Federal investigators knew Donald Trump was most likely concealing classified documents among the myriad boxes of presidential records and other paraphernalia stored at his Mar-a-Lago estate, because of surveillance footage obtained by subpoena, according to a less redacted version of the affidavit used to secure a search warrant for his property last year.
The version of the affidavit was made public late Wednesday on the order of US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who has been hearing arguments from a coalition of news organisations that have been seeking access to a fully unredacted version of the affidavit.
The newly public parts of the document provide more detail on what prosecutors knew and when they knew it in the weeks and months prior to their decision to ask for a warrant to search Mr Trump’s spaces at Mar-a-Lago, the 1920s-era mansion turned social club where he maintains his primary residence and post-presidential office.
Investigators used a subpoena to demand footage recorded by the club’s CCTV cameras in June 2022, not long after Mr Trump’s attorneys turned over a set of 38 documents with classification markings in response to a subpoena, along with a certification claiming that all such documents in the ex-president’s possession had been returned to the government.
The next month, they received a hard drive from the Trump Organization containing the CCTV output they’d subpoenaed, which included footage from motion-activated cameras in the area near the storage room where Mr Trump claimed to be keeping any and all White House records in his possession.
One camera, which bore the internal designation of “South Tunnel Liquor,” had in its field of view the gold-coloured door to the storage room and the tunnel which connected that area to the rest of the property.
According to the affidavit, a review of the footage from the period from before the purported search for documents by Mr Trump’s legal team showed that Mr Trump’s personal aide, Walt Nauta, had removed at least 60 of the boxes that had been stored there prior to the search, while only returning between 25 and 30 boxes to that location.
The FBI agent who drafted the affidavit wrote that “the current location of the boxes removed from the storage room but not returned to it” was “unknown” at the time.
The missing boxes led prosecutors to suspect that Mr Trump was concealing yet more classified documents, considering that his attorneys only turned over 38 such papers, while a tranche of 15 boxes retrieved from the property by the National Archives and Records Administration in early 2022 yielded roughly 200 separate documents with classification markings.
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