Did the FBI raid Mar-a-Lago to retrieve letters to Trump from Korean leader Kim Jong-un? Were they looking for the letter written to Trump by Barack Obama and left inside the Resolute desk at the end of Obama’s time in the White House? According to reporting, both of those items are at the top of the list of documents the National Archive wants from Donald Trump.
Do those documents sound like they would warrant the first-ever raid on a former president’s private residence? The last days of the Trump administration are under scrutiny as reports surface that the time was chaotic and Trump left much of the responsibility of fulfilling obligations under the Presidential Records Act to his chief of staff, Mark Meadows. White House staff secretary, Derek Lyons stepped down on December 18, 2020. He managed paperwork inside the executive complex. That left Meadows as the person responsible for overseeing the transition process. Meadows had no significant executive experience so this task was likely over his head. The White House emailed all of its offices detailed instructions about returning documents and cleaning out spaces. Meadows followed up and encouraged the offices to comply. He also assured White House staff members that he would talk to Trump about securing records. Some documents were stored in the residence.
The New York Times piece on this focuses on the “chaotic” atmosphere of Trump’s final days in the White House and Trump’s focus on granting pardons in his last hours. I’m old enough to remember the same kind of reports during Bill Clinton’s last day in the White House – remember Marc Rich’s pardon? Naturally, the NYT writes as though Trump’s actions were unusual.
The National Archive realized it was missing some important documents and spoke with two men in the White House Counsel’s Office.
Regardless of whether Mr. Meadows followed through on those promises, by early 2021, after Mr. Trump had left the White House, officials with the archives realized they were missing significant material.
They reached out to, among others, Scott Gast, who had been a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office under Mr. Trump, and Mr. Philbin. The two men, along with Mr. Meadows and four other Trump officials, had been appointed by Mr. Trump on his last full day in office to work with the National Archives.
The archivists were particularly insistent about getting back the missing correspondence from the North Korean leader and a letter left on the Resolute Desk for Mr. Trump by Mr. Obama, both of significant historical value.
Archives officials also asked Mr. Gast and Mr. Philbin about the roughly two dozen boxes that had been in the residence during the Trump administration’s final days. Mr. Philbin responded that he would work to get them in the hands of the archives and reached out to Mr. Meadows, who said he would help make it happen, according to former officials.
Archives officials identified social media records that had not been preserved. They also discovered that White House staff members had not preserved official business conducted on personal electronic messaging accounts either. Archivists referred the matter to the Justice Department. A grand jury was formed in the spring after Philbin and Gast were questioned by the FBI about the boxes. Cipollone was also interviewed.
So, that gives us more of a timeline than we’ve read up to this point. Then the FBI raid was conducted because the Justice Department believed possible crimes were committed with the storage of the documents at Mar-a-Lago.
In June, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers signed a statement asserting that all relevant documents with classified markings from the boxes that had been requested — by then they were stored in a basement area at Mar-a-Lago — had been returned. The Justice Department would later file a detailed affidavit to a federal judge in Florida, revealing that the department believed possible crimes had been committed, precipitating the search on Aug. 8 at the club.
Trump wanted to declassify a binder of government documents about Crossfire Hurricane – the FBI investigation into the totally discredited Russia, Russia, Russia lie created by Team Hillary – but the FBI warned that releasing text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, for example, would “compromise the bureau.” Meadows pushed back on that and said Trump wanted the information declassified. Meadows was going to give the binder to a conservative journalist but didn’t end up doing so because the Justice Department advised him that releasing text messages between Strzok and Page it might violate privacy laws.
Trump considers all of the papers from his administration as his own, not property of the U.S. government. The papers belong to American taxpayers. It is the job of the National Archives to preserve them. Trump’s first White House Counsel, Don McGahn, instituted a protocol and delivered presentations on the law to staff members. There were conversations after the 2020 election about sending someone to pick up documents stored at Mar-a-Lago. Cippollone and Philbin “were keenly aware that [Trump’s] handling of documents was a potential problem.’
There is a typical partisan slap at the end of the NYT’s article.
That afternoon, Mr. Biden arrived in the Oval Office and found a letter waiting for him in a drawer from Mr. Trump. It was two large pages, with Mr. Trump’s distinctive handwriting visible to an aide watching Mr. Biden read it. The new president remarked that Mr. Trump had been more gracious in the letter than he had anticipated.
It was one of Mr. Biden’s first records that will have to be turned over to the archives.
What exactly did creepy old Joe expect? Trump may have been crude and rude in political statements and on social media but he never embarrassed us when performing standard presidential duties. He left a note for Biden, as is tradition, and no doubt penned sincerely felt remarks to him. America First, right? Did Trump ever embarrass Americans on the world stage as Biden continues to do? Trump always projected strength. Biden is dazed and confused both domestically and internationally. Other world leaders have to cover for the daffy old man.