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Here's What Led the FBI to Seek a Search Warrant on Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home

AP Photo/Terry Renna

The competing storylines that run concurrent to the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago have all been published, and now we’re getting more into the details of what led the Justice Department to execute a raid on the former president’s home. The feds summoned two Trump attorneys, Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, to discuss what went down regarding the handling of classified materials at Trump’s Florida residence. These two men were the leading legal representatives who worked with the National Archives regarding questions over sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago and their retrieval. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman wrote that Philbin was interviewed last spring over the matter. And the magical mystery tour that led to the FBI ransacking was set into motion (via NYT):


Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, the White House counsel and his deputy under President Donald J. Trump, were interviewed by the F.B.I. in connection with boxes of sensitive documents that were stored at Mr. Trump’s residence in Florida after he left office, three people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin are the most senior people who worked for Mr. Trump who are known to have been interviewed by investigators after the National Archives referred the matter to the Justice Department this year. The interviews are a sign of the intensity of the investigation into how sensitive government material left the White House with Mr. Trump and remained at his Palm Beach, Fla., residence, Mar-a-Lago, for more than a year.


Evan Corcoran, a lawyer for Mr. Trump who was said to have suggested that the former president resolve the matter with the Justice Department, went through the material, which was kept in boxes in a storage area in the basement, before that meeting, according to people familiar with the move. It was unclear if he was the only one to do so.

At that point, at least one Trump lawyer signed a statement saying material with the classified markings had been returned, according to four people familiar with the document, although it was not clear specifically what the statement attested to. The two lawyers on site for the meeting who worked with Mr. Trump were Mr. Corcoran and Christina Bobb.

But officials then used a subpoena to obtain surveillance footage of the hallway outside a storage room at Mar-a-Lago and saw something that alarmed them. They also received information from at least one witness who indicated that more material might remain at the residence, people familiar with the investigation said.


The publication did not mention if Mr. Cipollone was interviewed. Still, Philbin’s interview led the Justice Department to subpoena any classified materials that might be at the former president’s house. This was issued after 15 or so boxes were sent back to the National Archives containing the mementos from his presidency, including phone books, the letter Obama wrote him, and the cocktail napkins that have served the purpose of making this raid look like a political hit job. 

Haberman added that Trump defied the subpoena, even after Philbin tried to resolve the matter, by responding that those documents are not theirs [the government]. This alleged quote is where some might highlight could be where the obstruction of justice charge is threaded into the search warrant. When the subpoena was handed down, another attorney, Evan Corcoran, ventured into the basement storage area to review the documents in question. He examined the records before a reported meeting with Trump, where he suggested the former president put this issue with the Justice Department and the National Archives behind him. Around this time, another lawyer certified that no classified material was on the Mar-a-Lago grounds.

Another subpoena for the security footage of the former president’s home, specifically the hallway leading to the storage area, was of interest which set off the procedure to obtain a search warrant for the plundering. The cocktail napkins are what set this off, isn’t it?


The article does not reference a memo issued on January 19, 2021, from the Trump White House that declassified documents relating to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Nor is there any mention of the fact that federal agents also seized documents that were protected by executive privilege. Other records covered by attorney-client privilege were also taken. Trump’s passports were also placed in the care of the FBI. That affidavit over this raid must be unsealed, and there will be a hearing today over that motion. Federal prosecutors do not want to release the document. 

We have more additions to the timeline leading up to the FBI search. Still, it doesn’t negate or marginalize the overwhelming feeling that the FBI executed a raid based on political bias rather than fact. Trump could have declassified the classified documents the FBI wanted as he’s the ultimate authority on declassification. 


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