According to an email sent to Trump’s lawyers in May 2021 by National Archives and Records Administration chief counsel Gary Stern, Trump-era records were not returned to the government despite a determination by his White House counsel that they should be.
A source familiar with the situation confirmed the email’s contents to CNN. The email was first reported on by the Washington Post.
“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 final 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,” Stern wrote in the email. In the final weeks, I had also expressed my concern to Scott.”
Scott Gast, another Trump attorney who was copied on the message, is referred to as “Scott.”
Cipollone and his former deputy Patrick Philbin were appointed by Trump shortly before he left office to handle issues concerning his presidential records.
The newly revealed email highlights the efforts of the National Archives, which is in charge of collecting and sorting presidential material, to recover Trump-era documents as an investigation into the handling of presidential records heats up. Earlier this month, the FBI executed a search warrant at the former President’s Florida home, removing boxes of material from the property.
The National Archives previously stated that at least 15 boxes of White House records, including some classified, were recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in January. Earlier this month, the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked “top secret/SCI” – one of the highest levels of classification.
CNN previously reported that the Archives had been working to recover Trump’s presidential records throughout 2021.
According to a source familiar with the situation, the Archives attempted to get Trump to return the presidential documents via a dozen emails and phone calls over the course of a year.
The National Archives was aware that it was looking for certain documents in the final weeks of the administration because the White House Records Office alerted the Archives that they had never received them from the president’s team – including the map of Hurricane Dorian that Trump infamously altered with a Sharpie marker, the letter from former President Barack Obama to Trump, and the Kim Jong Un “love letters.”
The Archives was aware that White House records management had identified documents were missing even before Trump left office, according to the source.
Furthermore, the Archives was aware of the two dozen boxes in Trump’s residence even while he was in office, according to the source.
However, there was no inventory or documentation of what was in those boxes.
Negotiations for the return of the documents between the Archives and Trump’s team began shortly after Trump left office, according to a source familiar with the situation. According to the source, repeated phone calls and communications were made in an attempt to recover the boxes, but to no avail.
Finally, in January 2022, Trump agreed to return 15 boxes – not the 24 boxes that the Archives were aware of – that were being kept at his Mar-a-Lago residence and that the Archives determined contained classified documents.