Trump’s turbulent years in the White House culminate in Florida search

NEW YORK –

Piles of papers stacked on his desk. Framed magazine covers and memorabilia line the walls. One of Shaquille O’Neal’s giant sneakers on display alongside football helmets, boxing belts and other sports memorabilia, cluttering up his Trump Tower office and limiting table space.

Long before entering politics, former US President Donald Trump had a penchant for collecting. And that lifelong habit — combined with his disregard for government record-keeping rules, his careless handling of classified information, and a chaotic transition born of his refusal to accept defeat in 2020 — all resulted in an investigation. federal government which poses extraordinary legal and political challenges.

The raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club earlier this month to recover documents from his White House years was an unprecedented police action against a former president who is set to run for office again. Officials didn’t reveal exactly what the boxes contained, but the FBI said it recovered 11 sets of classified documents, including some “compartmentalized sensitive information,” a special category designed to protect secrets that could cause harm.” exceptionally serious” to U.S. interests if disclosed publicly.

Why Trump refused to hand over the seized documents despite repeated requests remains unclear. But Trump’s failure to comply with the Presidential Records Act, which outlines how records must be kept, has been well documented throughout his tenure.

He regularly tore up official papers which then had to be glued together. Official items that would traditionally be turned over to the National Archives mingled with his personal effects in the White House residence. Classified information has been tweeted, shared with reporters and adversaries – even found in a bathroom in the White House complex.

John Bolton, who served as Trump’s third national security adviser, said that before he arrived he had heard “there was a concern in the air about the way he handled information. And over in my time, I could certainly understand why.”

Other members of the Trump administration have paid more attention to sensitive documents. When asked directly if he kept any classified information after leaving office, former Vice President Mike Pence told The Associated Press on Friday, “No, not to my knowledge.”

The investigation into Trump’s handling of documents comes as he faces increasing legal scrutiny on multiple fronts. A Georgia election interference probe has snagged the former president, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a leading defender, said earlier this month he was the target of a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination while testifying under oath in the New York Attorney General’s long-running civil investigation into his business dealings. A senior company executive pleaded guilty last week in a tax evasion case brought by the Manhattan District Attorney.

But few legal threats have galvanized Trump and his most loyal supporters like the search for Mar-a-Lago. The former president and his allies argued the move amounted to political persecution, noting that the judge who approved the warrant gave money to Democrats. The judge, however, also backed the Republicans. And White House officials have repeatedly said they had no prior knowledge of plans to search the estate.

Trump allies have tried to claim that the presidency has granted him unlimited power to unilaterally declassify documents without formal declaration. But David Laufman, the former head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence section, said that was not how it worked.

“It just strikes me as a post-hoc public affairs strategy that has nothing to do with how classified information is actually declassified,” said Laufman, who oversaw the investigation into D’s personal email server. ‘Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. While he said it’s true that there is no law or ordinance that outlines the procedures the president must follow to declassify information, “at the same time, it’s ridiculous to assume that a decision to declassify documents would not have been recorded in writing at the same time”.

It is “not self-executing”, he added. “There has to be objective, contemporaneous, evidence-based corroboration of the claims they make. And of course there won’t be because they’re making it all up.”

The decision to keep classified documents at Mar-a-Lago – a property frequented by paying members, their guests and anyone attending weddings, political fundraisers, charity dinners and other on-site events – was part of of a long pattern of disregard for national security secrets. Former aides have described a “cavalier” attitude towards classified information that has unfolded in public view.

There was dinner with then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago, where the other diners watched and took photos with their mobile phones while the two men examined the details of a North Korean missile test.

There was the time Trump revealed to Russian officials highly classified information allegedly from Israeli sources about Islamic State militants. And there was the time he tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of an apparent explosion at an Iranian space center, which intelligence officials had warned was highly sensitive. Trump insisted he had “the absolute right” to share it.

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump was “reckless” with sensitive and classified information and “never seemed to care why it was bad.”

Grisham recalled an incident involving Conan, a US military dog ​​hailed as a hero for his role in the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She said that before the dog arrived at the White House, staff received a briefing in which they were told the dog could not be photographed because the images could put its handlers in danger. But when the dog arrived, Trump decided he wanted to show it off to the press.

“Because he wanted publicity, Conan came out,” she said. “He’s an example of him not caring about putting lives at risk. … It was like it was his own shiny toy that he was showing off to his friends to impress them.”

Bolton said that during his time working for Trump, he and others often tried to explain the issues and risks of exposing sources and methods.

“I don’t think it sank. He didn’t seem to appreciate how sensitive it was, how dangerous it was for some of our people and the risks they could be exposed to,” he said. -he declares. “What looks like an innocuous image to a private citizen can be a gold mine for a foreign intelligence entity.”

“I would say over and over again, ‘It’s really sensitive, really sensitive.’ And he’d say, ‘I know,’ and then he’d go and do it anyway.”

Bolton said senior intelligence officials would meet before briefings to discuss how best to handle sensitive topics, strategizing on what needed to be shared. Informants quickly learned that Trump often tried to keep sensitive documents and took steps to ensure the documents did not go missing, including using iPads to show them to him.

“Sometimes he would ask to keep it and they would say, ‘It’s really sensitive. Sometimes he just wouldn’t give it back.”

Trump’s refusal to accept his election defeat also contributed to the chaos that engulfed his final days in office. The General Services Administration was slow to recognize President Joe Biden’s victory, delaying the transition process and leaving little time to pack.

While other White House staffers and even the former first lady began to make arrangements, Trump largely refused. At the same time, White House staff were leaving en masse as part of the regular “relocation process,” while morale, among other things, had plummeted following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. American.

Bolton said he doubted Trump took any documents for nefarious reasons, and instead thought Trump likely considered them “memorabilia” like the many he had collected in his lifetime.

“I think he just thought certain things were cool and he wanted them,” Bolton said. “Some days he liked collecting fries. Some days he liked collecting documents. He just collected things.”

The Washington Post first reported in February that the National Archives recovered 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mar-a-Lago that should have been turned over to the agency when Trump left the White House. An initial review of this material concluded that Trump brought presidential records and several other documents marked classified to Mar-a-Lago.

The investigation into the handling of classified documents intensified in the spring as prosecutors and federal agents questioned several people who worked in Trump’s White House about how the files – and in particular the classified documents – were been dealt with during the chaotic end of the Trump presidency, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Around the same time, prosecutors also issued a subpoena for records Trump kept at Mar-a-Lago and were subpoenaed for surveillance video from Mar-a-Lago showing the area where the records were stored, the person said.

A senior Justice Ministry official visited Mar-a-Lago in early June and examined some of the material stored in boxes. After that meeting, prosecutors interviewed another witness who told them there were likely other classified documents still stored at Mar-a-Lago, the person said. The person was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department then applied for a search warrant and recovered the additional slices of classified documents.

Trump’s turbulent years in the White House culminate in Florida search

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