WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice suspects former President Donald Trump still possesses documents that he took from the White House, people familiar with the matter told NBC News on Friday.
The department's top counterintelligence official, Jay Bratt, recently communicated that concern to Trump's lawyers, the sources said.
The revelation leaves some key questions unanswered, including whether the department has concrete evidence that Trump still holds classified material or it's just a suspicion based on inferences, such as the empty envelopes with classified markings that were seized at Mar-a-Lago or information from the National Archives that it's still missing documents from Trump's presidency.
Various court filings from the department have suggested that some presidential records are still missing.
In a September filing opposing U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling barring the Justice Department from accessing documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, the department complained that her ruling “appears to bar the FBI and DOJ from further reviewing the records to discern any patterns in the types of records that were retained, which could lead to identification of other records still missing.”
The Justice Department has also pointed to the empty envelopes marked classified that the FBI seized at Mar-a-Lago as evidence some documents could be missing.
The Times reported that Trump’s lawyers were split on how to respond to the Justice Departments questions about any further records in the former president's possession, with one faction, led by attorney Chris Kise, suggesting they hire a forensic accounting firm to search for additional documents. Other lawyers talked Trump out of that idea, the Times reported. NBC News has not independently confirmed the reported disagreement.
The Justice Department declined to comment. NBC has reached out to Kise for comment.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said in statement Friday that the "weaponized Department of Justice and the politicized FBI are spending millions and millions of American tax dollar to perpetuate witch hunt after witch hunt."
Other former presidents had moved "millions of pages of documents," he said, adding, "The document hoax is just that, a hoax and a charade."
"President Trump is being unjustly, illegally, and unconstitutionally targeted because he won’t stop fighting to restore power back to the people," he continued.
Meanwhile, Trump filed an emergency request Tuesday asking the Supreme Court to intervene in the case and allow a special master to review classified documents federal agents seized from Trump’s Florida estate. The request came in response to a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 21 that said the Justice Department could resume using classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago in its criminal investigation, but barred the special master from reviewing them.
That part of the federal appeals court's decision “impairs substantially the ongoing, time-sensitive work of the special master,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “Moreover, any limit on the comprehensive and transparent review of materials seized in the extraordinary raid of a president’s home erodes public confidence in our system of justice.”
The National Archives informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week that some records from the Trump White House had still not been turned over in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
Several days after the FBI searched Trump’s Florida property, a receipt of recovered items showed that agents found a trove of top-secret and other highly classified documents. Federal agents removed 11 sets of classified documents, some of which were labeled secret and top secret.