The Times has a story disclosing the fact that investigators have interviewed both Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his Deputy Patrick Philbin in their classified documents inquiry. That’s not surprising. The two were also originally tasked with liaising with the National Archives on Trump’s behalf. But it does clarify one thing. If Trump had really had the “standing order” about documents he took home automatically becoming declassified, such an order would certainly have gone through the Counsel’s office. Obviously that never happened and we can infer that investigators know that as a fact directly from these two men.
But there’s something in this story that jumps out at me, something I’ve seen in passing before but never in detail. Here’s a key paragraph.
At that point, at least one Trump lawyer signed a statement saying material with the classified markings had been returned, according to four people familiar with the document. But officials then used a subpoena to obtain surveillance footage of the hallway outside a storage room at Mar-a-Lago and saw something that alarmed them. They also received information from at least one witness who indicated that more material might remain at the residence, people familiar with the investigation said.
That seems like quite a statement to just leave dangling out there. “Alarmed” is a strong word. Can we know what this thing was?
A couple thoughts occur to me. The “at that point” is from June 3rd. We’re told that after that June 3rd visit, DOJ officials followed up and asked that an additional lock be placed on the storage room. I don’t think we know a precise timeline. But the references I’ve seen to it make it sound like an immediate follow up. It’s conceivable that what alarmed them was simply that it wasn’t securely locked. Thus the follow up. But that doesn’t really fit. There’s the visit. Then there’s a subpoena of video. Then they see what alarmed them. That sounds like a longer process. So it probably happened after the lock got added.
It sounds like they saw something on those tapes which changed things dramatically.
Update: I thought I’d possibly seen something like this referenced and several of you have flagged my attention to this article from Saturday which seems to explain what DOJ investigators found alarming.
The Justice Department also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago recorded over a 60-day period, including views from outside the storage room. According to a person briefed on the matter, the footage showed that, after one instance in which Justice Department officials were in contact with Mr. Trump’s team, boxes were moved in and out of the room.
That activity prompted concern among investigators about the handling of the material. It is not clear when precisely the footage was from during the lengthy back-and-forth between Justice Department officials and Mr. Trump’s advisers, or whether the subpoena to Mr. Trump seeking additional documents had already been issued.
There’s a lot vague here. But the key seems to be that the surveillance video suggested that the Trump people were affirmatively hiding materials from the DOJ — not just being sloppy or having a good faith disagreement about who controlled what.