Lazy Caturday Reads: Empty Folders Marked Classified, WTF?!
Posted: September 3, 2022 Filed under: cat art, caturday, Crime, Donald Trump | Tags: basement storage room, Bill Barr, classified documents, empty folders, FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Mark Meadows, special master
Cat and kitten, by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1920
Yesterday we got new information about the highly classified documents Trump stole from the government and carelessly left lying around his office at Mar-a-Lago. In her Friday post, Dakinikat wrote about the empty folders marked classified and the boxes containing classified documents mixed with news clippings, and personal items like clothing. The inventory from the search also shows thousands of unclassified government documents, which also belong in the National Archives.
From The Los Angeles Times: Trump search inventory shows empty folders marked ‘classified,’ mixed top-secret and unclassified items.
Twenty-seven documents with classified and top-secret markings were recovered from former President Trump’s office at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to a detailed inventory of what the FBI removed during its court-approved search of the home last month.
The eight-page inventory detailing more than 10,000 government documents removed in the search includes the location where each item was found and whether it was classified, but not the subject matter. In many cases, highly classified materials are listed as having been stored in the same boxes as hundreds of unclassified items, including newspaper and magazine clippings and clothing.
Among the boxes were 48 empty folders marked with a classified banner. Those empty folders could be of particular concern as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assesses the risks to national security that could result from disclosure of the contents, because it could be difficult to determine what information might have been inside and where it is now….
FBI agents removed more than 100 documents containing classified information — including some marked top secret and meant to be available only in special government facilities — from the Trump estate during their Aug. 8 search, along with over 30 boxes of materials including thousands of government records.
What was in those empty folders?
Identifying what was in the empty folders marked classified and where the information is now should be a priority, said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“Why are there folders that contained classified information that are now empty? Where are the documents?” Maloney said. “Those questions need to be answered.”
Still LIfe with Flowers and cats, Paul Gauguin, 1899
Without knowing more about the folders, it is difficult to say how alarmed intelligence officials might be, Maloney said.
They could be the type of generic folders in which confidential information is transported within the White House, or they could be folders from intelligence agencies that provide details about the sources of the information, the date it was collected and broad descriptions of what it is about, said Larry Pfeiffer, a high-ranking CIA officer in the George W. Bush administration and senior director of the White House Situation Room in the Obama administration.
“If there were any meticulous records that were kept by the staff secretary, executive secretary or the [director of national intelligence’s] presidential daily briefing staff, they may be able forensically to figure out if there are any missing documents,” Pfeiffer said.
That 48 classified documents could be missing is the “worst-case scenario,” he said.
“That’s terrifying, because then what happened to them? Where are they? Are they still hidden somewhere? Are they hidden in another Trump location? Did he give them away to some people as souvenirs? God knows,” Pfeiffer said.
Raw Story reported on what experts are saying about the empty folders: ‘Unfathomably dangerous’: Former federal prosecutor on Trump’s empty folders warns ‘things just went from bad to worse’
Immediately after a federal judge released the Dept. of Justice’s detailed list of items the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago experts agreed among the most concerning details was that there were a large number of empty folders marked “Classified.”
Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor of 30 years, tweeted out his surprise and concern.
“OMG!” exclaimed Kirschner, who is also an MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst. “Court just released an inventory of evidence of crime seized at Mar-a-Lago.”
“Dozens of EMPTY folders labeled ‘Classified’ or ‘Return to Military Aide.’ Trump didn’t pack up EMPTY folders to take with him to FLA. Things just went from bad to worse to unfathomably dangerous.” [….]
Andrew Weissmann, a former General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has also worked as chief of the criminal fraud section of DOJ observed: “It’s the empty classified folders that are of most concern.”
“Where are the contents? Trump has not addressed that at all in all his bluster and obfuscation. What were you doing with these?” asked Weissmann, who also worked for Special Counsel Robert Mueller….
National security attorney Brad Moss wrote, “Very first question the FBI would ask the person who had in their home office 43 empty folders with classified banners is ‘where did the documents from those folders go????'”
And later he added: “Why. Are. There. Empty. Folders?”
Young Girl with a Cat 1892, Berthe Morissot
Analysis from Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: What we know about Trump and the empty folders.
We know very little about what this [the empty folders] means right now, though, and experts say it doesn’t necessarily mean the documents are missing, as some Trump critics theorized. What it does seem to reinforce is how sloppily classified information was handled.
In both the search warrant affidavit released last week and a Justice Department filing in a court case this week, the government has pointed to a February referral from the National Archives. The referral raised concerns about Trump’s potential mishandling of sensitive documents and urged an investigation.
“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the National Archives said.
The biggest question is obviously: Why were those folders empty? Since classified documents were previously returned “unfoldered” — and others were recovered in the search last month — and now we have classified-marked folders without documents in them, it’s possible they match up.
Whether they actually do match is another matter, as is whether the documents can even be traced to a given folder.
From a national security expert:
David Priess, a former CIA officer whose work there included delivering the President’s Daily Brief, said Friday that the presence of empty folders doesn’t mean documents are missing, but also that it’s possible we won’t know for sure. He said the folders could contain markings allowing them to be traced to specific documents (but that’s not certain), or that they could be connected using forensic techniques.
“We cannot rule out that those empty folders contained classified documents that were not discovered in the search and seizure,” he said. “We just don’t know. That’s much harder to determine.”
He also noted it was possible that the folders were separated from the documents when they were still in the White House, before they were taken to Mar-a-Lago.
But mostly, he said, it’s further evidence of something we already knew: The documents were haphazardly stored.
There’s more analysis at the WaPo link.
Family Portrait, Carl Kahler
It’s not just the documents that were found in Trump’s office that were mishandled. The Washington Post published a long read yesterday on the storage room where boxes of documents were stored and why Mar-a-Lago was such a dangerous place for government documents to be kept: Deep inside busy Mar-a-Lago, a storage room where secrets were stashed. The storage room is below the estate’s giant living room.
It was dug into the foundations of the early 20th-century building not long after Trump bought the place, a former employee said, carved out to create more space to store tables, chairs, umbrellas — the stuff necessary to complete Trump’s conversion of what had once been a grand residence for a single family into a private club for 500 members.
At the southeast corner of this area, behind a simple door, is a large closet-type space that workers once called “the mold room” in honor of leftover stonework molds deposited in the corner, the former employee said. Today, staffers think of the room more like the former president’s personal closet, one said. It is here, in this windowless nook, where some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets allegedly were stashed….
Court filings say a top Justice Department official and a gaggle of FBI agents were allowed to tour the storage room when they visited Mar-a-Lago on June 3 to pick up classified documents collected by Trump’s lawyers in response to a grand jury subpoena. A lawyer for Trump saidthe room was where they would find all of documents that had been carted from the White House to Florida after Trump left office.
Two months later, agents returned with a court-approved search warrant and carted off more than two dozen boxes of documents and assorted other items gathered from the storage room and the former president’s office. The raid exposed anew the potential risks of keeping highly sensitive material at a club that hosts weddings, galas and other large events, where outsiders are common and many employees — as well as some visitors — are foreign nationals.
Not yet clear is why Trump chose the basement storage room to keep highly sensitive documents nor who exactly had access to the documents kept there — or who could have gotten access had they tried….
People close to Trump said a variety of Mar-a-Lago and Trump staffers had access to that area beneath the public living room. Access to the closet where the documents were kept was more restricted, they said.
John White Alexander, The Green Dress, 1890-99
More on security concerns at Mar-a-Lago:
Experts said security at the Spanish-style club has long been a headache. The facility has served a frequent residence for Trump and his family during the winter months, including while he was president. But it also boasts tennis courts, a dining room, two pools, a spa and beachfront facilities, all open to its members and their guests. Its giant ballroom and other larger areas are frequently booked for large parties and political and charitable fundraisers, all open to even more visitors, some of them foreign nationals.
Since Trump left office, Republican candidates also have flocked to the club for official events, to genuflect to Trump and attempt to secure his endorsement. Political donors have flocked, too. People who have visited the club since Trump left office said they were allowed in without so much as an identification check.
“I think Mar-a-Lago is a counterintelligence nightmare,” said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence under the director of National Intelligence and former inspector general for the National Security Agency, citing the flow of hundreds of people, the presence of foreign nationals and Trump’s long-established carelessness with national secrets.
A person who is familiar with the club’s workings and spoke on the condition of anonymity described regular movement from club facilities to the basement and back. “This is an operating property,” this person said. “There’s a kitchen and a guy who does pastries and a liquor cabinet. There’s a restaurant here. You see activity. A guy getting vodka to bring to the bar. A person going to get cupcakes to bring upstairs.”
As I said, this is a very long, but interesting article.
Two more developments on the purloined documents story:
Bill Barr spoke out on the stolen documents investigation. The New York Times: Barr Dismisses Trump’s Request for a Special Master.
Former Attorney General William P. Barr dismissed former President Donald J. Trump’s call for an independent review of materials seized from his Florida home on Friday — and said an inventory of items recovered in the search last month seemed to support the Justice Department’s claim that it was needed to safeguard national security.
“As more information comes out, the actions of the department look more understandable,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times in a phone interview, speaking of the decision by the current attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, to seek a search warrant of the complex at Mar-a-Lago.
“It seems to me they were driven by concern about highly sensitive information being strewn all over a country club, and it was taking them almost two years to get it back,” said Mr. Barr, who resigned in December 2020, as Mr. Trump pushed him to support false claims that the election had been stolen.
“It appears that there’s been a lot of jerking around of the government,” he added. “I’m not sure the department could have gotten it back without taking action.”
Asked what he thought of the argument for the appointment of a special master, an independent arbiter to review the material that could delay the investigation, Mr. Barr laughed.
Pierre Bonnard, Children and a Cat, 1909
“I think it’s a crock of shit,” he said, adding, “I don’t think a special master is called for.” [….]
Mr. Barr’s comments, which echo the assessment of many Democrats and a few Republicans, including the former Bush adviser Karl Rove, came as Mr. Trump’s supporters tried to downplay the importance of the inventory unsealed by a federal judge in Florida.
The eight-page document, which was made public with the tacit assent of the former president’s lawyers, revealed that the F.B.I. recovered 11,179 documents or photographs without classification markings belonging to the government, and more than 100 others marked top secret, secret or confidential.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around him taking so much sensitive materials,” Mr. Barr said. “I was, let’s just say, surprised.”
Mark Meadows coughed up some records in the wake of the events at Mar-a-Lago. CNN: After Mar-a-Lago search, Meadows turns over more texts and emails to Archives.