Lawyers found classified docs in Trump’s bedroom 4 months after Mar-a-Lago search

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Four months after the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago estate, Donald Trump’s attorneys discovered four documents marked “classified” in his personal bedroom.

That revelation was among several cited by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in a newly unsealed 2023 opinion that found prosecutors had presented compelling evidence that Trump knowingly stashed national security documents in his home and then tried to conceal them when the Justice Department tried to retrieve them.

In her 87-page opinion, Howell said the likelihood that Trump committed crimes was a basis to permit special counsel Jack Smith to question the former president’s attorney Evan Corcoran on topics that would normally be shielded by attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors, Howell said, had demonstrated that Trump knew Corcoran had been tasked in June 2022 with informing the government that all classified materials had been returned, “a representation that the former president … knew to be wrong.”

The FBI’s August 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago confirmed that dozens of other classified documents remained on the property — but as Howell notes, there were at least two more rounds of classified materials found on Trump’s property following additional searches.

Throughout the opinion, Howell — who was chief judge of the Washington, D.C. federal district court at the time — described with varying degrees of incredulity how four documents with classification markings could have been discovered in Trump’s private quarters months after prosecutors had subpoenaed them and the FBI conducted its own exhaustive search of the property.

“Notably, no excuse is provided as to how the former president could miss the classified-marked documents found in his own bedroom at Mar-a-Lago,” Howell, an Obama appointee, wrote.

In a footnote, Howell also noted that another Trump adviser connected to his Save America PAC had acknowledged scanning the contents of the box that contained the classified materials in 2021 and storing them on a personal laptop provided by the PAC.

Trump’s office provided the box that contained the four records to the FBI in January 2023, Howell noted.

Howell’s opinion was unsealed along with a large batch of other previously secret grand jury-related documents stemming from the investigation into Trump for withholding reams of classified documents after leaving office in 2021, including some of the nation’s most sensitive military secrets. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee based in South Florida, released the batch of documents Tuesday after lengthy negotiations with Smith’s team and Trump’s lawyers over redactions.

Notably, it was Trump who had used Howell’s opinion — despite its strong rebuke of his conduct — to argue in support of an effort to dismiss the case against him over “prosecutorial misconduct.” That filing, also newly unsealed Tuesday, notes that Howell, in a footnote, scolded prosecutor Julie Edelstein for pressing another Trump attorney, Tim Parlatore, to reveal attorney-client protected information — and for questioning whether Trump’s refusal to waive the privilege was a sign of his recalcitrance.

“The former president is correct that ‘[i]f a witness exercises some right or privilege, it is generally agreed that it is improper to suggest that adverse inferences should be drawn,’” Howell wrote, citing texts on standard grand jury practices.

But she also said the exchange had limited relevance to the matter related to Corcoran.

Cannon has a hearing scheduled in the case on Wednesday, though she recently signaled that the trial on the charges Trump is facing is unlikely to begin before late summer — and possibly well beyond.

Howell, who as chief judge presided over the initial grand jury proceedings that led to Trump’s criminal charges in the classified documents case, wrote in her opinion that one of Trump’s close aides, Walt Nauta, was “clearly dissembling” when he interviewed with the FBI about his own role in moving boxes later found to contain classified materials. Nauta was ultimately charged alongside Trump with attempting to obstruct government officials from reclaiming the classified documents.

Howell also recounted in painstaking detail the battles between Smith’s team and Trump over searches of his other properties and whether his attorneys had been attempting to frustrate the prosecutors’ efforts to enforce their subpoena for the remaining classified records at Trump’s home.

In addition to allowing Smith’s team to question Corcoran, she agreed that 88 documents Corcoran had been attempting to withhold via attorney-client privilege must also be disclosed because they were “sufficiently ‘in furtherance’ of the former president's criminal scheme.”