The federal criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s potential mishandling of classified documents ramped up this week in significant and unprecedented fashion, with the FBI executing a search warrant at Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
The Justice Department inquiry is about documents that Trump removed from the White House as his term was ending in January 2021. Earlier this year, officials from the National Archives and Records Administration, known as NARA, recovered 15 boxes of presidential documents from Mar-a -Lago.
Trump’s lawyers previously worked with NARA to voluntarily turn over some documents, but the Mar-a-Lago search indicates a new phase of the probe. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and claims the investigation is a politically motivated sham, intended to derail his potential bid to return to the White House.
Here’s a timeline of the key moments from the investigation:
- May 2021: An official from NARA contacts Trump’s team after realizing that several important documents weren’t handed over before Trump left the White House. In hopes of locating the missing items, NARA lawyer Gary Stern reaches out to someone who served in the White House counsel’s office under Trump who was the point of contact for record-keeping matters. The missing documents include some of Trump’s correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as the map of Hurricane Dorian that Trump infamously altered with a Sharpie pen.
- Fall 2021: NARA grows frustrated with the slow pace of document turnover after several months of conversations with the Trump team. Stern reaches out to another Trump attorney to intervene. The archivist asks about several boxes of records that were apparently taken to Mar-a-Lago during Trump’s relocation to Florida. NARA still doesn’t receive the White House documents they are searching for.
- January 2022: After months of discussions with Trump’s team, NARA retrieves 15 boxes of Trump White House records from Mar-a-Lago. NARA says in a statement that some of the records it received at the end of Trump’s administration were “torn up by former President Trump,” and that White House officials had to tape them back together. Not all the torrent-up documents were reconstructed, NARA says.
- Feb. 9, 2022: News outlets, including CNN, report that NARA asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records and whether he violated the Presidential Records Act and other laws related to classified information. The Presidential Records Act requires all records created by a sitting president to be turned over to the National Archives at the end of their administration.
- Feb. 18, 2022: NARA informs the Justice Department that some of the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago included classified material. NARA also tells the department that, despite being warned it was illegal, Trump tore up documents while he was president, and that senior officials in the Trump administration did not properly preserve their social media messages, draft tweets and deleted tweets.
- April and May 2022: On April 7, NARA publicly acknowledges for the first time that the Justice Department is involved, and news outlets report that prosecutors have launched a criminal probe into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents. Around this time, FBI agents quietly interviewed Trump aided at Mar-a-Lago about the handling of presidential records as part of their widening investigation.
- May 12, 2022: News outlets report that investigators subpoenaed NARA for access to the classified documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena, which is part of the process to allow investigators to take possession of the documents from the NARA, is the first public indication of the Justice Department using a grand jury in its investigation.
- June 3, 2022: Four investigators, including a top Justice Department counterintelligence official, visit Mar-a-Lago seeking more information about classified material that had been taken to Florida. The four investigators meet with two of Trump’s attorneys, Christina Bobb and Evan Corcoran, and look around the basement room where the documents are being stored. Trump briefly stops by the meeting to say hello to the officials, but he does not answer any questions.
- June 8, 2022: Trump’s attorneys receive a letter from federal investigators, asking them to further secure the room where documents are being stored. In response, Trump aids add a padlock to the room in the basement of Mar-a-Lago.
- August 8, 2022: The FBI executes a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago — a major escalation of the classified documents investigation. The search focused on the area of the club where Trump’s offices and personal quarters are located. Federal agents remove boxes of material from the property. The search was the first time in American history that a former president’s home was searched as part of a criminal investigation.
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