The scandal that erupted last week over former President Trump taking, secreting, and refusing to hand Presidential and classified records back to the government was based in a dispute that had been ongoing since he left office.
Nineteen months of discussions with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Trump officials escalated into a federal criminal investigation, as Trump and those around him blew off requests from the government to return its records.
Along the way, people in Trump’s orbit floated excuses for why the records actually belonged to Trump and, in some cases, became involved in discussions with NARA themselves. Below is a timeline of events in the scandal from when Trump left office until the FBI’s raid last week.
Jan. 19, 2021
Trump names seven people as his National Archives designate representatives. These people typically have significantly greater access to records than the general public. They are called on to provide input on records on behalf of the former President, and themselves have unfettered access to the materials. Trump names Mark Meadows and members of his White House counsel’s office.
Jan. 20, 2021
Trump leaves office. By law, all records from his administration need to be handed over to the National Archives.
National Archives attorney Gary Stern, CNN reported, contacts a member of Trump’s legal team, asking about missing documents that should have been turned over to the archives as Trump left office. Discussions last several months.
Trump advisors first tell NARA that they have identified specific records that are being held in Mar-a-Lago.
Jan. 31, 2022
The National Archives says that it’s received records that were “torn up by former President Trump,” and that while records management officials had taped up some of the materials, others had not been reconstructed.
Feb. 7, 2022
NARA says that it retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago in mid-January 2022. The records included classified material. “NARA pursues the return of records whenever we learn that records have been improperly removed or have not been appropriately transferred to official accounts,” the agency said in a statement.
Feb. 9, 2022
Multiple outlets report that NARA found classified records in the 15 boxes of materials that Trump returned to the government, and that the agency referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation. House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asks NARA in a letter about the 15 boxes and about whether it had made a criminal referral to the DOJ.
Feb. 18, 2022
The National Archives confirms in a letter to the House Oversight Committee that it found classified records in the 15 boxes it retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, and that it’s working to determine whether more materials remain at Trump’s beach estate. The agency also confirmed that it had communicated the matter to the DOJ.
Feb. 24, 2022
The House Oversight Committee asks NARA to describe and catalog the 15 boxes of records that Trump returned to the government in January.
March 28, 2022
NARA declines to provide Congress with information about what was taken. It cites “consultation” with the Justice Department regarding the matter.
Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago begin to receive interview requests from FBI agents regarding records held at Mar-a-Lago, per several subsequent news reports.
April 7, 2022
Several news outlets report that federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s removal of presidential records to Mar-a-Lago, including his handling of classified material. Rep. Maloney asks Attorney General Merrick Garland to clarify whether an ongoing investigation is blocking the DOJ from allowing the National Archives to share information about the Mar-a-Lago records with Congress.
May 5, 2022
Kash Patel, the former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Trump DoD staffer, floats for the first time to Breitbart the excuse that Trump had already declassified federal records held at Mar-a-Lago, claiming that the markings on the documents had not been updated to note the declassification.
May 12, 2022
A federal grand jury, the New York Times reports, issues subpoenas to the National Archives for the 15 boxes of records that it retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January.
June 3, 2022
Three FBI agents and the head of the DOJ’s Counterintelligence and Export Controls Section arrive at Mar-a-Lago with a grand jury subpoena in hand for government records remaining at the beach club and residence. John Solomon, the right-wing journalist and Trump associate, first reported the grand jury subpoena. The agents briefly met with Trump himself before searching government records that were reportedly in a basement storage room.
Later in June, after the visit, a Trump attorney signs a declaration stating to the FBI that there was no classified material remaining at Mar-a-Lago, the New York Times reported.
June 8, 2022
Jay Bratt, the DOJ counterintelligence official, sends a letter to Trump’s attorneys, asking them to add security to the room where the Presidential records were being held.
June 19, 2022
Trump appoints two new people to be his representatives for Presidential records to the National Archives: Patel and John Solomon, the right-wing journalist. The appointment allows the two to gain direct access to Presidential records from the Trump administration held by the Archives.
June 22, 2022
The Trump Organization reportedly receives a subpoena for Mar-a-Lago camera surveillance footage, including the room where the government records were purportedly being kept. The New York Times reported that the subpoena showed boxes being moved in and out of the room after contact with DOJ officials about the matter.
June 24, 2022
Politico reports that Trump made Solomon and Patel his National Archives designates partly out of a desire to have Solomon publicize information about the Trump-Russia investigation.
July 20, 2022
Solomon publishes an article suggesting that federal bureaucrats — the “deep state,” as the -article put it — undertook a last-minute effort to stop the Trump administration from declassifying and releasing records about the Trump-Russia investigation.
August 8, 2022
FBI agents conduct searches at Mar-a-Lago. They retrieve more government documents that Trump, by law, had to leave with the government 19 months earlier.
Released copies of the warrant and inventory of seized items showed that Trump had stashed 11 sets of classified documents away in the bowels of Mar-a-Lago. Some of the records were marked TS/SCI — meaning Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, one of the highest classification levels that the government uses.