Timeline: The government's efforts to get sensitive documents back from Trump's Mar-a-Lago
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Washington — Former President Donald Trump has been charged by the Justice Department in connection with its investigation into his handling of sensitive government recovered after he left the White House, marking the first time in U.S. history that a former president faces federal criminal charges.

The 38-count indictment naming Trump and aide Walt Nauta as defendants, unsealed Friday, comes in the wake of a lengthy effort by the National Archives and Records Administration to retrieve materials Trump had at his South Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, after his presidency ended in January 2021.

Wrangling between Trump and the National Archives initially took place behind the scenes with secret subpoenas for the records and security camera footage, but the dispute burst into public view on Aug. 8, 2022, when the FBI conducted a court-authorized search of the property.

Public court filings stemming from the Mar-a-Lago search and a related legal dispute over the Justice Department’s access to the 33 boxes of material seized — 13 of which contained just over 100 documents marked classified — revealed Trump was under investigation for the alleged removal or destruction of records, obstruction of justice and potentially violating a provision of the Espionage Act related to gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.

In all, roughly 300 documents marked classified were recovered by federal investigators from the South Florida property after Trump left office.

The former president has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the investigation. Regarding his handling of government documents, he has claimed at times that he declassified the sensitive documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has also asserted the materials he kept were “personal” and therefore didn’t have to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when he left office and that they were shielded by executive privilege.

Here’s a look at the events that transpired over the course of the government’s attempts to get back the documents, gleaned from court filings, government records and media reports. A timeline of the legal battle that ensued over the documents can be found here.

2021

Jan. 14: Six days before the presidential transition, movers are photographed wheeling boxes out of the White House complex and placing them on nearby trucks.

Washington, DC Prepares For Potential Unrest Ahead Of Presidential Inauguration
Workers move boxes onto a truck on West Executive Avenue between the West Wing of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 14, 2021.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images


Jan. 18: CBS Miami reports moving trucks are observed at Mar-a-Lago. 

Jan. 19: Trump tells the Archives that he has designated Mark Meadows, Pat Cipollone, Pat Philbin, Scott Gast, Steven Engel and Michael Purpura, who served in his administration either within the White House or Justice Department, as his representatives to handle matters pertaining to records from his presidency.

May 6: The Archives requests that Trump turn over missing records, and continues to ask for the documents until late December.

December: A Trump representative informs the Archives they located 12 boxes of material at Mar-a-Lago and the agency arranges for them to be securely brought back to Washington. Archives officials say they “did not visit or ‘raid’ the Mar-a-Lago property.”

2022

Jan. 18: Fifteen boxes of records, some containing classified material, are retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by Archives representatives.

Jan. 31: The Archives says in a statement that some of Trump’s presidential records it received included “paper records that had been torn up by” the former president.

“As has been reported in the press since 2018, White House records management officials during the Trump Administration recovered and taped together some of the torn-up records,” the agency said. “These were turned over to the National Archives at the end of the Trump Administration, along with a number of torn-up records that had not been reconstructed by the White House.”

The Archives notes that under the Presidential Record Act, all records created by presidents must be handed over to the agency at the end of their administrations.

Feb. 7: The Archives confirms that in mid-January, it arranged for the 15 boxes containing presidential records to be transported from Mar-a-Lago to the agency. It says Trump’s representatives are “continuing to search” for more records that belong to the Archives and notes that under federal law, they should’ve been transferred from the White House at the end of the Trump administration.

Feb. 9: The Archives’ Office of the Inspector General sends a referral to the Justice Department requesting it investigate Trump’s handling of records. The referral notes a preliminary review of the 15 boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago indicated they contained newspapers, printed news articles, photos, notes, presidential correspondence and “a lot of classified records.”

“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the referral stated.

Feb. 18: David Ferriero, then-archivist of the United States, sends a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney informing her some of the boxes retrieved by the Archives in mid-January contained items marked as classified national security information, and asked Trump’s representatives to continue searching for any additional presidential records that had not been transferred to the Archives.

Ferriero tells Maloney that because the Archives identified classified information in the boxes, its staff had been in communication with the Justice Department.

April 11: The White House Counsel’s Office formally transmits a request that the Archives provide the FBI access to the 15 boxes retrieved from Mar–a-Lago for its review.

Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago, the estate of Donald Trump, in Pa
Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago, the estate of former President Donald Trump, in Palm Beach, Florida.

John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images


April 12: The Archives says it communicated with Trump’s “authorized representative” about the 15 boxes of seized records and told his attorney Evan Corcoran about the Justice Department’s “urgency” in needing access to them. The agency also advises Trump’s counsel it intended to provide the FBI with the documents the next week.

Corcoran later requests the Archives delay the disclosure to the FBI to April 29.

April 29: The Justice Department’s National Security Division tells Corcoran that there are “important national security interests in the FBI and others in the intelligence community getting access to these materials.”

More than 100 documents with classification markings totaling more than 700 pages were among the materials in the boxes retrieved by the Archives from Mar-a-Lago, according to the Justice Department, some of which include the “highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program materials.”

The department adds that access to the documents is necessary “for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation.”

On that day, Trump’s attorney requests another delay before the records are given to the FBI and says if the extension was not granted, his letter serves as a “protective assertion of executive privilege.”

May 10: Acting Archivist Deborah Steidel Wall informs Corcoran in a letter that there is “no basis” for the former president to make a “protective assertion of executive privilege,” and she therefore would not honor Trump’s “protective” claim of privilege. 

Wall also tells Corcoran that the Archives would provide the FBI access to the records taken from Mar-a-Lago as early as May 12.

May 11: The Justice Department obtains a grand jury subpoena seeking “any and all” documents bearing classification markings that are in Trump’s possession at Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena sets a May 24 deadline for the requested records to be turned over and for Trump’s custodian of records to appear in federal district court in Washington.

In a separate letter from Jay Bratt to Evan Corcoran, Bratt thanks him for “agreeing to accept service” of the subpoena and says Trump’s custodian of records may comply with the subpoena by handing over the responsive documents to the FBI. He also notes the custodian will have to provide a sworn certification that the documents “represent all responsive records.”

May 16-18: FBI agents conduct a preliminary review of the 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago and find classified documents in 14 of them. The trove includes: 184 documents bearing classification markings, including 67 marked confidential, 92 marked secret and 25 marked top secret.

May 24: Trump’s lawyer asks for an extension for complying with the subpoena, and the government ultimately pushes back the date to June 7.

May 25: Corcoran tells the Justice Department in a letter that Trump has the absolute authority to declassify documents.

June 2: Corcoran reaches out to the Justice Department and requests FBI agents retrieve the documents that are responsive to the May 11 subpoena from Mar-a-Lago.

June 3: Three FBI agents and Bratt, the Justice Department counterintelligence chief, travel to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the materials in response to the subpoena, and try to find a resolution to the Archives’ dispute with the former president.

Trump’s attorney and custodian of records are present and turn over one large envelope, “double-wrapped in tape,” that contains documents. Neither asserts that Trump declassified the records or asserted claims of executive privilege, federal prosecutors said in a filing detailing the encounter.

The custodian of records for Trump’s post-presidential office signs a certification attesting that a “diligent search” was conducted of boxes moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago to locate documents covered by the grand jury subpoena and that “any and all responsive documents” were provided with the certification. 

Trump’s lawyer says all records brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago are stored in a single location, a storage room on the premises, and that there are no other records stored in private office space or other locations on the property. Additionally, he represents that all available boxes were searched.

FBI agents and Bratt are given access to the storage room, which contains boxes containing “clothing and personal items” of Trump and first lady Melania Trump, according to Trump’s lawsuit.

But the Justice Department says government personnel were prohibited from opening or looking inside any boxes that remained in the storage room, “giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.”

The FBI goes on to review the documents contained in the envelope and finds 38 unique documents bearing classification markings, including five documents marked confidential, 16 marked secret and 17 marked top secret.

June 8: Bratt sends a letter to Trump’s team warning that “Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information” and asking the room be secured.

Trump’s attorneys acknowledge receipt of the letter a day later. Trump directs his staff to place a second lock on the door to the storage room, he says in his lawsuit.

June 19: Trump designates Kash Patel, a former Pentagon official, and John Solomon, a conservative commentator, as his “representatives for access to Presidential records,” in a letter to the Archives.

June 24: Federal investigators issue a subpoena for security-camera footage at Mar-a-Lago, and Trump’s team complies, turning over the footage to the U.S. government. (On Sept. 7, the Justice Department said the grand jury subpoena for Mar-a-Lago’s security cams was issued on June 24, and not June 22, as Trump’s lawsuit had stated.)

Aug. 5: The Justice Department seeks and obtains a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago from a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach.

The department says that prior to seeking the warrant, the FBI “uncovered multiple sources of evidence” indicating classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago, despite the sworn certification made June 3.

Federal prosecutors say the FBI also “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

The search warrant approved by the judge allows the FBI to search the “45 Office,” which is Trump’s office space at Mar-a-Lago, as well as all storage rooms and other rooms used or available to Trump and his staff where boxes could be stored.

Aug. 8: The Justice Department executes the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago beginning around 10 a.m. At least two of Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb and Lindsey Halligan, are present, and Bobb signs a receipt listing the property seized by the FBI at 6:19 p.m.

The FBI Executes A Search Warrant At Former President Trump's Mar-A-Lago Estate
A woman talks to Palm Beach police officer in front of former President Donald Trump’s house at Mar-A-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida. 

Eva Marie Uzcategui / Getty Images


Among the items taken by agents are Trump’s passports, which are later returned. The Justice Department says in its later filing that, consistent with the parameters of the search warrant, “the government seized the contents of a desk drawer that contained classified documents and governmental records commingled with other documents,” which included two official passports. 

“The location of the passports is relevant evidence in an investigation of unauthorized retention and mishandling of national defense information; nonetheless, the government decided to return those passports in its discretion,” federal prosecutors write in the filing.

During execution of the warrant, the government seizes 33 boxes, containers or items of evidence from both the storage room and Trump’s office. An investigative team reviewing the materials finds that 13 boxes or containers contain documents with classified markings, including more than 100 unique documents with classification markings. Three documents marked classified are located in desks in Trump’s office, prosecutors said, and 76 more were found in the storage room.

A partially redacted photo included in the Justice Department filing shows some documents  recovered from Trump’s office had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status. The records range from “CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET information, and certain documents included additional sensitive compartments that signify very limited distribution,” the Justice Department says.

Aug. 11: Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement about the search and reveals he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department also moves to unseal the warrant amid requests from media companies, including CBS News, for the magistrate judge to also unseal the underlying affidavit laying out the reasons for the search. 


Special Report: Garland announces move to unseal search warrant for Mar-a-Lago

11:03

Aug. 12: Trump does not oppose the release of the search warrant, and the federal magistrate judge unseals it.

The Archives also issues a statement refuting claims by Trump about former President Barack Obama’s handling of records. The agency says it “assumed exclusive legal and physical custody of Obama Presidential records when President Barack Obama left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

Aug. 15: The Justice Department returns Trump’s passports to his lawyers. A Trump spokesman tweets an email that confirms the FBI used a filter team to screen out evidence that was seized but not responsive to the warrant.

Aug. 18: The federal magistrate judge who approved the search warrant application holds a hearing about requests to make public the underlying affidavit and asks the Justice Department for potential redactions, to be submitted a week later. 

Aug. 22: Trump files a lawsuit against the Justice Department asking for the appointment of a special master to review the seized records. The request comes more than two weeks after the initial search.

Aug. 24: The acting archivist sends a letter to staff addressing the investigation, characterizing their agency as “fiercely non-political” and refuting claims of harboring political motivations. 

Aug. 25: The Justice Department submits a redacted version of the underlying search warrant affidavit. Finding the submission satisfactory, the magistrate judge orders its release a day later. 

Aug. 26: The redacted affidavit is made available to the public.

Trump FBI
Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are photographed Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. 

Jon Elswick / AP


Separately, in a letter to Congress, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines confirms the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are facilitating a classification review of relevant materials seized. The intelligence office will also review risks to national security.  

Sept. 5: A federal judge in Florida grants a request by Trump to name a special master, or independent third party, to review the materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago in the search one month earlier. The order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon also calls for the Justice Department to temporarily stop using the seized materials for its investigation pending completion of the special master’s review.

The Justice Department appeals the decision, and the dispute eventually winds its way to the Supreme Court, which declines to intervene. A federal appeals court later orders an end to the special master’s review process, reversing Cannon’s order.

Nov. 18: Garland announces that he has appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to take over the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of government records and efforts to thwart the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 presidential election and the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

2023

Following Smith’s appointment, activity before federal grand juries convened in Washington ramps up. A wide scope of people were called by investigators in Smith’s office to testify, including numerous Trump aides and allies, current and former Mar-a-Lago employees, White House staffers, former and current Secret Service officials and his attorneys, Evan Corcoran and Tim Parlatore.

May 19: The special counsel’s office informs Trump that he is a target of a federal grand jury investigation into the alleged unlawful possession and retention of classified documents after the end of his presidency, according to a motion to seal the indictment filed by the Justice Department.

June 5: Three of Trump’s lawyers meet with Smith and other officials at the Justice Department and discuss concerns about prosecutors’ efforts in the inquiry.

June 8: Trump is indicted by the Justice Department on charges stemming from the investigation into his handling of government documents. 

The exact nature of the charges, the first to arise from Smith’s investigations, is not immediately clear. But three sources familiar with the case say the former president has been charged in a multi-count indictment involving the retention of national defense information, conspiracy and obstruction.

He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday, June 13, for his arraignment.

June 9: The 38-count indictment against Tump and Nauta is unsealed and details the federal laws the Justice Department argues they violated. 

The indictment lists 37 counts in all against Trump: 

  • 31 counts of willful retention of classified documents
  • 1 count of conspiracy to obstruct justice
  • 1 count of withholding a document or record
  • 1 count of corruptly concealing a document or record
  • 1 count of concealing a document in a federal investigation
  • 1 count of scheme to conceal
  • 1 count of making false statements and representations

Smith also delivers a short statement about the case against Trump. Smith pledges a “speedy trial.”

“We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone,” he says. “Applying those laws, collecting facts, that’s what determines the outcome of the investigation.” 

Ahead of the indictment being unsealed, Trump announces changes to his legal team with the departure of lawyers Jim Trusty and John Rowley. The former president says in a post to his Truth Social platform that he will be represented by former federal prosecutor Todd Blanche and “a firm to be named later.”

In a joint statement, Trusty and Rowley say they resigned from Trump’s legal team related to matters involving the special counsel’s investigations. 

“It has been an honor to have spent the last year defending him, and we know he will be vindicated in his battle against the Biden Administration’s partisan weaponization of the American justice system,” they say. “Now that the case has been filed in Miami, this is a logical moment for us to step aside and let others carry the cases through to completion.”

Trusty, Rowley and lawyer Lindsey Halligan were at the Justice Department for the meeting with Smith and other officials on June 5. Halligan tells CBS News that she is still representing Trump.

Separately, a source familiar with the matter confirms that Cannon, who presided over the proceedings involving the appointment of a special master, appears to have been assigned to oversee for now Trump’s criminal case.

The summons sent to Trump notifying him of the indictment lists Cannon, whose chambers are in Fort Pierce, Florida, as the judge assigned to preside over at least the initial proceeding. Cannon was appointed to the federal bench by Trump in 2020.

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