"Breakdown in trust": Expert says judge's order suggests DOJ suspects Trump has more classified docs

Special counsel Jack Smith's team wants to talk to Trump's private investigators about "what's still out there"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published January 6, 2023 9:15AM (EST)

Donald Trump surrounded by piles and piles of documents (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump surrounded by piles and piles of documents (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered former President Donald Trump's lawyers to turn over names of private investigators who searched Trump's properties last month for additional classified documents, according to The New York Times.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington issued an order siding with the Justice Department, which is looking to question the investigators about the search.

The November search, which turned up at least two additional documents marked classified at a storage unit near Mar-a-Lago, was conducted months after the FBI seized about 100 documents marked classified from the president's residence in August.

A top DOJ official told Trump's lawyers in October that the department believed the former president still had classified materials. Trump's attorneys had previously affirmed that the former president had returned all classified documents last summer before investigators found the additional materials.

The DOJ's request to identify the private investigators who conducted the November search "suggests an increasing breakdown in trust" between prosecutors and Trump's lawyers, whom they have accused of not being forthcoming about the documents, according to the Times' Alan Feuer.

Prosecutors under new special counsel Jack Smith in sealed court filings last month asked Howell to hold Trump's lawyers in contempt for failing to comply with the original subpoena issued in May for all of the classified documents.

Howell has still not made a decision on the contempt request, according to the Times.

The latest request from the DOJ came after prosecutors asked Trump's lawyers to turn over the names of the investigators who searched the storage unit and other Trump properties, including Mar-a-Lago, his Bedminster, N.J., golf resort and Trump Tower.

Trump's lawyers offered to make the investigators available for questioning but wanted to keep their identities hidden by a protective order over concerns of potential leaks, according to the report. Prosecutors did not agree to the protective order and asked Howell to compel the release of the names.


Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.


Prosecutors have already questioned several Trump associates in the case, including Walt Nauta, a former White House military valet who went to work for Trump at Mar-a-Lago. But prosecutors have "indicated they are skeptical" of his initial account about moving documents stored at Mar-a-Lago and have been "using the specter of charges against him to persuade him to cooperate with the inquiry," according to the Times.

Prosecutors also conferred immunity on former Trump aide Kash Patel to force him to testify to the grand jury after he initially invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions.

The new request suggests that Smith's team may still believe there are more documents still out there.

"If the Special Counsel were convinced it has all classified documents once squirreled away by Trump, it wouldn't care who the investigators are," tweeted MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin. "But by pressing for their names, investigators are revealing how much they want to talk to the P.I.s about what's still out there."

Legal experts have suggested that Trump's lawyers could face prosecution themselves after they falsely affirmed last year that the former president had returned all of the documents before investigators turned up even more.

Trump also faces a DOJ investigation into his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which is also being overseen by Smith, and a Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He is also facing a $250 million civil lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James. The judge overseeing the case said in court filings that he is "considering imposing sanctions for frivolous litigation" over Trump's attempt to dodge the lawsuit with an end-run around to a Florida judge using "the same legal arguments that this court previously rejected."


By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Beryl Howell Donald Trump Jack Smith Mar-a-lago Politics