The Justice Department is seeking to question two people who searched Donald Trump’s properties in November, as federal investigators have asked whether the former president returned all classified documents to the federal government, sources familiar with the probe tell CNN.
The development is the latest sign that the Justice Department is continuing to investigate, after telling a federal court last year it believed there was possible obstruction of justice related to Trump’s handling of classified materials.
The Trump investigation moves forward as President Joe Biden now faces his own special counsel investigation into the handling of classified records, inviting comparisons between the two situations. However, the Biden investigation isn’t nearly as far along as Trump’s, and questions of obstruction don’t hang over it at this time.
Prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s office and Trump’s defense lawyers have gone back and forth several times in the past two months over whether Trump has fully complied with a subpoena issued last May for classified documents from his time in the White House.
That has prompted Trump’s lawyer Timothy Parlatore to twice certify in writing that Trump’s team searched his homes and offices for more records. The new rounds of certifications haven’t been reported previously.
Some of Trump’s properties, such as at his golf course in Scotland and his Las Vegas hotel, weren’t searched, yet Trump’s team believed they did a thorough job, looking everywhere they believed presidential records might have been, sources say.
In a statement, Parlatore told CNN that the Justice Department has “rejected offers of cooperation in favor of heavy-handed tactics to create a false impression of noncompliance in the absence of evidence.”
Parlatore added: “President Trump did nothing wrong and a proper investigation would have concluded months ago, amicably, without the significant waste of taxpayer resources.”
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Parlatore had told federal investigators that the former president’s legal team hired two people to search four locations before Thanksgiving and gave the prosecutors a written report on what was searched. The Trump team searched Trump Tower in New York, the Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, an office location in Florida and a Florida storage unit where the two classified documents were found.
The Justice Department then tried to hold Trump in contempt at a sealed court hearing on December 9, but the chief judge of the US District Court in Washington, DC, declined to do so. Instead, Chief Judge Beryl Howell suggested the Trump team provide more information to the Justice Department, leaving the matter unresolved, according to one of the sources.
Following the judge’s suggestion, Parlatore signed another, more detailed report on the November searches that also explained why and how the locations were chosen and inspected. The legal team said Trump himself gave no restrictions on what could be searched, one of the sources added.
But the new report still left the Justice Department wanting, and prosecutors returned to court seeking the names of the people who did the searches, which Howell ordered the Trump team to turn over last week. The names haven’t been publicly disclosed.
The written certifications from Parlatore add to the evidence gathered in the ongoing criminal probe. Last June, Trump lawyer Christina Bobb provided to the Justice Department a signed statement that the Trump team conducted a “diligent search” of boxes in Florida from the White House, and the Trump lawyers handed over a double-wrapped envelope of documents to the federal agents.
But the DOJ found more evidence of classified records at the club that prompted them to seek a judge’s sign-off for a search. The unprecedented search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate turned up more than 100 more records marked as classified, according to court filings.
It’s unclear how much Trump’s team may be able to hold back at this stage of the investigation, as the special counsel’s office seeks to speak with the search team. Trump’s team may try to limit some of the questions that prosecutors can ask, by claiming that parts of what the search team knows should stay confidential as legal work product, one of the sources said.
Federal investigators have expressed interest in interviewing the people soon.
This story has been updated with additional details.