In late 2021 — after nearly a year of attempts from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to obtain government records Donald Trump had improperly removed from the White House — the former president told his advisers that he would return the records in exchange for documents relating to the Russia investigation.
Trump, “still determined to show he had been wronged by the FBI investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia,” suggested to his aides that they bargain for materials related to the inquiry by offering NARA the White House records he was keeping at his estate, according to reporting from The New York Times.
For years, Trump has denounced the Russia investigation, which was led by former special counsel Robert Mueller and sought to determine whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election on his behalf.
Trump reportedly wanted documents from the Russia investigation because he believed NARA had previously refused to disclose documents that would back up his unsubstantiated claims regarding the inquiry.
The former president has frequently stated that the Russia investigation “exonerated” him of any wrongdoing. However, Mueller has stated otherwise, noting that many of Trump’s actions could constitute obstruction of justice in the eyes of federal prosecutors .
Trump’s aides ultimately rejected the proposal to bargain for the documents. Later that year, Trump relented and agreed to allow NARA to retrieve some documents from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida — but only after the agency threatened to get Congress involved.
When NARA examined the documents it retrieved in early 2022, officials noticed that many were marked as classified, prompting them to reach out to the Department of Justice (DOJ). In June 2022, the DOJ subpoenaed Trump to return additional documents marked as classified, and had his legal counsel sign an affidavit affirming that no more documents were on the property.
After evidence surfaced showing that additional classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago, the FBI executed a search warrant in August, recovering more than 100 classified materials and more than 11,000 government documents. In all, the federal government has retrieved more than 300 classified documents from Trump’s property since the start of the year.
It’s unclear if additional White House documents remain in Trump’s possession.
“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” acting archivist Debra Steidel Wall said in a letter to the House Oversight Committee earlier this month.
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