Special counsel questioned witnesses about 2 rooms FBI didn’t search inside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence: sources

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Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team interviewed several witnesses about a closet and so-called “hidden room” inside the former president. Donald Trumpthe Mar-a-Lago residence that the FBI did not verify search the area in August 2022, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

As described to ABC News, the series of questions asked in several interviews leading up to Trump’s election indictment last year on charges related to classified documents suggests that — long after the FBI seized dozens of boxes and more than 100 documents marked classified from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property — Smith’s team was trying to determine whether There could still be other classified documents there.

MORE: Lawyer warned Trump ‘it would be a crime’ if he doesn’t comply with subpoena for classified documents: sources

According to sources, some investigators involved in the case later came to believe that the cupboard, which was locked on the day of the search, should have been opened and checked.

As investigators would later learn, Trump allegedly had the lock on the closet changed while his lawyer was in the basement of Mar-a-Lago, searching for classified documents in a storage room where he had been said she had all these documents. Trump’s Alleged Efforts to Conceal Classified Documents from the FBI and his own lawyer are a key part of Smith’s indictment against Trump in Florida.

Jordan Strauss, a former federal prosecutor and former national security official at the Justice Department, called the FBI’s alleged failure to search the closet “somewhat astonishing.”

“You’re searching the house of a former president. You (should) get it right the first time,” Strauss told ABC News.

In addition to the closet, the FBI also did not search what authorities called a “hidden room” connected to Trump’s bedroom, sources said.

Smith’s investigators later learned that in the days after the search, some Trump staffers learned that the FBI had missed at least one room at Mar-a-Lago, the sources said.

Agents focused on areas they believed might contain government documents, according to a senior FBI official.

“Based on information gathered throughout the investigation, areas were identified and searched pursuant to the search warrant,” the official told ABC News.

PHOTO: A supporter of former President Donald Trump walks past his Mar-a-Lago estate, August 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)PHOTO: A supporter of former President Donald Trump walks past his Mar-a-Lago estate, August 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

PHOTO: A supporter of former President Donald Trump walks past his Mar-a-Lago estate, August 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Months after the FBI search, federal prosecutors at the Justice Department pushed Trump’s legal team to ensure that no classified documents remained at Trump’s properties, but it is unclear whether these Trump’s prosecutors or lawyers were then aware of the existence of the unexamined spaces.

It’s also unclear whether Trump ever kept classified materials in either of these spaces, or whether Smith’s team ever considered seeking another warrant to search Mar-a-Lago again .

When questioning witnesses, Smith’s team appeared to focus more on missed spaces in the three months before Trump was first indicted in the case, sources said.

“Rigorous and professional”

Strauss, who served in the Justice Department from 2005 to 2016, said he was particularly surprised to hear about the FBI’s alleged inaction, given how he said they were “exceptionally thorough” usually and the thoroughness with which they planned the upcoming searches at Mar-a-Lago. of time.

Testifying before Congress last year, FBI Director Chris Wray noted that agents conducting the searches even wore casual clothing at Mar-a-Lago – rather than the more common “raid jackets” – in order to don’t attract too much attention.

Wray assured lawmakers that in such “sensitive” investigations, “our staff strive to be thorough (and) professional.”

But when agents reached the locked closet near Trump’s residence, they couldn’t find the key and were told the space behind the door — an old stairwell converted into a closet with shelves – was going nowhere, so they decided not to open it, sources said

Sources also told ABC News that FBI agents weren’t doing more, in part because they felt like they had been at Mar-a-Lago long enough. But the top FBI official disputed that claim, saying: “Discussions took place that day regarding additional areas of the property and it was determined that the actions already taken met the parameters of the search warrant.” »

“(The FBI) ​​is almost known for its relentlessness and its follow-through,” Strauss said.

At the time, the FBI did not know that the lock change — at least in its opinion — could have been potentially significant, sources said.

According to the indictment against Trump, after Trump received a federal subpoena demanding the return of all classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his lawyer – identified to ABC News as Evan Corcoran – was asked to search any relevant documents in boxes. stacked in a basement storage room.

PHOTO: In this June 9, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump is shown at the White House in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE)PHOTO: In this June 9, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump is shown at the White House in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE)

PHOTO: In this June 9, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump is shown at the White House in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE)

But days before Corcoran arrived at Mar-a-Lago on June 2, 2022, Trump aide Walt Nauta — acting “at Trump’s direction” — moved more than 30 boxes from the storage room at Trump’s residence, so the lawyer never even saw most of Trump’s boxes, according to the indictment.

Corcoran found 38 classified documents in the storage room and turned them over to the FBI, but Trump assured that “many documents responding to (the subpoena) could not be found,” the document states. ‘charge.

Through their investigation, Smith’s team learned that while Corcoran was still in the storage room, Trump asked a longtime Mar-a-Lago employee to change the lock on the closet, sources said . For years, the closet lock was handled by the Secret Service, but on June 2, 2022, Trump had it changed and wanted the key, according to sources.

A former maintenance worker called Trump’s request unusual, according to the sources.

Unlike the locked closet, the FBI didn’t even know the so-called “hidden room” existed until after they left Mar-a-Lago, sources said.

MORE: Trump visits secure facility to view evidence in classified documents case: sources

Although agents searched Trump’s bedroom, a small door in one of the walls was hidden behind a large dresser and a large television, sources said. The space behind the wall was the “hidden room,” which maintenance workers entered sporadically to access the cables running through it, sources said.

Strauss said it’s not uncommon for officers executing search warrants to miss things, especially when searching large properties.

Still, the fact that witnesses were saying the FBI had missed a “hidden room” in Trump’s bedroom caught the attention of Smith’s team, sources said.

“Bathrooms and bedrooms”

A federal judge had approved the search at Mar-a-Lago, approving the FBI’s plan to search Trump’s office and “all storage rooms and any other rooms or locations where boxes or files may be stored.”

During their search, they reportedly found 27 classified documents in Trump’s office and another 75 in the basement storage room, where Corcoran had searched two months earlier and found a smaller set of other apparently classified documents , according to the indictment against Trump.

The FBI found no classified documents in any ballroom, bathroom or in Trump’s bedroom, where he allegedly kept classified documents at times for a year and a half after leaving the White House.

During the summer of the FBI raid, Trump lived primarily at his property in Bedminster, New Jersey. The FBI did not search this property, they only searched Mar-a-Lago.

MORE: Trump reportedly discussed US nuclear submarines with foreign national after leaving White House: sources

As ABC News previously reported, months after the FBI raid, the Justice Department suspected that Trump still had classified documents somewhere, so — under pressure from the department — one of Trump’s lawyers conducted another search at Mar-a-Lago and others. properties, and he found a handful of more classified documents.

In testimony to Congress last year, Wray said that under “specific rules” only certain places can securely store classified information, “and in my experience, ballrooms, bathrooms and bedrooms are not included in this category.

“Our collaborators in this matter proceeded honorably and in strict compliance with our policies, rules and best practices,” Wray added.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, insisting he did not break the law by keeping the documents later seized by the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Nauta, the aide who allegedly helped move Trump’s boxes, and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira was also accused for their alleged roles in the Trump conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty.

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Special counsel questioned witnesses about 2 rooms FBI didn’t search inside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence: sources originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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