Washington – A person who worked at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort told investigators that the former president instructed the person to move boxes sensitive documents – including those that may contain classified markings – in a different location such as federal investigation into Trump’s handling of certain records was already underway, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The employee is now a cooperating witness in the Justice Department’s investigation — which escalated after executing a search warrant at Trump’s Florida residence in August – and appeared before a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, CBS News has confirmed.
News of a cooperating witness in the document investigation with first-hand knowledge of the crates being moved was first reported by the Washington Post.
Video of the boxes being handled is now in the hands of investigators — evidence that contributed to the FBI’s decision to execute the court-authorized search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, a source with knowledge of the investigation says.
Trump’s battle with the federal government over the White House records has lasted 18 months, since National Archives general counsel Gary Stern he wrote to a team of Trump lawyers in May 2021, informing them that “about a dozen boxes of original presidential records” from the Trump era that were once kept in the White House residence had not yet been returned to the Archives.” Dictator Kim Jong Un, according to a copy of the letter released by the Archives.
In January 2022, the National Archives collected 15 boxes of records at Mar-a-Lago and later referred Trump’s retention of the documents to the Justice Department for criminal investigation after the Archives said it discovered “evidence that classified records had been stored » in the facilities.
By May, a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. issued a subpoena “searching for classified documents” at Trump’s Florida resort, according to unsealed court documents. Trump’s legal team is said to have accepted service of the subpoena on May 11, and a subpoena for security camera footage from inside Mar-a-Lago was served in June. The video showed the boxes of sensitive material being moved to a different location at Trump’s resort, and according to the source, the Mar-a-Lago employee told investigators that the transfer was made by Trump himself.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, claiming in part that he declassified the documents in question and calling the investigation politically motivated.
In a statement, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowitz told CBS News: “The Biden administration has armed law enforcement and manufactured a Document Hoax in a desperate attempt to maintain political power. Every other President has been given time and respect about his administration’s documents, as the President has absolute authority to categorize files and materials to be classified.The continued effort to leak misleading and false information to party allies on Fake News is nothing short of dangerous political interference and unequal justice”.
The The National Archives pointed out Tuesday that any statements that presidential records “were in the possession of former Presidents or their representatives after they left office … are false and misleading.” The Archives said it assumed “physical and legal custody of the Presidential Records” from the administrations of former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan when they left office.
The August search warrant execution of Trump’s residence yielded 33 boxes of material, according to court documents, ranging from press clippings to clothing and including 103 documents with classified markings — marked as either CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET or TOP SECRET. The boxes also contained nearly 50 empty envelopes with classified banners on them.
Prosecutors revealed in court documents and filings that they are conducting a “national security” investigation into the matter, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is conducting a damage assessment as a result of the allegedly improperly stored documents.
Trump sued the Justice Department in the weeks after the investigation, claiming attorney-client and executive privileges were at stake and seeking the appointment of an independent third party to review the material. A federal judge in Florida granted Trump’s request, halted the investigation and appointed Judge Raymond Deary as a Special Master, a decision prosecutors have appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The same appeals court ruled that the Justice Department could continue to use the 103 classified documents in its investigation, but Trump’s legal team has since asked the Supreme Court to step in and allow the Special Master to examine those more sensitive documents. The government filed a response to the Court against Trump’s petition.
Prosecutors also say they are looking into possible acts of obstruction by Trump’s team after court documents revealed a spokesman for the former president gave a signed statement to investigators in June, claiming that after a “diligent investigation,” all classified documents had been returned by Mar -a-Lago.
Jeff Pegues contributed to this report.