FBI list shows empty classified folders, secret items mixed with mundane

A detailed property inventory of documents and other items seized from former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate shows the seizure of dozens of empty folders marked ‘Classified’. Picture: Reuters/Jim Bourg

A detailed property inventory of documents and other items seized from former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate shows the seizure of dozens of empty folders marked ‘Classified’. Picture: Reuters/Jim Bourg

Published Sep 3, 2022


Former president Donald Trump intermingled classified and unclassified materials in boxes at his Florida residence and had dozens of empty folders that bore a "classification" marking, according to an inventory list made public Friday morning that describes in more detail what FBI agents recovered when they searched Mar-a-Lago last month.

Several of the retrieved boxes also contain items labeled "clothing/gift item," according to the inventory list. While these are not secret or sensitive items, experts said the discovery of them at Mar-a-Lago raises questions about whether Trump followed long-standing rules around receiving gifts domestically and those from foreign governments.

A federal judge - with approval from Trump's legal team and Justice Department lawyers - ordered Thursday that the inventory list be unsealed. The 11-page document provides the most detailed view yet of the government materials that Trump kept with him in Florida after he left the White House and the seemingly haphazard way he stored them.

Previously released court documents had revealed that Trump had more than 100 documents marked classified, including some marked "top secret," which means the exposure of them could pose "exceptionally grave danger" to national security. The more-detailed inventory provides further information on how these sensitive documents were stored, often commingled with other items in some of the 27 boxes that were seized by the FBI on Aug. 8.

Box No. 25, for example, was found in Trump's storage room and contained 76 magazines and articles published in 2016 and 2017. Mixed in with those media clippings was one government document with a "confidential" classification marking and another with a "secret" classification marking, according to the inventory list.

The box also contained 20 government documents and photographs with no classification, the court filing says. And there was an empty folder with a "CLASSIFIED" banner on it. It's impossible to know from the inventory if the folder was taken from the White House without any documents in it, or if documents had been in the folder but were later removed. It is also impossible to tell whether some of the classified documents listed separately in the inventory may have originally been in some of the classified folders that were found empty.

In Box No. 2, taken from Trump's office, there were 43 empty folders with classified banners; 28 empty folders labeled "Return to Staff Secretary/Mili[t]ary Aide"; 24 government documents marked confidential, secret or top secret; 99 news articles and other printed media; and 69 government documents or photos that were not classified.

A representative for Trump did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon ordered that the inventory be unsealed at a hearing Thursday to determine whether she would grant a request from Trump's attorneys to appoint a special master, essentially an independent outside expert to review the documents that the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump's lawyers say the former president had a right to these materials, and a special master could be objective and set aside documents that were protected by executive privilege.

Justice Department lawyers have said a special master would be pointless since investigators have already reviewed the documents, filtering out any that could be protected by attorney-client privilege. They have also argued that Trump had no legal basis to get a special master appointed in this case because he had no right to possess presidential documents after he left office.

Cannon said Thursday that she would review arguments by the Justice Department and Trump's lawyers, then issue a written ruling. She indicated that she thought Trump might retain some executive privilege after leaving office, but did not explain how that would impact her eventual decisions.

The Justice Department said former presidents cannot invoke executive privilege and such privilege cannot be used to shield information from another part of the executive branch of government.

A notice filed with the inventory states that the Justice Department will continue reviewing items that were not set aside by the filter team, as part of an ongoing criminal probe into how classified and other presidential documents were handled.

"The seized materials will continue to be used to further the government's investigation, and the investigative team will continue to use and evaluate the seized materials as it takes further investigative steps, such as through additional witness interviews and grand jury practice," the court filing reads.

"Additionally, all evidence pertaining to the seized items - including, but not limited to, the nature and manner in which they were stored, as well as any evidence with respect to particular documents or items of interest - will inform the government's investigation."

Among the items seized from Mar-a-Lago, according to the inventory list:

103 government documents with classified markings

More than 11,100 documents government documents/photographs without classification markings

48 empty folders with "CLASSIFIED" banners

42 empty folders labeled "Return to Staff Secretary/Mili[t]ary Aide"

Around 20 gift items or articles of clothing

The gifts found in the FBI search raise a separate set of issues than the classified documents, which contain information that could compromise national security or sensitive intelligence-gathering methods and sources. Under federal law, presidents and other government officials are prohibited from keeping gifts from a foreign government that are worth more than $415. Typically, a president or a government official would submit any gift to the Office of the Chief of Protocol for a valuation and assessment. Gifts under $415 are traditionally transferred to the National Archives or a Presidential Library when the president leaves office.

The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation earlier this summer into unreported gifts Trump received while he was in office, after the State Department indicated to lawmakers that Trump "failed to comply with the law governing foreign gift reporting" during his final year as president.

"The Committee has also learned that the Trump Administration mismanaged gifts from foreign sources during President Trump's term and left the State Department's gift vault in 'complete disarray,'" Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., wrote in a letter to the National Archives in June.

The inventory list does not contain information about who gave Trump the gifts seized from Mar-a-Lago and whether the items went through the proper assessment protocols.

"The Committee is continuing to investigate foreign gifts received by former President Trump and his top advisors," a spokesperson for the oversight committee said in a statement Friday, "and we are engaging with the National Archives to obtain responsive documents and information."

The Washington Post