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FBI Interviewed Top Trump White House Counsel About Missing Classified Documents

Talking Points Memo logo Talking Points Memo 8/16/2022 Summer Concepcion
House January 6th Select Committee Holds Its Fifth Hearing © Getty Images House January 6th Select Committee Holds Its Fifth Hearing

Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin, former Trump White House counsel and deputy, were reportedly interviewed by the FBI in recent months regarding missing sensitive documents that were stored at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort after he left office, three people familiar with the matter told the New York Times.

Cipollone and Philbin were reportedly interviewed by investigators after the National Archives referred the matter of missing sensitive documents to the Justice Department earlier this year.

Investigators interviewed Philbin in the spring as they inquired with some members of Trump’s circle about how 15 boxes of material — some of it marked as classified — were transported to Mar-a-Lago, two people familiar with the matter told the Times.

The Times reported that it is unclear when investigators interviewed Cipollone. The Times did not indicate what information Cipollone and Philbin disclosed to investigators.

Cipollone and Philbin were reportedly tasked with acting as Trump’s representatives in dealing with the National Archives in Jan. 2021, shortly before Trump left office. When Archives officials realized that some Trump White House documents were missing, they contacted Philbin to assist in returning the material. Under the Presidential Records Act, White House documents must be preserved after a president leaves office.

Philbin reportedly agreed to help the Archives obtain the missing material, two people familiar with the discussions told the Times.

Trump, however, repeatedly pushed back on efforts from his advisers to retrieve the missing documents.

“It’s not theirs, it’s mine,” several advisers recalled Trump telling them, the Times reported.

Last January, Trump returned 15 boxes of material to the Archives. But in May the DOJ moved to issue a subpoena for documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago.

Counterintelligence officials with the DOJ’s national security division visited Mar-a-Lago in June to obtain remaining documents labeled with classified information. At the time, at least one Trump lawyer asserted in a written statement that all material with classified markings had been returned, four people familiar with the document told the Times.

Officials subsequently issued a subpoena to retrieve surveillance footage of the hallway outside a storage room at Mar-a-Lago and saw something that raised concerns, the Times reported. At least one witness also informed officials that there was potentially more material left at the resort, people familiar with the investigation told the Times.

Thus far, Philbin is among eight former and current Trump employees who have been contacted by the FBI following the formation of a grand jury earlier this year, according to the Times. Investigators also reportedly interviewed Derek Lyons, a former White House staff secretary whose last day was in Dec. 18, 2020. Although he does not have knowledge about how the boxes of material were packed as the former president prepared to leave office, Lyons had information about how records were transmitted in the Trump White House and how Trump handled the material.

Both Cipollone and Philbin testified before the Jan. 6 Select Committee in recent months that they were among a group of top Trump advisers who pushed the then-President to issue a strong condemnation of the deadly Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 — which Trump was reluctant to do.

News of the FBI’s interviews with Cipollone and Philbin come a day after Politico reported that former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann was subpoenaed for documents and testimony by a federal grand jury investigating the insurrection. Herschmann, who served as a senior adviser to the former president, drew public attention in recent months for his frankness during taped depositions that were aired during the Jan. 6 Select Committee’s public hearings. Herschmann testified about pushing back at other Trump aides and advisers who boosted efforts to steal a second term for Trump.

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