“We also understand that about two dozen boxes of original presidential documents were kept at the White House residence over the course of President Trump’s past year and have not been turned over to NARA, despite a decision by Pat Cipollone in the last days. of the administration they should be,” Gary Stern, the bureau’s chief adviser, wrote in an email to Trump attorneys in May 2021, according to a copy reviewed by The Washington Post.
Cipollone was the former White House counsel designated by Trump as one of his representatives to the records. A spokeswoman for Cipollone declined to comment on Wednesday.
The previously unreported email — sent about 100 days after the former president left office with the subject line “Need for Assistance re Presidential Records” — shows how early archives realized many documents were missing from Trump’s White House. . It also illustrates the countless efforts that archives have made to recover the documents over an 18-month period, culminating in an FBI raid earlier this month on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
Stern, the Archives chief adviser, did not say in the email how he determined the boxes were in Trump’s possession. He wrote that during the final days of Trump’s presidency, he had also consulted another Trump attorney—without any luck. “I had also raised these concerns with Scott in recent weeks,” Stern writes in the email, referring to Trump attorney Scott Gast, who is also copied in the email.
In the email, Stern again asks for the documents from Trump’s residence to be returned.
Guest did not respond to a request for comment. A Trump spokesperson 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 sometimes sounds almost pleading. Cipollone is not copied on the email, which is sent to Guest and two old Cipollone delegates.
Stern cites at least two high-profile documents that the archives knew were missing at the time: letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a letter from former President Barack Obama at the start of Trump’s presidency.
“We know things are very chaotic, as always in the course of a one-term transition,” Stern writes. “…But it is imperative that we obtain and account for all presidential data.”
Stern did not specify in the email what the records say was in the boxes at the White House residence.
Throughout the fall of 2021, Stern continued to urge multiple Trump advisers to help the archives get the records back, according to people familiar with the conversations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump decided to return some of the documents only after Stern told Trump officials the records should notify Congress soon, and Stern told Trump advisers he did not want to escalate and notify Congress. these people said.
“We just want everything back,” was his message,” said a Trump adviser.
Trump then returned 15 boxes of documents to the archives in early 2022, and archives urged Trump’s team to continue to search for more material at the beachside club. But they also referred the matter to the Department of Justice after realizing that there were hundreds of pages of classified material in the boxes that had been returned to the National Archives.
After extensive interviews with Trump associates, 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 amount of classified government documents that were found in the former president’s home.
The Post previously reported on the former president’s long-standing habit of retiring to his private White House residence with official documents piling up on a regular basis. In interviews with former White House staffers, they recalled sending boxes of disorganized material to the residence with Trump’s bodyman at the request of the then-president.
Trump and advisers have claimed there was a permanent declassification order for all documents brought to the residence, but several senior former administration officials have said they were not aware of such an order. Trump has also complained to friends that he did not return the documents because they were his personal property and did not belong to the US government.