EXCLUSIVE: Trump considers allowing federal investigators to search Mar-a-Lago again

Oct 20, 2022, 7:00 AM
Sara Murray, Kristen Holmes and Gabby Orr, CNN...
An aerial view of former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home after Trump said that FBI agents raided it, in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. August 15, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello

(CNN) — Donald Trump‘s legal team is weighing whether to allow federal agents to return to the former President’s Florida residence, and potentially conduct a supervised search, to satisfy the Justice Department’s demands that all sensitive government documents are returned, sources tell CNN.

In private discussions with Trump’s team as well as court filings, the Justice Department has made clear that it believes Trump failed to comply with a May subpoena ordering the return of all documents marked as classified and that more government records remain missing.

Some in Trump’s inner circle aren’t convinced there are any remaining government documents, after the FBI seized nearly 22,000 pages when they executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August.

The possibility of allowing federal officials to return to Trump’s property — likely with Trump’s own lawyers present — is just one option on the table as the Trump team grapples with how best to protect the former President from legal jeopardy. No firm decisions have been made while sources familiar with the situation say Trump’s legal team is continuing to weigh how accommodating or adversarial they should be toward the Justice Department.

“It’s a risk to invite a DOJ lawyer to lunch let alone back to Mar-a-Lago,” said a person close to Trump.

In the throes of multiple legal battles and hoping to alleviate some of the pressure he is facing, Trump has recently signaled to aides and allies that he is open to a less adversarial approach toward the Justice Department — one that might swiftly resolve the records issue after weeks of contentious court proceedings, according to people familiar with the situation.

The approach comes even as Trump continues to indulge legal theories that the records he took with him at the end of his presidency are his personal property, an argument his team is making in court and that he first heard from conservative judicial activist Tom Fitton.

“The general belief in Trump World is that this is much ado about nothing and the sooner we get past it the better,” said a person close to Trump, adding that the former President has told allies he “wants to move on.”

Trump’s compliance with the grand jury subpoena potentially poses a distinct legal risk amid legal wrangling over whether the former President mishandled classified documents he retained after leaving the White House. In earlier court filings, prosecutors claimed that Trump’s team had not fully complied with a subpoena served in May and “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

At least some of the battle to secure their return has been playing out behind the scenes in a court proceeding that is under seal, according to people familiar with the situation. One potential resolution could involve the Justice Department asking a judge to issue an order compelling the Trump team to work with DOJ to arrange for another search.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump could be reconsidering approach

Sources close to Trump said that the former President has become more amenable to the cooperative approach being advocated by some of his more experienced lawyers, including former Florida Solicitor General Chris Kise, who joined his legal team following the FBI search in August. Kise had faced headwinds from Trump and some of his more aggressive advisers.

Trump has favored a more pugilistic approach, even accusing federal investigators at one point of planting evidence during their search at Mar-a-Lago — a claim he has never substantiated in court.

As the midterm election draws closer and Trump grapples with his next political move, he and allies are eager for some relief from his web of legal troubles.

“He is worn down,” one source close to the former President said. “Getting one thing off his plate” would help him move forward.

A spokesperson for Trump declined to comment.

Among the complicating factors has been Trump’s personal views on the document dispute. He initially claimed that his team had been fully cooperative with investigators and insisted on social media “ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK,” for documents to be returned. Trump has since argued, on social media and in court filings, that the Mar-a-Lago documents are his property. “I want my documents back!” the former President said in early October.

As recently as last Thursday, Trump complained to donors at a roundtable at Mar-a-Lago that federal investigators “got to see everything” when they searched his residence and were conducting a “complete sham” investigation, according to a person familiar with his comments.

Trump has continued to complain to advisers and allies that he is being treated unfairly and different than past presidents, multiple sources said.

Legal risks for Trump attorneys

Some Trump allies also worry that the legal jeopardy lawyers currently face could grow worse the longer the records issue drags on.

Trump lawyer Christina Bobb had to hire her own lawyer after signing an attestation in June which declared that Trump’s team had conducted a “diligent search” to comply with the Justice Department’s subpoena and returned all documents with classified markings. Bobb, who was Trump’s custodian of records at the time, recently told federal investigators in a voluntary interview that the attestation had been drafted by another Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran, for her to sign. A source with knowledge of the event said Bobb was rushed to Mar-a-Lago to sign the attestation, but she insisted on first adding a line that her knowledge was “based upon the information that has been provided” to her.

Two months later, the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, recovering thousands of additional government documents, including more than 100 with classified markings.

Corcoran has insisted to colleagues that he does not believe he faces any legal risk and has not hired a lawyer, according to sources familiar with his situation.

A third Trump lawyer, Boris Epshteyn, had his cellphone seized by the FBI last month and has testified in front of a Georgia grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In her conversation with federal investigators, Bobb also discussed Epshteyn, said a source briefed on the matter.

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EXCLUSIVE: Trump considers allowing federal investigators to search Mar-a-Lago again