Trump lawyer appeared to agree he should return government documents, old email shows, undermining his later defense

Trump lawyer appeared to agree he should return government documents, old email shows, undermining his later defense
Former U.S. President Donald Trump at Trump Tower on August 10, 2022, in New York City.James Devaney/GC Images
  • A new email has given extra insight into wranglings between Trump and the National Archives.
  • The message from May 2021 is an urgent request for the return of secret documents.

A newly published email from the legal fight over secret documents former President Donald Trump kept after leaving office appears to show that his lawyers once agreed that such files should be returned.

The message, obtained first by The Washington Post and then by The New York Times, is from a lawyer, Gary Stein, working for National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The agency contacted Trump's lawyers about returning government soon after he left office in 2021, the email shows, and indicates that his top counsel had offered no objection.

It indicated that Pat Cipollone, who had previously served as White House counsel to Trump, agreed that the records should be returned to the government.

Trump has stubbornly sought to keep hold of the documents, despite his counsel admitting they were not his property, refusing to hand over the full records to the NARA despite repeated requests. The former president has privately described all of the records as "mine", The New York Times reported.


The message also shows the length of time — more than a year — that NARA sought to obtain the documents from Trump before officials resorted to executing the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 2022.

"It is also our understanding that roughly two dozen boxes of original presidential records were kept in the Residence of the White House over the course of President Trump's last year in office," Stein wrote.

He said they had not been given back "despite a determination by Pat Cipollone in the final days of the administration that they need to be."

"We know things are very chaotic, as they always are in the course of a one-term transition," Stern wrote. "… But it is absolutely necessary that we obtain and account for all presidential records."

Trump's handling of presidential records, including highly classified information, in the wake of leaving office is the subject of intense controversy.


Despite the May 2021 email and subsequent requests, Trump repeatedly resisted handing over all of the records he had taken with him, which the National Archives in January revealed included top-level secrets.

The email made no specific mention of the classification level of the records it was seeking.

Trump has sought to portray the investigation as part of a political plot against him, and his allies have claimed that the government did not make sufficient attempts to resolve the matter without raiding his property.

But the letter undercuts those claims, indicating that the National Archives had sought Trump's assistance in recovering the records before he left office, and that his lawyer made no objection to them being retrieved.

Insider has contacted representatives for Trump for comment.