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Mar-a-Lago employee tells investigators Donald Trump directed move of boxes with sensitive documents, source says

Report: Trump lawyer speaks with federal investigators
Report: Trump lawyer speaks with federal investigators in Mar-a-Lago case 03:41

Washington – An individual who worked at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort has told investigators that the former president directed the individual to move boxes of sensitive documents – including those that might contain classified markings – to a different location as the federal investigation into Trump's handling of certain records was already underway, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

According to the source, the individual said that Trump ordered the boxes moved both before and after the Justice Department issued a subpoena in May for classified documents in Trump's possession. 

The employee is now a cooperating witness in the Justice Department's probe – which escalated after the execution of a search warrant on Trump's Florida residence in August – and has appeared before a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., CBS News has confirmed. 

The news of a cooperating witness in the documents investigation with firsthand knowledge of the boxes being transferred was first reported by The Washington PostThe New York Times first reported that the boxes were moved both before and after the subpoena.

Video of the boxes being handled is now in the hands of investigators – evidence that contributed to the FBI's decision to execute the court-authorized search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, a source with knowledge of the investigation says.

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Support Of Arizona GOP Candidates
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. Trump was stumping for Arizona GOP candidates, including gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, ahead of the midterm election on November 8. / Getty Images

Trump's battle with the federal government over White House records has spanned 18 months, since National Archives general counsel Gary Stern wrote to a group of Trump attorneys in May 2021 informing them that "roughly two dozen boxes of original Presidential records" from Trump's time in office that were once kept in the White House residence had yet to be returned to the Archives." Other missing records included letters between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, according to a copy of the letter released by the Archives. 

In January 2022, the National Archives collected 15 boxes of records at Mar-a-Lago and later referred Trump's retention of the documents to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation after the Archives said they discovered "evidence that classified records had been stored" on the premises. 

By May, a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. issued a subpoena "seeking documents bearing classification markings" at Trump's Florida resort, according to unsealed court documents. Trump's legal team is said to have accepted the service of the subpoena on May 11 and a subpoena for security camera footage from inside Mar-a-Lago was served in June. The footage showed the boxes of sensitive material being moved to a different location at Trump's resort, and according to the source, the Mar-a-Lago employee told investigators the transfer was directed by Trump himself. 

The Justice Department declined to comment. 

Trump has consistently denied wrongdoing by claiming in part that he declassified the documents in question, and by labeling the investigation as politically-motivated. 

In a statement, Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for Trump told CBS News,"The Biden administration has weaponized law enforcement and fabricated a Document Hoax in a desperate attempt to retain political power. Every other President has been given time and deference regarding the administration of documents, as the President has the ultimate authority to categorize records, and what materials should be classified., The continued effort to leak misleading and false information to partisan allies in the Fake News is nothing more than dangerous political interference and unequal justice."

The National Archives pointed out Tuesday that any statements that presidential records "were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office…are false and misleading." The Archives said that it took "physical and legal custody of the Presidential Records" from the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan when they left office. 

The August execution of the search warrant at Trump's residence yielded 33 boxes of material, according to court documents, from press clippings to clothes, and including 103 documents with classified markings – labeled either CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, or TOP SECRET. The boxes also contained nearly 50 empty folders with classified banners on them. 

Prosecutors revealed in court documents and proceedings that they are undertaking a "national security" investigation into the matter and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is conducting a damage assessment as a result of the allegedly improperly stored documents. 

Trump sued the Justice Department in the weeks after the search, alleging attorney-client and executive privileges were at stake and requesting the appointment of an independent third party to review the materials. A federal judge in Florida granted Trump's request, paused the investigation, and appointed Judge Raymond Dearie as Special Master, a ruling that prosecutors have appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

That same appeals court ruled the Justice Department could continue to use the 103 documents with classified markings in its investigation, but Trump's legal team has since asked the Supreme Court to step in and allow the Special Master to review those more sensitive documents, too. The government has filed a response in opposition to Trump' application with the Court. 

Prosecutors also say they are investigating potential acts of obstruction by the Trump team after court documents revealed a representative for the former president gave a signed declaration to investigators in June claiming that after a "diligent search," all documents with classified markings had been returned from Mar-a-Lago. 

Jeff Pegues contributed to this report.

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