After referring the matter to the FBI in February 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration has insisted it had no involvement in the federal criminal investigation into memos found at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate that contained classified markings.
“When NARA identified items marked as classified national security information within the 15 boxes, NARA referred this issue to the DOJ,” acting Archivist Debra Wall wrote Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), now the House Intelligence Committee chairman, on Aug. 16. “Since that time, the DOJ has been exclusively responsible for all aspects of this investigation, and NARA has not been involved in the DOJ investigation or any searches that it has conducted.”
There is a great deal of significance to the claim because it has been used by the government to justify why NARA is not required to answer any questions from curious legislators. “Accordingly, NARA is unable to provide a briefing or any documents in response to your letter, and we refer you to the DOJ,” Wall wrote last summer.
There are, however, internal messages, emails, and correspondence – some of which have been released recently under the Freedom of Information Act – that contradict the Archives’ official timeline on the Trump scandal.
In a new set of internal messages between Archives staff, for instance, it emerges that one senior official at NARA was still searching for data about the FBI investigation a full week after Wall’s letter to Congress.
“Need the case number for the FBI review,” NARA liaison to the Biden White House John Laster wrote in a text message dated Aug. 23 of last year.
“I think it’s LW 2022-070,” a colleague texted back. “This is the FBI review of the 15 boxes correct?”
“Correct,” Laster responded.
In April 2022, when the Biden White House requested special access to 15 boxes of documents Trump had returned to the Archives, who was deeply involved in the investigation, unbeknownst to the former president and his team. This is much earlier than the NARA referral to the FBI, but well after it was made, the Archives notified one of Trump’s attorneys in a letter that some of the 15 boxes contained classified memos.
“On April 11, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office — affirming a request from the Department of Justice supported by an FBI letterhead memorandum — formally transmitted a request that NARA provide the FBI access to the 15 boxes for its review within seven days, with the possibility that the FBI might request copies of specific documents following its review of the boxes,” the Archives wrote in a May 10, 2022 letter to Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran.
It is clear from these documents, released to the public by NARA, that Archive continued to work after the criminal referral was made.
The FBI and NARA, however, have both maintained that despite all the activity, the case changed hands as the National Archives Office of Inspector General referred the matter to the FBI for a criminal investigation on February 9, 2022, after which the Archives dropped out of the investigation.
“NARA received the 15 boxes from President Trump on January 18, 2022, and then discovered that they contained classified national security information,” Wall wrote current House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and current House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer on Oct. 25 of last year.
“Shortly after the discovery, NARA consulted with its Office of Inspector General (OIG), which operates independently of NARA,” Wall added. “As DOJ has disclosed publicly in court filings, NARA’s OIG subsequently referred the matter to DOJ on February 9, 2022.”
Furthermore, the FBI also cited the February 2022 referral as the trigger for its investigation when requesting the search warrant used to raid Mar-a-Lago in its application for the warrant used as evidence of probable cause for the raid.
“The investigation began as a result of a referral the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) sent to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on February 9, 2022,” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.