We now have more information about how prosecutors conducted their search for classified documents that former President Donald Trump kept after leaving office, despite court orders requiring that he turn them over.
On Wednesday, a magistrate judge unsealed additional portions of an affidavit submitted by federal authorities when they sought a court order allowing them to raid Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last August. It has new details on security footage that showed boxes of documents being moved and the interactions Trump’s lawyers had with prosecutors. But it still leaves some questions about the case unanswered, including how prosecutors came to suspect that Trump hadn’t turned over all of the documents in his possession.
The new version of the affidavit was released just before Trump’s body man Walt Nauta, who was indicted last month alongside the former president, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him Thursday. He has been accused of allegedly acting at Trump’s direction to move boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago in an attempt to hide them from prosecutors. Trump has also pleaded not guilty to all 37 counts in the indictment, including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act and one count of false statements and representations.
Here are the latest revelations from the affidavit:
1) Prosecutors relied on security footage to build their case against Trump
Newly unsealed parts of the affidavit cite security footage of a hallway in the Mar-a-Lago basement, which led to the storage room where many of the documents were kept. The Trump Organization turned over that footage in response to a June 2022 subpoena.
The affidavit describes footage showing Nauta moving boxes out of the storage room and the anteroom leading to it on four separate occasions between May 24, 2022, and June 2, 2022. During that period, the FBI questioned him about the locations of the boxes. The affidavit said that the footage shows him moving “approximately 64 boxes from the storage room area” and “only return[ing] 25-30 boxes” to that room.
The indictment accuses Nauta of making false statements to the FBI about how the documents got to Trump’s residence and whether they were stored in a secure location. At Trump’s instruction, he also allegedly moved more than 60 boxes of documents before one of the former president’s attorneys was supposed to review them as part of their response to a Department of Justice subpoena.
2) Trump didn’t initially argue to prosecutors that he declassified the documents
Trump has publicly maintained that he had a “standing order” to instantly declassify documents that he retained from his time in the White House. But according to reporting from Bloomberg, neither the Justice Department nor Office of the Director of National Intelligence has managed to find any such document. And the newly unsealed parts of the affidavit show that his lawyers — including M. Evan Corcoran, whose exhaustive notes helped prosecutors build their case — didn’t make that defense when they turned over an incomplete folder of classified documents before authorities raided the estate.
That throws doubt on the notion that Trump tried to declassify the documents he had maintained and whether his attorneys knew about the papers he failed to turn over.
3) Trump’s lawyers probably never looked beyond the storage room for classified documents
The newly unsealed parts of the affidavit also show Corcoran was “not advised there were any records in any private office space or other location in Mar-a-Lago.” That suggested to prosecutors that it was “very likely” that his legal team never searched beyond the storage room for classified documents.
Authorities later found documents throughout Mar-a-Lago, including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, and Trump’s bedroom. The indictment alleges that Trump and Nauta knowingly conspired to prevent the former president’s lawyers from reviewing most of the boxes of documents. Corcoran, who was ordered by a Washington federal judge to provide records and testimony to the grand jury in the case, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
4) We still don’t know all the reasons why prosecutors believed that Trump still had documents in his possession
Big chunks of the affidavit still remain under seal. And while the security footage showed that Nauta moved the boxes, it’s possible that prosecutors had additional reasons to believe that Trump was willfully retaining documents in brazen violation of a subpoena.
Former US Attorney Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor, told MSNBC Wednesday that there could be “some witnesses that they are trying to protect … or some lines of inquiry they are trying to protect.”
Given that the grand jury’s investigation in the case is still ongoing, we may not find out what it is that prosecutors are trying to keep under wraps until the case goes to trial, which is currently scheduled for August 14.