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Lawyer refused Trump instruction to tell Archives all records had been returned

By Gabby Orr, CNN

Soon after former President Donald Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential records to the National Archives and Records Administration earlier this year, he instructed one of his lawyers to tell the agency that all of the materials the Archives had requested had been returned from his Mar-a-Lago estate, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The former Trump Organization attorney, Alex Cannon, had been working with Archives representatives since 2021 to facilitate the return of records that had been taken to Trump’s Florida residence and resort at the end of his presidency. Because Cannon was based in New York and had been assisting with the records matter from afar, he was unsure whether the Archives had received everything in Trump’s possession and thus refused the former President’s request, said people familiar with the matter. Trump told Cannon not to involve himself further, the sources said.

The relationship between the two men had already become tense after months of stonewalling by Trump and his questioning why he needed to return items in the first place.

“My understanding is it was a mutual decision for Alex to no longer deal with Archives,” said one of the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Unfazed by Cannon’s refusal, Trump dictated a statement to aides in February declaring that all records had been returned to NARA and decrying reporting that his relationship with the agency had become fraught as “fake news.” Two people familiar with the statement, which was never released, said it inexplicably went on to mention German pipelines. The statement was circulated to several Trump aides for approval, including his spokesman Taylor Budowich, who was among several advisers who cautioned the former President to consult his attorneys before releasing it.

Ultimately, a version of the statement was released that did not reference giving all documents over but said the papers were returned “on a very friendly basis.”

Budowich, who declined to answer detailed questions for this story, said in a statement Monday, “Biden’s weaponized DOJ has no greater ally than the fake news media, which seems to only serve as the partisan microphone of leakers and liars buried deep within the bowels of America’s government.”

He continued, “President Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution and the Office of the Presidency, ensuring the integrity of America for generations to come.”

The revelation that Trump wanted to declare that he had returned all presidential records to Archives officials comes amid a Justice Department investigation into the former President’s retention of government records at Mar-a-Lago, including hundreds of documents that were marked as classified.

In addition to returning 15 boxes of materials in January, and months after Cannon and others rebuffed Trump’s entreaties, two of his attorneys returned additional sensitive records to federal investigators in a June meeting at Mar-a-Lago that followed a grand jury subpoena, as previously reported by CNN.

At the time, a Trump attorney signed an affidavit declaring all materials had been turned over. Yet in August, FBI agents conducted a search at Trump’s Palm Beach club and recovered additional materials marked classified and other government records.

The Washington Post first reported on Cannon and the statement Trump drafted earlier this year claiming that all records had been given back to the Archives. Cannon declined to comment for this story.

It is still unclear who, exactly, packed the boxes that were returned to the Archives in January 2022. While some of the boxes were taken directly from Trump’s office, aides to the former President had been warned by Cannon and other senior staffers not to sift through boxes left around the property — worried that they might contain classified information and that most of the former President’s aides did not possess security clearances.

Archives officials have since confirmed that the initial tranche of boxes returned by Trump’s team did, in fact, contain 184 classified documents, including 25 marked top secret and some annotated with handwritten notes by Trump.

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