“Feels obstruction-y”: Experts say it may be “game over” after Trump aide gives DOJ key evidence

Trump "personally examined" boxes of docs out of a "desire to keep certain things in his possession," report says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published April 3, 2023 9:09AM (EDT)

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)

Special counsel Jack Smith's team has amassed new evidence of potential obstruction by former President Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation, according to The Washington Post.

Justice Department and FBI investigators obtained "particularly helpful" emails and texts from Molly Michael, a former Trump White House aide who followed him to Mar-a-Lago before leaving the job last year, according to the report.

The messages "provided investigators with a detailed understanding of the day-to-day activity at Mar-a-Lago at critical moments," according to the Post, and have used the messages to help understand Trump's actions last year.

Investigators are particularly interested in whether Trump may have obstructed government efforts to collect and return all sensitive materials that he took home to Mar-a-Lago, according to the report. Investigators have spent much of their time looking at what happened after Trump's advisers received a subpoena in May demanding the return of all classified documents.

Investigators have found evidence that Trump "looked through the contents of some of the boxes of documents in his home, apparently out of a desire to keep certain things in his possession," sources familiar with the investigation told the Post.

The team now suspects that Trump "personally examined" at least some of the boxes moved from a Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served, based on witness statements, security footage and documentary evidence, the sources said. Though Trump's team handed over some documents, the FBI later discovered more than 100 additional classified items during an August search of Mar-a-Lago.

Court documents seeking the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago show that agents believed that "evidence of obstruction will be found at the premises." The warrant application said the FBI was seeking evidence of violations of laws that make it a crime to conceal, alter, destroy or mutilate a document "with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency."

Prosecutors would have to show that Trump intended to impede or block an investigation. Walt Nauta, a former White House valet who followed Trump to Mar-a-Lago, told investigators that he moved boxes at Mar-a-Lago after the subpoena was issued at Trump's direction.

Investigators have also found evidence that Trump told others to mislead government officials before the subpoena was issued while the National Archives was working with the DOJ to recover documents from Mar-a-Lago. Sources told the Post that Trump ignored requests from aides to return the documents and asked advisers and attorneys to release false statements claiming he returned all the documents.

Investigators also found evidence that Trump sought advice from lawyers and aides on how to keep documents that he was told he could not keep, sources told the outlet. Investigators have also asked witnesses if Trump "showed classified documents, including maps, to political donors," sources told the Post, and whether he showed a particular interest in Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, who has repeatedly been attacked by the former president.

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Along with evidence collected from witnesses, Smith's team recently won a court fight allowing them to piece attorney-client privilege claims asserted by Trump attorneys Evan Corcoran, who drafted a document falsely stating that Trump had returned all classified documents before the FBI search.

As Smith's team presents its evidence before a grand jury, former senior FBI counterintelligence official Pete Strzok warned that the revelation in the latest report "feels obstruction-y," adding that there is a lot of "scienter & motive in here."

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, noted that a federal magistrate judge already found probable cause that there was obstruction when he authorized the August search.

"It included evidence of obstruction, the allegation by the government in the search warrant, and that was approved by the magistrate... which was the actions of the former president after receiving a subpoena from the Department of Justice, so I agree with this could be a rock crusher game over," he told MSNBC. "And the Republicans who are following the former president in the Manhattan case could just go over the cliff when and if we see charges in Florida that are really quite strong based on what we know now."

By Igor Derysh

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

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Aggregate Donald Trump Evan Corcoran Jack Smith Mar-a-lago Politics