Washington, Oct 9 (IANS) Former President Donald Trump allegedly told his lawyers he was willing to return the classified materials found in his Mar-a-Lago residence for files he believed would expose the FBI’s probe into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.
As National Archives officials pushed for Trump to return the files he had taken with him to Florida, he floated the idea to his lawyers that they should cut a deal with the department, the Daily Mail of London and other media outlets reported quoting a New York Times dispatch.
Trump didn’t specify what files he wanted; he told his attorneys that there were documents that could “prove” the FBI’s investigation was a “hoax”. Trump’s team, however, never acted on the idea because the government had a right to take back the documents Trump had brought with him to Mar-a-Lago.
Gary Stern, the top lawyer for the National Archives, began demanding Trump return the classified files from Mar-a-Lago in a letter in 2021. “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 White House Counsel Pat Cipollone in the final days of the administration that they need to be,” he wrote as per the Times report.
Stern continued to hound Trump’s team to return the documents throughout the year, and sources told the Times that Trump repeatedly claimed to his legal team that there was “nothing of consequence” inside the boxes, the Mail said.
Alex Cannon, a Trump lawyer, was reportedly worried that the files Trump took might contain documents sought in the January 6 inquiry or be classified material, which Trump’s team did not have the proper security clearances to look after. It was when Cannon began pushing for the boxes to be returned in late 2021 that Trump pitched his idea of trading the documents for materials in the Russia probe.
The FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8, retrieving 11,000 documents. Among the files taken were confidential records that Trump and his team did not have the clearance to hold or look over, the Mail said.
The documents recovered required such a high level of clearance, FBI agents and even senior members of President Joe Biden’s administration were not allowed to view them, according to an explosive report from The Washington Post.
Cannon believed Trump had files sought after by the January 6 Senate Committee, and testified before the committee in June this year.
The former President has long contended that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation over claims Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election was a hoax made up by the FBI. After a nearly two-year investigation, Attorney General William Barr announced that Mueller did not uncover any evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russians to influence the 2016 election.
Though Mueller did not exonerate Trump on the question of whether or not he obstructed justice in the case, he didn’t find enough evidence to recommend any such charges. Mueller deferred the decision to Barr who said he didn’t see grounds for an obstruction case against the President. Barr said Mueller did refer some aspects of his investigation to other offices – likely including federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York – but the Attorney General said that they had seen the last of the indictments from the special counsel.
Mueller’s investigation did result in indictments for 34 individuals – seven of whom have been convicted so far – including some senior members of the Trump campaign (although none of the charges involved a conspiracy between the campaign and Russians).
However, in 2019, Mueller concluded that Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russians in order to improve his chances of beating Democrat Hilary Clinton, who faced scrutiny over her email servers. She was also cleared as having made a serious mistake by FBI Director James Comey but having transferred no classified documents on her private emails.
Comey was subsequently fired by Trump for not halting the Russia investigations even as he said the President was not under investigation but he only cautioned against the Russians could leverage material against him. His deputy was also fired. The Deputy Attorney General resigned and Mueller also resigned after months of conflict with Trump over the issue.
After fellow Trump lawyer Eric Herschman warned the former President that he could face legal troubles if he kept the documents, Trump reportedly went through the files in December. Although officials from the National Archives retrieved the boxes at Mar-a-Lago, they believed Trump was still in possession of more, the Mail said.
Trump allegedly told Cannon to pass on a message to the officials that everything had been returned, but Cannon refused.