“It is our understanding that approximately two dozen boxes of original presidential records were kept in the White House residence last year when President Trump took office and that they were not transferred to NARA, despite Pat Cipollone’s determination that they should have been in the final days of the administration,” Gary Stern, the agency’s chief counsel, told Trump in May 2021. he wrote in an email to lawyers, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post.
The email shows that NARA officials were concerned about keeping dozens of boxes of official records before Trump left the White House — a concern that only escalated in the coming months as Trump repeatedly denied the records. It shows that Trump’s lawyers had concerns about Trump taking the documents and agreed that the boxes should be returned when Trump kept the documents, at least according to top archivists.
The previously undisclosed email, sent about 100 days after the former president left office and titled “Assistant Presidential Records for Help,” also details the numerous attempts by archivists to retrieve documents, including classified material, over an 18-month period. It culminated with an FBI raid earlier this month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Cipollone was a former White House adviser to Trump and was appointed by Trump as one of his representatives for the archives. A spokeswoman for Cibolone declined to comment Wednesday.
Stern, the archivist’s chief counsel, did not say in the email how he determined the boxes were in Trump’s possession. He wrote that he also consulted another Trump lawyer — with no luck — in the final days of Trump’s presidency. “I raised this concern with Scott in recent weeks,” Stern writes in the email, referring to Trump lawyer Scott Gast, who was copied in the email.
In the email, Stern again asks for the documents.
Cast did not respond to a request for comment. A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The archives did not respond to a request for comment.
Stern’s email to three Trump lawyers takes an almost pleading tone at times. Cipollone was not copied on the email, which was sent to Gast and two longtime Cipollone representatives.
Stern cites at least two high-profile documents missing from the archives at the time — letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a letter from former President Barack Obama early in Trump’s presidency.
“We know that things are so chaotic because they are always in the course of a period of change,” Stern wrote. “… But it is absolutely imperative that we get and account for all presidential records.”
Stern did not say in the email what the archives believe were in the boxes kept in the White House residence. But he cited correspondence between Trump and Kim as an example of material the former president requested “shortly before the end of the administration.”
Stern wrote, “In January 2021, shortly before the end of the administration, the originals were placed in the President’s binder, but the records for NARA never returned to the Office of Management.”
Throughout the fall of 2021, Stern continued to urge several Trump advisers to help retrieve the records, with people familiar with the conversations speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump decided to return some of the documents after Stern told Trump officials that the archives should notify Congress soon, and Stern told Trump advisers he didn’t want to escalate and notify Congress, these people.
According to one Trump adviser, “His message was, ‘We have to take everything back.’
Trump later returned 15 boxes of documents to the archives in early 2022, and archivists urged Trump’s team to continue searching the beach club. But after realizing that the boxes returned to the National Archives contained hundreds of pages of classified material, they referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
After extensive interviews with Trump aides, FBI officials raided Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 and seized an additional 11 sets of classified records after executing a search warrant — adding to the large volume of classified government documents recovered from the former president’s club.
There is a post reported earlier A longtime habit of the former president is to retire to his private residence in the White House with a constant pile of official documents. In interviews with former White House staffers, they recalled that at the then-president’s request, boxes of undisclosed items were sent to the home of Trump’s embalmed man.
Trump and advisers have said there is a standing classification order for all documents taken home, but several senior former administration officials have said they were unaware of any such order. Trump has lamented to friends that the documents are his personal property and do not belong to the US government.