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Day 580

1/ Dr. Anthony Fauci will leave the federal government in December to “pursue the next chapter” of his career. The nation’s top infectious disease expert has advised seven presidents in more than five decades of public service. (Associated Press / New York Times / Washington Post)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Documents recovered at Mar-a-Lago were among government’s most classified, letter shows

In the letter, posted on a Trump-aligned journalist’s website, the National Archives pushed back on Trump’s privilege claims.

The National Archives found more than 700 pages of classified material — including “special access program materials,” some of the most highly classified secrets in government — in 15 boxes recovered from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in January, according to correspondence between the National Archivist and his legal team.

The May 10 letter — posted late Monday on the website of John Solomon, a conservative journalist and one of Trump’s authorized liaisons to the National Archives to review papers from his presidency — showed that NARA and federal investigators had grown increasingly alarmed about potential damage to national security caused by the warehousing of these documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as by Trump’s resistance to sharing them with the FBI.

These records included 700 pages of classified material, according to the letter, sent by National Archivist Debra Wall to Trump’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, and it doesn’t include records recovered by the Justice Department and FBI during a June meeting and the Aug. 11 search of the Mar-a-Lago premises.

Wall’s letter describes earlier correspondence in which Trump’s team objected to disclosing the contents of the 15 boxes to the FBI.

“As you are no doubt aware, NARA had ongoing communications with the former President’s representatives throughout 2021 about what appeared to be missing Presidential records, which resulted in the transfer of 15 boxes of records to NARA in January 2022,” Wall wrote. “In its initial review of materials within those boxes, NARA identified items marked as classified national security information, up to the level of Top Secret and including Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Program materials.”

NARA aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, and Corcoran could not immediately be reached.

The correspondence shows that even though NARA retrieved the 15 boxes in January, Justice Department and FBI investigators didn’t see their contents until May, after extended negotiations with Trump’s representatives. The letter also shows that in the interim, DOJ asked President Joe Biden to authorize NARA to provide the records to investigators despite an effort by Trump to claim executive privilege over the records. Wall indicated she had rejected Trump’s claim because of the significance of the documents to national security.

“NARA informed the Department of Justice about that discovery, which prompted the Department to ask the President to request that NARA provide the FBI with access to the boxes at issue so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them,” Wall wrote.

Biden, according to Wall, then delegated the privilege decision to her, in consultation with the Justice Department.

Wall noted that typical restrictions on access to presidential records carve out an exception for incumbent administrations. And she described an April 29 letter from DOJ’s National Security Division describing their pursuit of these documents: “There are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials.”

“Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps,” according to the DOJ letter. “Accordingly, we are seeking immediate access to these materials so as to facilitate the necessary assessments that need to be conducted within the Executive Branch.”

Wall indicated that Archives had notified Trump on April 12 of the FBI’s “urgency” to review the documents but delayed transmitting them at the behest of Trump’s team.

“It has now been four weeks since we first informed you of our intent to provide the FBI access to the boxes so that it and others in the Intelligence Community can conduct their reviews,” Wall wrote. “ Notwithstanding the urgency conveyed by the Department of Justice and the reasonable extension afforded to the former President, your April 29 letter asks for additional time for you to review the materials in the boxes ‘in order to ascertain whether any specific document is subject to privilege,’ and then to consult with the former President “so that he may personally make any decision to assert a claim of constitutionally based privilege.’”

Wall said she consulted with the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel and had decided not honor that request.

“The question in this case is not a close one,” she wrote.

“The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the Federal Government itself, not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the National Security Division explained, to ‘conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps.’”


‘We got rolled’: How the conservative grassroots lost the fight with Biden because it was focused on Trump

The former president’s presence on the political landscape is making it harder to launch a modern day Tea Party movement.

In years past, it would have been a political Waterloo moment for Republicans: President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats racing frantically to finalize sweeping legislation to hike taxes on corporations and spend trillions on climate change and health care subsidies.

But instead of mounting a massive grassroots opposition to tank or tar the Inflation Reduction Act, conservatives and right-wing news outlets spent the past week with their gaze elsewhere: the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion.

Hundreds of them gathered instead outside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida to protest what they viewed as an egregious example of federal government overreach. Back in Washington, conservative activists did rally against the bill and targeted vulnerable Democrats in ads. But even the main organizers conceded that they had little time to muster the opposition-party gusto of years past.

“Everything was moving so fast, the tax provisions were being debated on the fly, so there was very little time for groups to do that in-depth grassroots pushback like we saw during Obamacare,” said Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at conservative grassroots organization FreedomWorks. “To create buzz in this town and for it to penetrate across America, you need more time. So yeah, we got rolled.”

Far from a singular lapse, last week’s split-screen of the Mar-a-Lago search and the passage of the IRA provided a telling portrait of pistons that move modern Republican politics. Whereas conservative activism has, in past cycles, been driven by opposition to Democratic-authored policies or actions — from Obamacare to TARP— the modern version has been fed by culture-war issues and, more often than not, Trump himself.

“I think anytime you have FBI agents setting a new precedent by raiding a former president’s home, that’s going to get a lot of attention, compounded by Liz Cheney getting annihilated in her primary,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who set the prior template for policy-centric midterm catapults with the GOP’s famed Contract with America in 1994.

For Democrats, the current paradigm is a boon, politically. The party hailed the passage of the IRA as a major victory they plan to capitalize on moving into the midterms. They argue that uniform Republican opposition to the bill was hypocrisy — Trump once championed several of its provisions. They view the popularity of the IRA and absence of sustained pushback as a guarantee that this won’t be an electoral albatross like Obamacare was for the party in 2010.

“You’re not having town halls with people screaming about Medicare drug negotiations. It’s very hard to object to a bill that invests a lot of money in clean energy,” said Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at the Democratic centrist think tank Third Way.

Republicans argue that the bill will prove more beneficial to them in November, specifically the provision to hire and retain more IRS agents. And they quibble with the idea that the right wasn’t outraged or organized, arguing that the bill was pared back precisely as a result of activist pushback. Far from being two separate threads, they see the IRA and the Mar-a-Lago search as intertwined.

“The timing of the bill happening the same week as the former president’s residence was raided, and you had the split screen of, well, if they could do that to him, they could do that to you, and here’s this bill with 87,000 IRS agents being funded,” said Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the conservative Heritage Action for America. “I think we’re going to look back and see that it really lit a match for people with the distrust for government at an all-time high.”

Merissa Hamilton, an activist with FreedomWorks, said the increase in funding for the IRS has already been energizing grassroots efforts. Before the bill was passed, Hamilton organized protests with dozens of activists in front of the Phoenix office of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz), one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

“We feel even more detached from our representation than we ever have before because there was no time to get any public input,” said Hamilton. “It’s a big deal when you’re doubling the size of a federal agency. It screams something that’s designed to be punitive against people.”

But others in the party conceded that policy fights are no longer driving activism, at least to the degree they once did. In a Twitter thread, Brian Riedl, an economist with the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, said the right’s more recent apathy on economic policy “is partially a focus on culture & troll wars, partly a post-Trump identity crisis. And a lot of Democrats simply learning to avoid the economic policy prescriptions that most drive conservative rebellions.”

The money flow may tell an even more compelling story about a grassroots movement more geared toward Trump than congressional Republicans.

In the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s home, Trump’s Save America PAC reportedly raked in millions in the following days, according to The Washington Post. Elsewhere, meanwhile, the main Republicans running in marquee Senate races have struggled to build small-dollar donor networks, forcing the National Republican Senatorial Committee to slash ad spending and campaigns and operatives to panic.

Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan has brought in more than $9.1 million compared with GOP challenger J.D. Vance’s $1 million. Just over 9 percent of the money Vance raised for his primary campaign account between April and July came from contributions from individuals, and less than a fifth of that amount was from un-itemized small-dollar donors (those who gave less than $200). Of Ryan’s donations, 46 percent came from small-dollar donors.

In Pennsylvania, GOP nominee Mehmet Oz has largely self-funded his campaign, with less than 30 percent of his total receipts last quarter coming from individual contributors. Of that amount, just 18 percent came from small-dollar donors, compared with more than half for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, who brought in more than twice what Oz did.

And in Arizona, donations from individuals made up about 75 percent of GOP nominee Blake Masters’ total haul between April and July, versus 95 percent for Kelly. More importantly, the Democratic incumbent outraised Masters by more than $12 million last month, with 45 percent of the amount he raised from individuals coming in the form of small-dollar donations. Out of the $626,000 Masters raised from individuals last quarter, just 18 percent were un-itemized.

Those figures, combined with Trump’s continued fundraising success, suggest that much of the conservative grassroots energy remains behind the former president, and not the other members of his party. The passage of Biden’s signature bill hasn’t changed that dynamic, even as Republicans have vowed to campaign against the IRA as they head into the November midterm election.

“It’s one of those bills that is going to get more and more unpopular the more that people learn about it,” predicted Rep. Jim Banks, chair of the Republican Study Committee, who led efforts to educate GOP House members on the IRA before it was passed. “The more the voters learn about it before election day, the more severe the consequences will be.”

In other news:


Uber damning.

President Donald J. Trump took more than 700 pages of classified documents, including some related to the nation’s most covert intelligence operations, to his private club and residence in Florida when he left the White House in January 2021, according to a letter that the National Archives sent to his lawyers this year.

The letter, dated May 10 and written by the acting U.S. archivist, Debra Steidel Wall, to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran, described the state of alarm in the Justice Department as officials there began to realize how serious the documents were.

It also suggested that top department prosecutors and members of the intelligence community were delayed in conducting a damage assessment about the documents’ removal from the White House as Mr. Trump’s lawyers tried to argue that some of them might have been protected by executive privilege.

The letter was disclosed on Monday night by one of Mr. Trump’s allies in the news media, John Solomon, who also serves as one of the former president’s representatives to the archives. The archives then released the letter on Tuesday.

It was made public shortly after Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed a legal motion on Monday asking a federal judge in Florida to appoint an independent arbiter, known as a special master, to weed out any documents protected by executive privilege from a trove that was removed during an F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.

The motion, filed in Federal District Court in Southern Florida, came as a different federal judge was deciding how much — if any — of the underlying affidavit used to justify the search warrant should be publicly released.

Mr. Solomon, appearing on Tuesday on a podcast run by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former White House aide, tried to suggest that Ms. Wall’s letter somehow implicated President Biden in the struggle over the classified documents. At one point in the letter, Ms. Wall told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Biden had agreed with her and others that Mr. Trump’s attempts to assert executive privilege over the materials were baseless.

But the letter never indicated that Mr. Biden was in charge of the decision rejecting Mr. Trump’s claims of privilege or that he had anything to do with the search of Mar-a-Lago, as Mr. Solomon suggested.

In fact, the letter could further implicate Mr. Trump in a potential crime. It confirmed, for instance, that the former president had kept at Mar-a-Lago documents related to Special Access Programs, some of the nation’s most closely held secrets, before the F.B.I. searched the property. The search was part of an inquiry into whether the former president had willfully retained highly sensitive national defense papers and obstructed a federal investigation.

The letter also deepened understanding of the back-and-forth between the archives and Mr. Trump’s lawyers over how to handle retrieving the papers.

It described how archives officials had “ongoing communications” with Mr. Trump’s representatives last year about presidential records that were missing from their files. Those communications, Ms. Wall wrote, resulted in the archives retrieving 15 boxes of materials in January, some of them containing highly classified information marked top secret and others that were related to Special Access Programs.

But even after the archives retrieved the records, the letter said, Mr. Trump’s lawyers, in consultation with the White House Counsel’s Office, asked for time to determine whether — and how many of — the documents were protected by executive privilege, leading to negotiations that delayed the F.B.I., the Justice Department and the intelligence community from assessing the materials.

Those negotiations continued through April, even as Ms. Wall alerted Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the “urgency” of the agencies’ request to see the documents, which touched on “important national security interests,” the letter said. Ms. Wall ultimately rejected Mr. Trump’s claims of executive privilege after consulting with a top Justice Department official — a decision that Mr. Biden deferred to. As Ms. Wall wrote to Mr. Corcoran, before alerting him in May that the archives would soon hand the documents to the F.B.I., “The question in this case is not a close one.”

“The executive branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the federal government itself,” Ms. Wall wrote, “not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the national security division explained, to ‘conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported.”

Mr. Solomon’s decision to release the letter did more than confirm that Mr. Trump had kept some of the country’s most highly guarded secrets in his relatively unsecured beachfront club in Florida. It also revealed that well before Mr. Trump’s lawyers argued in their court filing on Monday that many of the records were protected by executive privilege, the same argument had been rejected by the White House and a top official at the Justice Department.

The court filing also appeared at times to make arguments that could ultimately harm Mr. Trump.

One long section of the motion, “President Donald J. Trump’s Voluntary Assistance,” was devoted to portraying him as having fully cooperated with the archives and the Justice Department from the outset. But read in a slightly different manner, the facts laid out in the section could be construed as evidence that Mr. Trump had instead obstructed the investigation into the documents.

The section noted how he willingly returned the first batch of 15 boxes to the archives, then — one day after Ms. Wall’s letter was sent to Mr. Corcoran — “accepted service of a grand jury subpoena” seeking to reclaim more documents with “classification markings.”

It also described how even after a top national security prosecutor went to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the papers sought by the subpoena, the Justice Department felt compelled to issue a second subpoena. That was for surveillance camera footage at the property, suggesting that prosecutors were concerned that Mr. Trump and his lawyers had not been entirely forthcoming.

This one goes into good detail of how there are huge holes in Trump’s story and how he probably has not one but several informers beside him.


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