The scandal that erupted in August 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 documents.
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 in August.
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 contacts Trump attorneys Patrick Philbin, Mike Purpura, and Alex Cannon, asking about missing documents that should have been turned over to the archives as Trump left office. Stern mentions that correspondence between Trump and Kim Jong-Un is among the records that have not been returned
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.
April 11, 2022
Biden’s White House Counsel’s Office approves a request from the DOJ to allow the FBI to access the 15 boxes of government records that Trump handed over to NARA in January.
April 12, 2022
The National Archives informs Trump attorneys that it plans to allow the FBI to access 15 boxes of records that Trump turned over in January.
April 29, 2022
The White House Counsel’s Office agrees to delay FBI access to the records in response to a request from Trump.
The DOJ’s National Security Division tells Trump that it needs access to the records — which NARA already possesses — not only for criminal investigative purposes, but for a national security assessment.
May 1, 2011
Trump asks for another delay in granting the FBI access to the NARA records.
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 10, 2022
NARA sends a letter to Trump attorney Evan Corcoran saying that it will immediately allow the FBI to access materials from the 15 boxes of government records that Trump handed over.
May 11, 2022
The DOJ obtains a grand jury subpoena for classified records held at Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena is issued to the custodian of records for Trump’s personal office.
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.
Trump reportedly tells staff to move boxes of government documents to his residence at Mar-a-Lago after receiving the subpoena.
May 16, 2022
The FBI starts to review materials from the 15 boxes retrieved by NARA, per a government affidavit. This includes highly classified records.
May 24, 2022
The DOJ’s first deadline for Trump to reply to the Mar-a-Lago subpoena for classified records passes. Trump attorney Corcoran asks for — and received — an extension until June 7.
May 25, 2022
Corcoran sends a letter to Jay Bratt, head of the DOJ’s counterintelligence section, claiming that Trump was immune from laws governing the handling of classified material because he was capable of declassifying the documents while in office. The letter claims that Trump already returned a significant amount of records in January, and makes vague suggestions about the constitutionality of “any attempt to impose criminal liability on a President or former President that involves his actions with respect to documents marked classified.”
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.
During the visit, Trump attorney Christina Bobb signs a declaration certifying to the FBI that a “diligent search” had been conducted, and that there was no classified material remaining at Mar-a-Lago.
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.
This is an updated version of a timeline first published on Aug. 15.