The US Justice Department says it has uncovered efforts to obstruct its investigation into the discovery of classified documents at Former US President Donald Trump Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump had his Florida home searched by the FBI earlier this year as part of an investigation into how classified records from the White House ended up at his residence.
It came at the same time that photographs claimed to show two occasions in which Trump allegedly flushed documents down the toilet, breaching the Presidential Records Act.
It has long been known that Trump repeatedly destroyed documents, with the Washington Post stating earlier this year that he routinely “tore up briefings and schedules, articles and letters, memos both sensitive and mundane”.
This is everything you need to know.
Why has his Mar-a-Lago estate been searched by the FBI?
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was searched by the FBI as part of an ongoing investigation into how classified records from the White House ended up in his Florida residence.
Disclosing the search in a lengthy statement, the former US President said that agents opened up a safe at his home, and described their work as an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct”.
The search intensifies the months-long probe into how classified documents ended up in more than a dozen boxes located at Mar-a-Lago earlier in 2022.
A statement from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from February said: “In mid-January 2022, NARA arranged for the transport from the Trump Mar-a-Lago property in Florida to the National Archives of 15 boxes that contained Presidential records, following discussions with President Trump’s representatives in 2021.
“Former President Trump’s representatives have informed NARA that they are continuing to search for additional Presidential records that belong to the National Archives.
“As required by the Presidential Records Act (PRA), these records should have been transferred to NARA from the White House at the end of the Trump Administration in January 2021.”
The National Archives said Trump should have turned over that material upon leaving office and it asked the Justice Department to investigate.
There are multiple federal laws governing the handling of classified records and sensitive government documents, including statutes that make it a crime to remove such material and retain it at an unauthorised location.
Though a search warrant does not suggest that criminal charges are near or even expected, federal officials looking to obtain one must first demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause that a crime occurred.
Two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the search happened earlier on Monday and was related to the records probe. Agents were also looking to see if Trump had additional presidential records or any classified documents at the estate.
Trump has previously maintained that presidential records were turned over “in an ordinary and routine process”.
Asked how the documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s son, Eric, said the boxes were among items that got moved out of the White House during “six hours” on Inauguration Day, as the Bidens prepared to move into the building.
“My father always kept press clippings,” Eric Trump said. “He had boxes, when he moved out of the White House.”
What has the US Justice Department said?
The department said “government records were likely concealed and removed” from a storage room even after the former president’s representatives had assured officials that they had thoroughly searched the property.
The FBI also seized 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records during its August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago and found three classified documents stashed in office drawers, according to a filing.
It included a photo showing the cover pages of a smattering of paperclip-bound classified documents — some marked as “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders, and one marked as “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-coloured border — along with whited-out pages, splayed out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago.
Beside them sat a cardboard box filled with gold-framed pictures, including a Time Magazine cover.
The filing shows how investigators conducting a criminal probe have focused not just on why the records were improperly stored there, but also on the question of whether the Trump team intentionally misled them about the continued, and unlawful, presence of government secrets.
The document sheds new details on the events of this past May and June, when FBI and Justice Department officials issued a subpoena for the missing records and then visited a storage room at Mar-a-Lago that contained top-secret documents and other information.
During that June visit, the document says, Trump’s lawyers told investigators that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location — a Mar-a-Lago storage room — and that “there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the premises and that all available boxes were searched”.
After that, though, the Justice Department “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation”.
In their search earlier this month, agents found classified documents both in the storage room as well as in the former president’s office, including three classified documents found not in boxes, but in office desks.
The filing responds to a request from Trump’s legal team for a special master to review the documents seized during the August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago. US District Judge Aileen Cannon is set to hear arguments on the matter.
Trump’s lawyers last week asked for the appointment of a special master who would be tasked with reviewing the records taken and setting aside documents protected by claims of legal privilege. Cannon on Saturday said it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint such a person but also gave the Justice Department an opportunity to respond.
On Monday, the department said it had already completed its review of potentially privileged documents and identified a “limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information”.
In a separate development, the Trump legal team has grown with the addition of another attorney. Chris Kise, Florida’s former solicitor general, has joined the team of lawyers representing Trump, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorised to discuss the move by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kise did not return messages seeking comment.
Did Donald Trump flush documents?
The FBI raid came around at the same time that alleged proof of Trump flushing torn up documents down the toilet surfaced on Twitter.
Maggie Haberman, a New York Times journalist and Trump White House correspondent, who is set to release her book about Trump, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, in October, reported in February of this year that Trump would repeatedly flush his ripped up notes down the toilet.
On Monday (8 August), Haberman shared on Twitter an article published by Axios that appeared to show evidence of her claim - specifically, it included two pictures of a toilet that showed torn up handwritten notes in the water of the bowl.
Haberman issued the pictures to Axios as part of the promotional coverage for her upcoming book.
In a thread of tweets, she wrote: “NEW IN AXIOS: Trump denied flushing documents as president, as I learned during reporting last year for CONFIDENCE MAN. A Trump White House source recently provided PHOTOS of paper with Trump’s handwriting in two different toilets via @mikeallen
“On the left is a White House toilet, the word “qualified” and a capital I visible. On the left, a toilet from a Trump trip overseas.
“Under the presidential records act, documents generated by and sent to presidents are to be preserved by the office. Trump’s habit of ripping paper that had to be taped back up was known; his habit of discarding them was not.”
In a short statement made to Axios, Haberman said: “That Mr Trump was discarding documents this way was not widely known within the West Wing, but some aides were aware of the habit, which he engaged in repeatedly.”
She added: “It was an extension of Trump’s long-term habit of ripping up documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.”
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson, dismissed the images, telling Axios: “You have to be pretty desperate to sell books if pictures of paper in a toilet bowl is part of your promotional plan.”
He added: “We know… there’s enough people willing to fabricate stories like this in order to impress the media class - a media class who is willing to run with anything, as long as it’s anti-Trump.”
During an appearance on CNN, Haberman said: “People are going to make all kinds of jokes about toilets and so forth. It would still be a story if it was a fireplace.
“And the point is about the destruction of records which are supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act, which is a Watergate-era creation.”
Haberman continued: “We knew that Trump had a habit of ripping up paper and that people had to tape it back together.
“And so what was happening was White House residence staff were finding pipes were clogged with paper that they believed he had flushed… I’d had additional reporting afterwards from people confirming that Trump had indeed done this and that it happened on at least two foreign trips and in the White House throughout his presidency.”
Has Trump been accused of breaching the Presidential Records Act before?
This isn’t the first time that Trump has been accused of destroying or tearing up documents legally required to be preserved by the Presidential Records Act.
Earlier this year, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman claimed that Trump would sometimes “chew” on ripped up documents.
Speaking to MSNBC, Newman said that Trump “loved to tear up those documents”.
She said: “After Michael Cohen left the office and I walked into the Oval, Donal, in my view, was chewing what he had just just torn up.
“It was very bizarre because he is a germaphobe, he never puts paper in his mouth.”
Newman also added: “His habit of tearing things up… my heart truly goes out to the people responsible for going in the trash bins [and] recovering these things.”
On one occasion, Trump asked if anyone wanted to put a copy of a speech he had just delivered for auction on eBay.
In other incidents, Trump would also task his aides with carrying boxes of unread memos, articles and tweet drafts on board the presidential aircraft so that he could review them before tearing them up.
A former senior Trump administration official said that a deputy from the Office of Staff Secretary would go into a room to retrieve items from the bin and Trump’s desk after he had left.
Back in 2018, a profile was run by Politico on two staffers who were given the responsibility of taping Trump’s records back together after he had torn them up.
A statement from NARA also said: “Some of the Trump presidential records received by the National Archives and Records Administration included paper records that had been torn up by former President Trump.
“As has been reported in the press since 2018, White House records management officials during the Trump Administration recovered and taped together some of the torn-up records.
“These were turned over to the National Archives at the end of the Trump Administration, along with a number of torn-up records that had not been reconstructed by the White House.”
What did he say on Truth Social?
Ina post on his Truth Social account, Trump confirmed that he will be questioned under oath in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his dealings as a real estate mogul.
The New York civil investigation, led by attorney general Letitia James, involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organisation, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.
“In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump added. “Banana Republic!”
In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Mr Trump, his company or both.
The Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn evidence that is not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jnr and Ivanka, gave evidence in the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said.