Trump accused of ‘shell game with classified documents’ after box moved around

Justice Department investigators are scrutinising how the actions of former president Donald Trump and at least one of his longtime aides may have kept a box containing documents with classification markings from being discovered during the 8 August search of his Palm Beach, Florida, property by FBI agents.

According to CNN, the box at issue contained “a handful” of documents bearing classification markings as well as copies of presidential schedules dating back to Mr Trump’s time in the White House. It was discovered in December after DOJ officials told Mr Trump’s attorneys to conduct another search for government-owned records at the twice-impeached ex-president’s property and subsequently turned over to federal authorities.

Citing a person familiar with both the box’s labourious journey between locations connected to the ex-president and the inquiry being overseen by Special Counsel Jack Smith, CNN said federal investigators suspect Mr Trump played a “shell game with classified documents” by directing staff to move the box between Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach mansion turned beach club where the former president keeps his primary home, and a Palm Beach office block rented by Mr Trump’s office with federal funds available to him under the Former Presidents Act.

The network reported that federal investigators have in recent weeks spoken to a longtime aide to the ex-president who used a mobile phone to scan records found in the box so they could be transferred to a laptop, the latter of which was later accessed by investigators pursuant to a subpoena.

Persons familiar with Mr Trump’s legal team’s efforts to comply with a grand jury subpoena compelling them to turn over all classified documents in the ex-president’s possession have said the box’s contents had been scanned and uploaded into cloud storage, with the box moved to the office block location in late 2021.

That meant the box was not present at Mar-a-Lago in January 2022, when Mr Trump’s aides returned 15 boxes of government-owned documents to the National Archives and Records Administration, nor was it there on 8 August 2022, when FBI special agents executed a search warrant at the ex-president’s property.

When Mr Trump, who spends his summers at his New Jersey golf club when Mar-a-Lago is closed because of the summer heat in Florida, the box was retrieved from the office block and moved back to the converted bridal suite where Mr Trump’s office is now located.

“When the team found the box, it was initially believed that the FBI had simply missed it during the search warrant. But upon further investigation, the legal team discovered that an aide had moved it as part of her job function,” one source told CNN.