In recent days, Justice Department attorneys have urged U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell was asked to hold Trump’s office in contempt, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the sealed court proceedings. The hearing is scheduled for Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The request comes after months of mounting frustration from the Justice Department with Trump’s team — which escalated in June after the former president’s lawyers assured him that his Mar-a-Lago club and home had been diligently searched for classified documents. But the FBI amassed evidence suggesting — later corroborated by a court-authorized search — that there was more.
One of the disagreements centers on the Trump legal team’s repeated refusal to appoint a custodian of the records to sign a document certifying that all classified material has been returned to the federal government, according to two of the people. The Justice Department has repeatedly sought sworn written assurances from Trump’s team that all such documents have been returned, and Trump’s team is unwilling to appoint a custodian of records to sign such a statement.
As it is sealed, its exact wording cannot be determined. Trump is on trial for three potential crimes: tampering with classified documents, obstructing and destroying government records.
Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said the former president’s attorneys “continue to be cooperative and transparent.” He added: “This is the biggest political witch hunt this country has ever seen.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
In response to judicial concerns and the judge’s instructions, Trump’s team raided several of his properties in recent weeks, and He handed over two classified items to the government. Trump’s advisers told the FBI that the items were found in a storage facility used by the former president in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trump properties searched in recent weeks include his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey and his home and office in Trump Tower in Manhattan. . No secret documents were found at those locations, say people familiar with the searches conducted by a private firm.
The Trump side has taken the position that such a request is unreasonable — as opposed to certifying that a given location search was completed in good faith, no attorney could in good faith sign such a blanket certification or instruct any client to do so. . Some of Trump’s lawyers are wary of making any claims under oath based on Trump’s word, two people familiar with the matter said.
The government’s request for contempt underscores the underlying mistrust that has existed since the spring between a government trying to recover key documents and a former president whose answers have proven unreliable. That mistrust has led to a legal deadlock over sealed documents, which has meant an exhaustive search for classified papers.
When the government first issued a subpoena for documents with classified identities, the official recipient of the subpoena was the former president’s office of custodian of records — a lawyer Trump’s team ultimately told the government was Christina Papp.
In June, Bob signed an affidavit stating that a diligent search was conducted for any such material, but the FBI gathered conclusive evidence that it did not. In August the government obtained a court-authorized search warrant that was not revoked in response to the production of 103 more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
But after months of back-and-forth, a key question remains unanswered to the Justice Department’s satisfaction: Is there any more classified material in the former president’s possession? Advocates, burned by empty promises, now want unqualified oaths from someone in the official role of custodian of records that there are no more declassified skeletons in any of Trump’s closets.
Prosecutors asked the judge to find Trump’s side in contempt unless any of his advisers were willing to assume the role of custodian of records responsible for a full answer to the question. In recent months, Bob has said publicly that the documents are not doing legal work related to the case, but only advising Trump’s PAC on election matters.
If the judge agrees, daily fines will be imposed until the demands of the contempt motion are met. How big the fine is, or who is forced to pay it, is up to the judge.
It is not uncommon for large corporations to appoint a records custodian who can assume formal legal responsibility for the company’s or company’s files. In Trump’s case, a subpoena sent in May was formally sent to his office’s custodian of records. No individual was named in the request.
After Trump’s lawyers received the May subpoena, they asked for more time to comply before agreeing to turn over the records on June 3, lawyers said in court filings. The night before the scheduled meeting, Bob — a lawyer and former One America news anchor — Trump was called by adviser Boris Epstein and asked to join lawyer Evan Corcoran in a meeting with Justice Department lawyers, according to a person familiar with the account he later gave to the FBI. Bob had never met Corcoran before.
At the June 3 meeting, Bob gave the letter to the Justice Department, which said he had been appointed to serve as the office’s custodian of records for subpoena purposes, according to people familiar with the conversation. The certificate, with the redacted name, is included in court filings. The letter said Pope had been told a “verified search” had been conducted of boxes “moved from the White House to Florida” and that all documents responsive to the subpoena would be turned over.
A person close to Pope said he told the FBI he was suspicious of the letter and insisted on including a disclaimer based on information others had given him.
Last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to lead an investigation into classified documents, along with an investigation into Trump’s efforts to sway the 2020 election. In recent weeks, several Trump advisers have appeared before a grand jury hearing testimony in the classified documents case.
Determining who should serve as the custodian of a company’s records is usually not difficult, said white-collar criminal defense attorney Stephen Ryan. “In normal business, if you’re a real business, you have records, and you can call the custodians of those records,” he said. “It’s a custodian of records as part of their day-to-day operations.”
In this case, however, there is no representative of Trump who actually maintains control of the records. “The department is asking for something that is not practical,” he said. “It’s an unusual problem, it’s actually relatively unique.”
At this point, “nobody wants to put their head on the guard rope,” he said.