staff. I — I — I can’t reveal communications, but obviously I think, you know, — yeah. [my emphasis]

Cipollone invoked Executive Privilege to avoid revealing details about Trump cheering the violence directed at his Vice President and hoping that rioters would stay at the Capitol. Cipollone made those privilege claims on July 8, two months before the rough date when, after much badgering, Herschmann succeeded in getting a letter invoking privilege from Trump’s lawyers.

That’s the only known formal invocation of Executive Privilege Trump has put in writing regarding January 6.

And if Herschmann got that letter on September 12, he would have gotten it after the two Pats testified in one-two fashion on September 2.

Email chains like this — by any measure, clearly privileged — usually get leaked (to politics reporters) when legally exposed individuals are trying to telegraph to each other important details about their testimony.

And whatever else this story conveys, it tells anyone who has already testified and invoked privilege that Chief Judge Beryl Howell has recently gotten, and will be deciding on, the first known formal invocation of privilege. Howell will be asked to weigh not just whether a White House Counsel can invoke Executive Privilege in a criminal investigation implicating the President, a topic about which Bill Clinton would have a lot to offer. She’ll also be asked, generally, about the privilege claims lawyers are making about an event — January 6 — that the Supreme Court has already decided Executive Privilege, at least, must be waived.

If Howell rejects Trump’s invocation of privilege with Herschmann, then any claims of Executive Privilege that the two Pats made in their one-two testimony on September 2 would fail as well.

And Pat Cipollone is a direct and credible witness to Trump’s cheers of violence directed at his Vice President.

The effort to get witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without any formal invocation that Judge Howell would review is not new. Trump has been pursuing this for a year, first with Justin Clark telling Bannon to bullshit his way through privilege claims with the January 6 Committee, then with unnamed lawyers persuading Cipollone to bullshit his way through testimony to the January 6 Committee, and most recently to Evan Corcoran — who had a front row seat to see that not even former Clarence Thomas clerk Carl Nichols would buy such bullshit — continuing to pursue such an approach even after it led directly to Bannon’s conviction.

Eric Herschmann, at least (and possibly also Christina Bobb) has learned the lesson of Steve Bannon.

A Likely Looming Battle in the Stolen Document Case: Classified White House Counsel Documents

In this post, I argued that DOJ hopes to use a motion to stay Judge Aileen Cannon’s injunction against using materials seized from Donald Trump in any criminal investigation tactically — basically, to highlight she’s just stalling the investigation.

But I want to flag something that I think will be contentious going forward: Classified documents involving White House Counsel.

In its description of why all classified documents should be exempted from Judge Cannon’s injunction, DOJ noted that classified records cannot belong to Trump, and so he has no basis to make a Rule 41(g) motion. But their explanation of why such records would be excluded from any attorney-client privilege determination is more telling. It only extends to Trump’s personal lawyers.

But that rationale is categorically inapplicable to the classified records at issue in this motion, which are easily identifiable by their markings, are already segregated from the other seized records, and do not include personal records or potentially privileged communications with his personal attorneys.

[snip]

The classification markings establish on the face of the documents that they are government records, not Plaintiff’s personal records. The government’s review of those records does not raise any plausible attorney-client privilege claims because such classified records do not contain communications between Plaintiff and his private attorneys. [my emphasis]

DOJ is right that any classified documents obviously belong to the government.

But Trump’s lawyers don’t even want to cede that point. They refused the motion for a stay with respect to classified documents (which is not surprising, because in the hearing Jim Trusty said they could just make copies of all the classified records).

Counsel for the United States has conferred with counsel for Plaintiff, and Plaintiff opposes the government’s motion.

But there are known government documents in which the White House Counsel were involved that are likely among the ones Trump would most like to withhold: starting with discussions about materials (including a mention of Burisma) excised by the White House Counsel’s office from the transcript of the call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The particular language used here — specifying that attorney-client privilege only extends to stuff involving Trump’s “personal” or “private” attorneys — suggests there are materials at issue involving Trump’s non-private attorneys, which could be DOJ but is most likely the White House Counsel.

As I have noted, there are three known classified documents that were put in the potentially privileged bucket, at least at the start.

There’s one document marked Confidential and another marked Secret seized from drawer(s) in Trump’s office.

And there’s a Top Secret document stashed along with clippings dating back to 1995 in box 29.

Plus, the packet involving clemency for Roger Stone — while it was not treated as potentially privileged — does include information marked as Secret.

If that involved communications with DOJ or the White House Counsel, I could see Trump trying to claw it back as well.

DOJ says that none of these involve Trump’s personal lawyers. But they’re not ruling out that they involve lawyers you and I paid for, the White House Counsel. And those documents are among the ones I can imagine Trump might care the most about.

One Big Potentially Pending Question: What Happens to Trump’s Impeachment 1.0 Papers?

There’s a comment in DOJ’s response to Judge Aileen Cannon’s order to file an update by tomorrow that caught my attention. DOJ suggests there may be no dispute about whether the stuff it has been pursuing a review of is really privileged.

Although the government will provide the Court more detail in its forthcoming supplemental filing, the government notes that, before the Court issued its Preliminary Order, and in accordance with the judicially authorized search warrant’s provisions, the Privilege Review Team (as described in paragraphs 81-84 of the search warrant affidavit) identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information, completed its review of those materials, and is in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.

As I laid out here (and as virtually all journalists are still getting wrong), DOJ used a privilege team for the search on August 8. At least according to Fox News, all the potentially privileged material was inventoried on what I call the SSA receipt (because it was signed by the Supervisory Special Agent, rather than the Special Agent).

I surmised and DOJ has now confirmed that DOJ has been “in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.” That means DOJ is using one of these methods:

84. If the Privilege Review Team determines that documents are potentially attorney-client privileged or merit further consideration in that regard, a Privilege Review Team attorney may do any of the following: (a) apply ex parte to the court for a determination whether or not the documents contain attorney-client privileged material; (b) defer seeking court intervention and continue to keep the documents inaccessible to law-enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation; or (c) disclose the documents to the potential privilege holder, request the privilege holder to state whether the potential privilege holder asserts attorney-client privilege as to any documents, including requesting a particularized privilege log, and seek a ruling from the court regarding any attorney-client privilege claims as to which the Privilege Review Team and the privilege-holder cannot reach agreement.

Option c is effectively to invite Trump to provide feedback on the privilege issues, an option that Evan Corcoran has told us DOJ specifically rejected  back on august 11.

Option b is to simply not access the materials; since FBI seized it, it’s likely they saw something on August 8 that made them want to access the materials.

So we can be fairly sure that DOJ is pursuing Option a to get this material, an ex parte review by a judge — the implication is Bruce Reinhart, but it’s possible they’ve involved someone who’s more senior, such as DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell (who is presiding over the grand jury conducting this investigation) or SDFL Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga — to see whether it is attorney-client privileged.

I want to talk about three categories of documents that might appear to be covered by attorney-client privilege that a judge might otherwise decide are not. DOJ’s suggestion that there may not be a dispute reminds me of how, during the privilege review of Michael Cohen’s phones in 2018, as soon as Judge Kimba Woods ruled that any fight over privilege would have to be public, Trump slithered away and stopped fighting to keep the recordings about hush payments that Cohen kept on his phone away from prosecutors.

In other words, particularly since DOJ completely bypassed any involvement from Trump, I suspect DOJ believes that the materials currently under ex parte review by Reinhart or some other judge may be crime-fraud excepted.

Consider the kinds of materials that, under the warrant, could be seized:

  • Any Presidential or government record created during Trump’s term, which would include most if not all of the subcategory of documents bearing classification marks
  • Documents stored along with (that is, perhaps in the same storage closet) documents bearing classification marks
  • Evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of government and/or Presidential records — basically, of obstruction

If it remains true that all documents with potentially privileged materials are on the SSA receipt, it is likely that there were a chunk of documents — labeled just “documents” seized from his office (where the privilege team did all the initial search) — as well as five boxes that by description were stored with documents bearing classified markings, probably found in the storage room and handed off to the filter team for some reason.

The most obvious set of materials that would appear privileged but might be deemed by a judge to be crime-fraud excepted would pertain to obstruction: Materials that post-date Trump’s Presidency involving lawyers (either the former White House counsels who attempted to get him to return the documents) or his current attorneys, especially including the effort to refuse NARA and DOJ’s requests and/or to provide bullshit information in response to one or more subpoenas. That’s what those documents seized from Trump’s office might consist of.

Another category of documents might include materials involving non-governmental lawyers — Rudy Giuliani or John Eastman are likely possibilities — that appeared on official government records. These materials might pertain to January 6. Particularly given that SCOTUS approved the waived privilege claims over Trump’s governmental files, those seem like an easy decision.

A third category of information pertains to advice White House counsel lawyers gave Trump while still in office outside the context of a legal proceeding (different from the advice the same former White House counsels gave during the extended fight with NARA) that he wants to keep from DOJ. The Bill Clinton precedent would say that NARA at least gets this information, and if there is a legal basis for the FBI to obtain it (such as that it includes classified information, as the White House counsel response to the Zelenskyy-Trump call would be), then it would seem FBI would be able to obtain it. Given Trump’s bid to claim Executive Privilege over certain information, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a heated issue.

The one set of documents that I think does raise real concerns, though, is Trump’s defense during Impeachment 1.0. At least three members of the White House Counsel staff were part of Trump’s defense team: Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Michael Purpua. Taxpayers paid their salaries during the period when they were defending Trump, and so under the Clinton precedent, any files involving them would seem to be government documents covered by the Presidential Records Act. But Trump also had some talking heads — like Alan Dershowitz and Pam Bondi — and one of the real private attorneys who represented him in the Russian investigation, Jane Raskin. Trump’s communications with the later two groups should be privileged.

I’ve asked experts on Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton what happened with their impeachment records. Best as I can tell, many of those records are in the Archives. But I’m still not sure how the special case of Trump’s impeachment defense would be treated.

Update: Removed Eric Herschmann from the list of WH Counsels who represented Trump in impeachment. He was still in private practice then.

The Known and Likely Content of Trump’s Search Warrant

Yesterday, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart found that, “the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire [Trump search warrant] affidavit should remain sealed.” He ordered DOJ to provide a sealed version of proposed redactions for the warrant affidavit for Trump’s search by August 25 at noon.

Two days after the search of Mar-a-Lago I did a post laying out the likely content of what’s in that search warrant (which pretty accurately predicted what we’ve seen since). Because a warrant affidavit is one of the best ways to show how DOJ and the FBI think of the events of the last 18 months, I wanted to do a second version including all the things we have learned since.

For comparison, here are the warrants for Reality Winner and Josh Schulte, both of which were also, at least in part, warrants for a 793 investigation. Here are warrants to search Roger Stone and Oath Keeper Jeremy Brown’s houses, both Federal searches in Florida related to investigations conducted in DC (the search of Brown’s house even found allegedly classified documents, albeit only at the Secret level). Stone’s showed probable cause for a different part of the obstruction statute. Here’s the warrant Robert Mueller’s team used to get Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails from Microsoft.

Cover Sheet to Warrant Application

[link]

This cover sheet shows that DOJ swore out the affidavit to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart over WhatsApp, who signed it on August 5.

It describes applying for a warrant to search for evidence of crimes and for contraband (a reference to the illegally possessed Presidential records). It doesn’t permit the seizure of property used in the commission of a crime so, unsurprisingly, the FBI didn’t have authority to seize Mar-a-Lago.

The cover sheet describes the three crimes under investigation this way.

The Search Warrant

[link]

The search warrant notes the docket number 22-mj-8332 that the entire country has been watching for 10 days now.

The search warrant authorizes the FBI to conduct a search of 1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, FL.

It was signed by Reinhart, who was the Duty Magistrate, at 12:12PM on August 5.

The warrant gave the FBI two weeks, until August 19, to conduct the search and limited the search to daytime hours (defined as 6AM to 10PM, which Trumpsters often complain amounts to a pre-dawn raid).

Attachment A

[link]

Attachment A describes Mar-a-Lago as a “resort, club, and residence” with approximately 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms. The warrant permitted the FBI to search all parts of Mar-a-Lago accessible to Trump (whom they refer to as FPOTUS) and his staff, except those currently occupied (at the time of the search) by Members or guests. It mentioned the “45 Office” explicitly and storage rooms, but did not describe the storage room at the center of much reporting on the search.

Attachment B

[link]

Attachment B authorized the FBI to seize “documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed” in violation of 18 USC 793, 18 USC 2071, or 18 USC 1519.

This post describes the search protocol authorized in Attachment B, with nifty graphic.

Return

Search warrant forms have a return form (describing what was seized) included in them. But here, the FBI provided that list to Trump in the form of two receipts, one signed by a Supervisory Special Agent, and one signed by a Special Agent; I’ve dubbed the latter the “CLASS receipt,” because all the classified documents described are included on that one.

The receipt lists:

  • 27 boxes, one of which is described as leatherbound; 11 are described to contain documents marked classified
  • Executive grant of clemency for Roger Stone
  • Potential Presidential record
  • 2 binders of photos
  • Handwritten note
  • Other documents catalogued on the SSA receipt

See these two posts for more on the significance of the two different receipts.

Christina Bobb signed for both receipts at 6:19PM on August 8.

Affidavit

This would start with:

  • Several paragraphs describing the affiant’s background and training
  • An assertion that the affiant believed there was probable cause that the FBI would find evidence of violations of 18 USC 793, 18 USC 2071, and 18 USC 1519 at Mar-a-Lago.

Particularly given the novel legal issues implicating a search of the former President, I think there’s likely a section describing the statutes involved. It’s likely to include:

Note: If there’s a version of this statutory language, it may be among the things DOJ would acquiesce to releasing, particularly if it implied that Trump was under investigation for stealing nuclear documents. But they might be unwilling to do that if they’re not yet sure they’ve gotten all known nuclear documents back. 

Then there’d be a section describing who was involved (the Roger Stone warrant has such paragraphs). There will be a paragraph about Trump that looks like:

Donald J. Trump (Former President of the United States, FPOTUS) is a businessman who owns and resides at 1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, FL. From January 20, 2017 at 12:00PM until January 20, 2021 at 12:00PM, he was the President of the United States. He ceased exercising the constitutional authorities of the President at 12:00PM on January 20, 2021. On February 5, 2021, the current President of the United States, Joe Biden, discontinued classified briefings for FPOTUS.

In addition, there are likely descriptions of the National Archives and its statutory duties.

There may be descriptions of Patrick Philbin, Pat Cipollone, Mark Meadows (all of whom were involved in negotiations with NARA over retrieving the documents), anyone caught on surveillance video entering or exiting the storage closet, of Kash Patel and John Solomon (including past security concerns raised about both), and the Trump lawyers involved in the June meeting.

There may be a paragraph describing MAL in more depth. It might describe the SCIF used during Trump’s presidency and its apparent removal. It might describe the arrest and prosecution of Yujing Zhang, who breached MAL and might include other known foreign intelligence targeting of MAL. It might describe Trump’s refusal to use secure facilities at MAL, including a 2017 meeting with Shinzo Abe, though it would likely rely on public reports for this, not classified intelligence. It might describe the tunnels underneath and — and the public availability of historic diagrams of them. It might describe the known employees at MAL, including any foreign citizens. Finally, it might describe both the terms of membership and the ease with which others could access the golf club.

Timeline

The rest is probably a timeline of the investigation. The following known details are likely to appear.

On December 30, 2020, DOJ provided Trump a binder of material from the Russian investigation.

On January 8, 2021, Mike Ellis attempted to retain a compartmented NSA report for White House archives, initially refusing efforts to return it.

On January 14, 2021, the White House returned the compartmented NSA report to NSA.

On January 17, 2021, the FBI provided a list of continuing objections to Trump’s declassification of Crossfire Hurricane materials.

On January 19, 2021, via letter to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, FPOTUS designated (among others) Pasquale (Pat) Cipollone and Patrick Philbin as his representatives with the NARA.

On January 19, 2021, FPOTUS wrote a letter authorizing the declassification of records pertaining to FBI’s investigation into Russian ties with FPOTUS’ campaign that had not yet been declassified. Patel later described the materials to include:

transcripts of intercepts made by the FBI of Trump aides, a declassified copy of the final FISA warrant approved by an intelligence court, and the tasking orders and debriefings of the two main confidential human sources, Christopher Steele and Stefan Halper, the bureau used to investigate whether Trump had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Patel’s description appears to conflict with Trump’s order, which explicitly, “does not extend to materials that must be protected from disclosure pursuant to orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

On January 20, 2021, Meadows sent “The Attorney General” a memo, citing the January 19 order from FPOTUS, ordering “the Department must expeditiously conduct a Privacy Act review under the standards that the Department of Justice would normally apply, redact material appropriately, and release the remaining material with redactions applied.”

On January 20, 2021, FPOTUS ceased exercising the authorities of the President of the United States.

On January XX, records deemed to be the final production of Presidential Records arrived at NARA.

The affidavit would describe the inventorying process and then describe known documents that were not included.

  • Love letters from Kim Jong Un
  • Altered map of Hurricane Dorian

It would also include a description of evidence of document destruction, including any evidence those records pertained to a Congressional investigation, impeachment, or a criminal investigation.

Starting on May 6, 2021, NARA General Counsel Gary Stern communicated with Philbin regarding the missing records. [This will cite the date of each communication and quote anything that captures Trump’s refusal to return the documents.]

Having not secured identified records, starting in Fall 2021, Stern communicated with Trump attorney (probably Cipollone) to arrange turning over the records.

October 18, 2021: Trump sues to prevent the Archives from complying with January 6 Committee subpoena.

November 10, 2021: Judge Tanya Chutkan denies Trump’s motion for an injunction against NARA. (While it wouldn’t appear in the affidavit, in recent days Paul Sperry has claimed that Trump withheld documents to prevent NARA from turning them over to the January 6 Committee.)

On December XX, 2021, XX informed NARA certain missing records had been located.

December 9, 2021: DC Circuit upholds Judge Chutkan’s decision releasing Trump records to the January 6 Committee.

On January 17, 2022, NARA retrieved 15 boxes of Records from 1100 S. Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL.

January 19, 2022: SCOTUS upholds Chutkan’s decision.

On January 31, 2022, NARA completed an initial inventory of the retrieved documents. It discovered over 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) material.

On February xx (possibly February 8), 2022, NARA reported FPOTUS’ failures to comply with the Presidential Records Act to the Department of Justice and requested an investigation.

DOJ and FBI likely conducted interviews between February and May, which would be listed.

On April 11, 2022, Biden’s White House Counsel instructed NARA provide FBI access to the 15 boxes of materials returned from Mar-a-Lago.

On April 12, 2022, NARA instructed the Trump team of that decision, and informing him that the FBI would start to access the documents on April 18.

On April XX, Trump’s attorneys ask the White House counsel for more time before the review of the documents; Biden extends the date to April 29.

On May 5, 2022, Corcoran proposed reviewing the records at NARA.

On May 5, 2022, Kash Patel made public claims that the contents of materials returned to NARA had been declassified, describing that FPOTUS wanted to release,

information that Trump felt spoke to matters regarding everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security matters of great public importance — anything the president felt the American people had a right to know is in there and more.

FBI conducted early interviews during this period, likely including Philbin, Scott Gast, Derek Lyons, and Cipollone, and possibly Mark Meadows. Philbin and Cipollone would have described their own inspections of records, including their knowledge that identified missing records had been at MAL when they had conducted records searches.

FBI would include multiple interviews of people describing Trump saying the Presidential Records belonged to him.

On May 10, 2022, Acting Archivist informed Evan Corcoran the FBI would get access to the records on May 12.

On May 11, 2022, FBI subpoenaed Trump for documents remaining at Mar-a-Lago bearing classification marks.

On May 12, pursuant to a subpoena, FBI accessed the 15 boxes turned over in January.

From May 16-18, FBI conducted a preliminary review of. the documents and discovered:

  • 67 Confidential documents
  • 92 Secret documents
  • 25 Top Secret documents
  • Documents marked HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI
  • Handwritten notes

On May XX, 2022, DOJ subpoenaed FPOTUS for any remaining documents bearing classification marks.

Surveillance video from this period, later obtained with a subpoena, showed people moving documents in and out of the storage room. The people and dates would be included.

On June 3, 2022, Jay Bratt and three investigators met with Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb to collect the subpoenaed materials.

  • FPOTUS joined the meeting and acknowledged the effort to retrieve classified materials.
  • Bobb and Corcoran provided XX documents marked with classification marks.
  • One of the lawyers signed an attestation that all classified documents had been turned over.
  • Bratt informed Bobb and Corcoran all records covered by the Presidential and Federal Records Act were US government property.
  • Bratt informed Bobb and Corcoran about the regulations guiding storage of classified records.
  • Bratt and investigators inspect storage facility, find storage facility fails to meet required standards for storage.

On June 8, Bratt emailed Corcoran. He said, in part, that,

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

It’s likely either at the meeting on June 3 or in the email, Bratt also informed Corcoran that the storage closet did not comply with CFR guidelines.

On June 9, Corcoran wrote saying only, “I write to acknowledge receipt of this letter.”

On June 19, FPOTUS sent a letter to NARA designating Patel and Solomon as representatives to access “Presidential records of my administration.”

NARA, possibly Gary Stern, likely informed DOJ of the designation of Patel and Solomon and (probably) Trump’s reference to “Presidential records,” generally, not records at NARA.

On June 22, DOJ subpoenaed surveillance video of the storage closet for a 60-day period. Analysis of the video showed uncleared people entering in and out of the storage closet.

DOJ likely had follow-up interviews after the Bratt meeting and the surveillance video return, in part to identify who had access to the storage closet and to identify documents believed to remain outstanding.

The affidavit would include a description of known documents that remain extant, including documents that were altered or mutilated (perhaps transcripts of Trump’s meetings with Russia) and known classified documents, including those pertaining to nuclear weapons. 

Finally, the affidavit would include a conclusion stating that all this amounts to probable cause that Trump was in possession of documents that were covered by the PRA, some subset of which were believed to be classified and some other subset of which had either been hidden or damaged in an effort to obstruct either this or other investigations.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

18 USC 793e in the Time of Shadow Brokers and Donald Trump

[from Rayne] Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

Trump’s Stolen Documents

John Solomon and Kash Patel May Be Implicated in the FBI’s Trump-Related Espionage Act Investigation

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Three Ways Merrick Garland and DOJ Spoke of Trump as if He Might Be Indicted

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

[from Rayne] Expected Response is Expected: Trump and Right-Wing DARVO

DOJ’s June Mar-a-Lago Trip Helps Prove 18 USC 793e

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

FBI Executes a Search Warrant at 1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

The ABCs (and Provisions e, f, and g) of the Espionage Act

Trump’s Latest Tirade Proves Any Temporary Restraining Order May Come Too Late

How Trump’s Search Worked, with Nifty Graphic

Pat Philbin Knows Why the Bodies Are Buried

Rule of Law: DOJ Obtained Trump’s Privilege-Waived Documents in May

The French President May Be Contained Inside the Roger Stone Clemency

Which of the Many Investigations Trump Has Obstructed Is DOJ Investigating?

The Known and Likely Content of Trump’s Search Warrant

Pat Philbin Knows Why the Bodies Are Buried

Back on August 11, I predicted that Pat Philbin would have been one of the witnesses whom DOJ interviewed in advance of the search of Trump’s golf resort.

Pat Philbin is likely the lawyer described in earlier reports who attempted, but failed, to negotiate transfer of Trump’s stolen documents to the Archives.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

But after an extended back and forth over several months and after multiple steps taken by Trump’s team to resolve the issue, Stern sought the intervention of another Trump attorney last fall as his frustration mounted over the pace of the document turnover.

If Philbin was the person who tried but failed to resolve the Archives’ concerns, he is a direct, material witness to the issue of whether Trump had willfully withheld classified documents the Archives was asking for, something the Archives would have made clear in its referral to DOJ. And because of the way the Espionage statute is written (note the Newsweek article, if accurate, mentions National Defense Information, language specific to the Espionage Act), Philbin would have personal legal exposure if he did not fully disclose information about Trump continuing to hoard stolen classified documents. Plus, Philbin has been involved in national security law since the 00s, and probably would like to retain his clearance to represent clients in national security cases.

Yesterday, Maggie Haberman confirmed that I was correct (and also reported that Pat Cipollone was also interviewed; Cipollone may have been the lawyer the Archives called after Philbin failed to get Trump to return the documents).

Mr. Philbin was interviewed in the spring, according to two of the people familiar with the matter, as investigators reached out to members of Mr. Trump’s circle to find out how 15 boxes of material — some of it marked as classified — made its way to Mar-a-Lago. It was unclear when Mr. Cipollone was interviewed.

Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin were two of Mr. Trump’s representatives to deal with the National Archives; they were named to the positions shortly before the president’s term ended, in January 2021. Another was Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff.

At some point after National Archives officials realized they did not have Trump White House documents, which are required to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act, they contacted Mr. Philbin for help returning them.

A spokesperson for Mr. Philbin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Philbin tried to help the National Archives retrieve the material, two of the people familiar with the discussions said. But the former president repeatedly resisted entreaties from his advisers.

“It’s not theirs, it’s mine,” several advisers say Mr. Trump told them.

For the reasons I laid out above, it’s unsurprising that FBI interviewed Philbin (and Cipollone, if he is the other lawyer NARA appealed to). This was a referral from NARA, and they would have explained to FBI what CNN explained in February: that NARA had worked patiently with Philbin, but that Philbin failed to persuade Trump to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

Philbin’s early role in DOJ’s investigation is complicated, however, because the investigation implicates (at least!) three legal relationships Philbin has had with Trump:

  1. As a member of the White House Counsel Office that, among other things, first altered, and then withheld the full transcript of the Perfect Phone Call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, provided legal advice about classification issues, and also advised staff as Trump’s team packed up
  2. As a member of Trump’s first impeachment defense team, which might have turned out differently if that full transcript had been shared with Congress
  3. As a liaison with NARA at a time when Trump was no longer President, probably formally within the context of his designation as a Trump representative to NARA

Philbin’s ethical obligations and legal exposure from all three of those relationships are different, but knowledge gained from all three positions would be of acute interest to the FBI.

Plus, Philbin has a deep background in national security law from the George W. Bush Administration. He played a key role in the review of John Yoo’s shoddy OLC memos and the related hospital confrontation between Jim Comey and Dick Cheney. Particularly after NARA referred the issue to FBI, it wouldn’t take long for Philbin to have appreciated the problem posed by all those unprotected files sitting in a closet in a golf resort targeted by foreign intelligence services. Nor would Philbin miss the legal gravity under the Espionage Act — for Trump, as well as for anyone who conspired with the person refusing to return stolen classified documents — implicated by Trump’s refusal to turn over what he had taken. And as a lawyer with at least another decade of private practice before him, I imagine Philbin would want to keep his clearance.

Those factors are important because Philbin knows why the bodies are buried — the decision-making process Trump used to handle classified information and the rationale Trump gave him during the period when Philbin was trying to negotiate the documents’ return.

Philbin may not have recent knowledge of where the bodies are buried: where Trump stored documents at Mar-a-Lago. But because he tried to chase these documents down in 2021, he would have a general understanding of what Trump’s storage practices were until such time as someone else inherited the problem, including whether they complied with CFR rules about minimum standards for storing classified documents (DOJ told Trump in June that they did not).

He would have a general idea of what bodies are buried. Because he tried to negotiate their return over the course of months, he would know the general scope of the documents Trump took with him in 2020 and may well have specific knowledge of individual documents NARA identified to be missing. He may know, for example, about specific documents that Trump was particularly opposed to returning. Speaking just hypothetically, that could even include the full transcript of that Perfect Phone Call that Philbin’s office had helped to keep out of the hands of Congress, potentially a violation of 18 USC 1519. It might also include documents Philbin saw in the lead-up to January 6, documents that would have been responsive to the known January 6 Committee subpoenas to NARA for Trump’s records. That means Philbin is among the people who may have been able to confirm to the FBI that documents excluded from the 15 boxes returned earlier this year were at Mar-a-Lago during the period he was negotiating their return. Such information is the kind of thing that the FBI would have included in the subpoena to search MAL.

But the most important thing that Philbin would know from his various interactions with Trump has to do with motive: Why the bodies got buried. Maggie quotes several advisers, possibly including one or both of the two Pats, that Trump told them, “It’s not theirs, it’s mine.” And it may be that’s the only motivation Trump ever expressed to Philbin. Trump is such a narcissist he really may just verbalize his theft of these documents by claiming ownership. But Philbin had firsthand knowledge of other efforts to withhold materials, as evidenced by the Perfect Phone Call transcript. He likely knows of Trump’s habit of ripping up burning eating or flushing damning documents. Philbin was still trying to get Trump to return documents after the time the January 6 Committee was convened, so Trump may have stated to Philbin what Paul Sperry claimed yesterday: that the reason Trump is withholding documents is because he knows NARA is legally obligated to share those documents with J6C.

Given the complex ethical issues he’d face, Philbin might not have been able or willing to share some of what he knows with the FBI, at least not at first. But the risks of an Espionage Act and obstruction investigation, including 18 USC 793g, which can be used to charge anyone involved in refusing to return classified documents even if they don’t share the motive of refusing to return them, might change Philbin’s ethical calculus. An experienced NatSec lawyer like Philbin would know that the Espionage Act carries an affirmative obligation to give classified documents back, particularly if their lawful owner, NARA, has asked. Once FBI got involved, Philbin would want to avoid any legal liability for his failure to convince Trump to comply, and Trump’s continued failure to comply would be a crime that might give Philbin the ethical leeway to do that.

When NARA asked Philbin to help them get those documents back, Philbin failed. That puts him in situation where he may have real incentive to explain both what Trump said to explain his refusal to comply with the Presidential Records Act, but also what, in Philbin’s personal knowledge gained two years as Deputy WHCO, several months during an impeachment defense, and much of a year as Trump’s NARA representative, Trump did when he took steps to make documents covered by the PRA unavailable to the NARA.

Update: As you consider the import of Philbin’s testimony, consider the significance of this reference in the government opposition to further unsealing of the Trump warrant.

Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations.

Philbin has been subpoenaed in other investigations of Trump. But this passage suggests that if the extent and terms of his cooperation are made public, it may lead him and others to hesitate before cooperating in other investigations.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

18 USC 793e in the Time of Shadow Brokers and Donald Trump

[from Rayne] Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

Trump’s Stolen Documents

John Solomon and Kash Patel May Be Implicated in the FBI’s Trump-Related Espionage Act Investigation

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Three Ways Merrick Garland and DOJ Spoke of Trump as if He Might Be Indicted

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

[from Rayne] Expected Response is Expected: Trump and Right-Wing DARVO

DOJ’s June Mar-a-Lago Trip Helps Prove 18 USC 793e

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

FBI Executes a Search Warrant at 1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

The ABCs (and Provisions e, f, and g) of the Espionage Act

Trump’s Latest Tirade Proves Any Temporary Restraining Order May Come Too Late

How Trump’s Search Worked, with Nifty Graphic

Pat Philbin Knows Why the Bodies Are Buried

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

It’s that time that comes in many high profile investigations where it becomes prudent to remind readers — and journalists! — that the word “cooperate,” even the word “inform,” may not mean what sources want you think it does.

Correction: It’s long past the time to remind journalists that investigative subjects will boast to the press about “cooperating,” when their lawyers really mean, “complying” with the most basic requirements of legal process. When Ali Alexander ran to the press revealing he had received a subpoena (revealing a subpoena is something investigators generally consider uncooperative), most outlets repeated his claim to have “agreed to cooperate” with DOJ. What Alexander described instead was “compliance,” not cooperation.

Nevertheless, some really experienced legal beat reporters used the words often reserved for someone who has entered into a cooperation agreement to describe Alexander’s compliance and they did so in articles probably pitched as a way to share details revealed in a subpoena with other suspects in an investigation.

The latest messaging strategy from Trump demonstrates why the subject of an investigation might do this. This detailed WSJ report is based on Trump sources reading the content of letters sent between Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran and counterintelligence head Jay Bratt in June.

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 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.

On June 22, the Trump Organization, the name for Mr. Trump’s family business, received a subpoena for surveillance footage from cameras at Mar-a-Lago. That footage was turned over, according to an official. [my emphasis]

Side note: The nice thing about Trump sharing a lawyer, Corcoran, with Steve Bannon is that we can evaluate Corcoran’s credibility based off stunts he pulled in Bannon’s case — which is a good reason to expect his representation of these events is not entirely forthcoming, especially when made without the ethical obligations stemming from making them as an officer of the court.

So this exchange, which doesn’t rule out further contact with Mar-A-Lago and which likely misrepresents Trump’s conviviality at having the head of DOJ’s espionage prosecutors waltzing into his golf resort, is designed to present the illusion of full “cooperation.”

And Trump’s spox uses that portrayal, later in the story, to claim that a search — the spox calls it a “raid” — was unnecessary. Trump had been so cooperative, the WSJ relays Trump camp claims, that his unreliable lawyer was even engaged in “breezy chats” with the head of the department that prosecutes spies.

“Monday’s brazen raid was not just unprecedented, it was completely unnecessary,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said. “President Trump and his representatives have gone to painstaking lengths in communicating and cooperating with all the appropriate agencies.”

WSJ doesn’t hide that this story is the one they’re being pitched.

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.

But it also doesn’t consider why putting a lock on a room full of suspected stolen documents amounts to cooperation.

More importantly, WSJ admits it doesn’t have the one detail that would test whether this fairy tale of cooperation were true or not: the warrant showing which crimes were being investigated, as well as the warrant return showing whether the government had obtained evidence that confirmed the suspicions they used to obtain probable cause.

The warrant, signed by a judge in Palm Beach County, refers to the Presidential Records Act and possible violation of law over handling of classified information, according to Christina Bobb, a lawyer for the former president. The warrant hasn’t been made public by Mr. Trump nor has the inventory of documents retrieved by the government.

The warrant Trump’s lawyers received doesn’t refer to “possible violation of law over handling classified information,” it refers to a law, possibly even the Espionage Act. Simply sharing that warrant and return would tell us far more about whether Trump was as cooperative as his unreliable lawyer — who made virtually identical claims about his contemptuous client Steve Bannon’s “cooperation” — now wants to claim about Trump.

There is a significant legal reason why Trump’s lawyers would like to claim he was cooperative, aside from ginning up threats against judges from Trump’s mob. As I laid out here, “fail[ing] to deliver [National Defense Information] to an officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it,” is a key element of 18 USC 793e. So in addition to stoking violence, it’s possible that Trump is already attempting to set up a defense for trial, that he simply had not yet complied with DOJ and NARA requests to give back the stolen documents, but surely would have if they just asked nicely one more time. This is, in fact, precisely the argument Corcoran made for Bannon at trial: he would have cooperated if only Bennie Thompson would have accepted a last minute offer to cooperate.

Anyway, given abundant precedent, it’s probably too late. If you’re storing stolen classified information in your basement, with or without a substantial padlock, you’ve committed the crime of unauthorized retention of NDI.

The issue of cooperation extends beyond Evan Corcoran’s dubious (and provably false, in Bannon’s case) claims of cooperation, though.

WSJ seems to match far more inflammatory reporting from William Arkin in Newsweek, that someone told DOJ that Trump still had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

In the following weeks, however, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier in the year, people familiar with the matter said. And Justice Department officials had doubts that the Trump team was being truthful regarding what material remained at the property, one person said. Newsweek earlier reported on the source of the FBI’s information.

Arkin is a well-sourced reporter (though not a DOJ reporter), but Newsweek is no longer a credible outlet. And in Arkin’s story — which seems like it was meant to be a comment primarily on the political blowback from the search — a headline Arkin probably didn’t write calls this person “an informer” (notably, language Arkin likely did have some say over also called it a raid, which credible DOJ sources would never do).

Exclusive: An Informer Told the FBI What Docs Trump Was Hiding, and Where

The raid on Mar-a-Lago was based largely on information from an FBI confidential human source, one who was able to identify what classified documents former President Trump was still hiding and even the location of those documents, two senior government officials told Newsweek.

There are other parts of this story that raised real credibility questions for me and for multiple counterintelligence experts I spoke with about. For example, it describes a 30-year veteran of the FBI, now a senior DOJ official, sharing grand jury information. Because Special Agents retire after 25 years, there are a very small number of 30-year FBI veterans running around, and describing the person as a senior DOJ official to boot would pinpoint the source even further. If this person really had knowledge of grand jury proceedings, it would be child’s play to charge them based on this story for violating laws prohibiting such things. Plus, the person doesn’t even describe what happens in a grand jury accurately, suggesting that the grand jury had “concluded” the law was broken (in which case there would be an indictment).

Moreover, the story relies on public reporting, based off Trump’s lawyer’s own claim, for its evidence that DOJ knew precisely where to look.

According to news reports, some 10-15 boxes of documents were removed from the premises. Donald Trump said in a statement that the FBI opened his personal safe as part of their search. Trump attorney Lindsey Halligan, who was present during the multi-hour search, says that the FBI targeted three rooms—a bedroom, an office and a storage room. That suggests that the FBI knew specifically where to look.

That claim is fundamentally incompatible with the earlier report that an “informer” had told FBI precisely where to look.

More importantly, it wouldn’t take an informant — a confidential human source infiltrated into the Trump camp — to obtain this kind of information.

Cassidy Hutchinson, who helped Trump move to Mar-a-Lago, reportedly “cooperated” (that word again!) with DOJ after her blockbuster testimony before the January 6 Committee. She worked at Mar-a-Lago and unlike others who moved with Trump to Florida, had the clearance to handle these documents. Her attorney, former Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt, knows firsthand about Trump’s attempts to suppress sensitive classified information from his attempts to kill the Russian investigation. So if Hutchinson had information that would be useful to this investigation (including details about where Trump stored what at Mar-a-Lago), DOJ likely has it.

Similarly, of the seven people whom Trump named to represent his interests with the Archives, three — Pat Cipollone, Pat Philbin, and Steve Engel — have been willing to testify with varying degrees of resistance before the January 6 Committee. Engel would have likewise been asked to cooperate on any DOJ investigation of Jeffrey Clark, but he didn’t share details of that with the press. The two Pats both recently received subpoenas in DOJ’s January 6 probe (which they did share with the press). And Pat Philbin is likely the lawyer described in earlier reports who attempted, but failed, to negotiate transfer of Trump’s stolen documents to the Archives.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

But after an extended back and forth over several months and after multiple steps taken by Trump’s team to resolve the issue, Stern sought the intervention of another Trump attorney last fall as his frustration mounted over the pace of the document turnover.

If Philbin was the person who tried but failed to resolve the Archives’ concerns, he is a direct, material witness to the issue of whether Trump had willfully withheld classified documents the Archives was asking for, something the Archives would have made clear in its referral to DOJ. And because of the way the Espionage statute is written (note the Newsweek article, if accurate, mentions National Defense Information, language specific to the Espionage Act), Philbin would have personal legal exposure if he did not fully disclose information about Trump continuing to hoard stolen classified documents. Plus, Philbin has been involved in national security law since the 00s, and probably would like to retain his clearance to represent clients in national security cases.

All of which is to say that DOJ has easily identifiable people who are known to be somewhat willing to testify against Donald Trump and who are known to have specific knowledge about the documents he stole. If either Hutchinson or Philbin (or both!) answered FBI questions about Trump’s document theft, they would not be “informants.” They would be witnesses. Just like they’re both witnesses to some of Trump’s other suspected crimes.

Nor does that make them “cooperators” in the stricter sense — people who’ve entered into plea agreements to work off their own criminal liability.

As remarkable as six years of Trumpism has made it seem, sometimes law-abiding citizens answer FBI questions without the tantrums that Corcoran seems to tolerate from his clients.

Indeed, if the crime that FBI is investigating really is as serious as the Espionage Act, far more witnesses may see the wisdom of sharing their information with the FBI.

Update: Propagandist John Solomon offers a version of the same story as WSJ, though in his telling, DOJ also subpoenaed Trump in June, specifically asking for documents with classified markings, including those involving correspondence with foreign officials.

The subpoena requested any remaining documents Trump possessed with any classification markings, even if they involved photos of foreign leaders, correspondence or mementos from his presidency.

This is the kind of detail that the lawyers who negotiated initial efforts to retrieve stolen documents would know about. If Philbin, for example, knows that Trump had tried to hold onto his love letters with Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin, but Trump still didn’t provide them in response to a subpoena, then there’d be a clearcut case of withholding classified documents.

Update: CNN has matched Solomon’s report.

Trump and his lawyers have sought to present their interactions with Justice Department prosecutors as cooperative, and that the search came as a shock. The subpoena was first reported by Just the News.

In response to questions about the grand jury subpoena, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said in a statement to CNN: “Monday’s unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary raid of President Trump’s home was only the latest and most egregious action of hostility by the Biden Administration, whose Justice Department has been weaponized to harass President Trump, his supporters and his staff.”

But CNN’s version suggests that Trump’s lawyers showed the head of the espionage division of DOJ classified documents, but only agreed to hand over those that were Top Secret or higher.

During the meeting, Trump’s attorneys showed the investigators documents — some of them had markings indicating they were classified. The agents were given custody of the documents that were marked top secret or higher, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That suggests even after turning over 15 boxes of documents, Trump still had highly classified documents lying around the basement of a building riddled with counterintelligence concerns. And when the head of the espionage department came to collect classified documents, Trump withheld less classified ones.

Of course they had probable cause there were classified documents still at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s lawyers told DOJ there were.