Patel, a former federal prosecutor, is considered a key witness by the Justice Department because of what evidence Trump might present to protect the records, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Order to discuss. The Washington Post previously reported that some of the files contained highly classified information about Iran’s missile systems and information related to China.
Investigators did not expect Patel to provide evidence implicating Trump in possible crimes, the people said. But he added that the government would aggressively seek to account for any disclosure decisions made by Trump under oath.
Seized Mar-a-Lago documents include information about Iran’s missiles, China
Patel has acknowledged in media interviews in May and June that he was present when Trump decided to declassify the materials — though he raised the topic of any ties between Trump and Russian election meddling or past investigations into Hillary Clinton., And he did not mention the Mar-a-Lago query, then in the early stages.
While Trump has publicly said he disclosed the contents he brought to Mar-a-Lago, his attorneys have declined to address such a claim in court filings — arguing that he probably just did.
Patel’s grand jury appearance marks the second in less than a month. At his first appearance in October, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right to oppose self-incrimination, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. Prosecutors argued he could not take the fifth because he was not in legal jeopardy, but a federal judge disagreed. with the government.
Prosecutors ultimately decided to grant Patel conditional immunity, people familiar with the matter said, meaning he could not be charged with a crime as long as he did not lie, according to the Supreme Court ruling.
That doesn’t mean the testimony will hurt Trump; His answers may prove useful to the former president. But prosecutors still want to understand how much disclosure immunity Trump might have, and Patel may be the best witness to explain that.
A senior national security attorney joined the Mar-a-Lago investigation
Within days of Trump and his lawyers learning that the FBI had opened a criminal investigation this spring, Patel offered a public explanation to the right-wing media for why Trump still holds so many sensitive government secrets.
“Trump’s hearing on issues ranging from Russiagate to the Ukraine indictment to major national security issues of high public importance,” Patel said in a May 5 interview with Breitbart.
“Trump has released a whole bunch of material in an effort to leave a government that he thinks the American people should have the right to read for themselves.
FBI agents have since questioned other former administration officials about the lack of such disclosures — and more importantly, how Trump handled classified records. In particular, the officials asked whether they had seen evidence of what Patel had said.
In May and June, the FBI interviewed former White House deputy advisers Pat Philbin and John Eisenberg about various topics related to the handling of classified records, according to two people familiar with the matter, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. to discuss An ongoing investigation.
The agents’ initial questions focused on whether the attorneys were involved in sealing records for when Trump left office, or whether they knew the details of that effort. They both said they didn’t.
But FBI agents have pointed former White House lawyers to Patel’s statements and asked whether Trump knew he was hiding more records, the people said. Their questions test the veracity of Patel’s claims and also seek to know what process is followed to declassify Trump White House records.
Classified records routinely mishandled in Trump White House, former aides say
Philbin and Eisenberg told the FBI they had no knowledge of declassifying such bulk records, according to people close to the matter. Eisenberg explained that Trump had the legal authority to declassify the documents if he wanted to, but that Trump did so without his knowledge.
In fact, Eisenberg reminded the FBI of specific times Trump wanted to publicly tweet a classified image or fact from a top-secret document, people familiar with the matter said. White House officials said Trump told his agents that the intelligence agency or defense agency that produced the document would have to weigh the concerns and follow a careful triage process to assess the potential harm of even a partial release.
In one case, the people said, Eisenberg told agents that agencies had quickly reviewed an image of an Iranian missile launch pad — from a top-secret document — and removed identifying marks and other business clues for Trump to tweet.
Eisenberg told the FBI that these people had a national secret to tweet about another Trump request. Trump has been discouraged from immediately disclosing and sharing documents that could expose human resources. Aides have persuaded the president to wait for a multi-agency assessment of the potential damage from his resignation, Eisenberg said, according to these people. In the end, Trump did not send the tweet.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said in an interview that he was not questioned by the FBI until Trump fired him in September 2019. Trump also argued that he has a standing order to reveal anything he takes from the West Wing to his residence for review. And Patel said he was very skeptical of Trump’s statement when he simultaneously released a trove of records.
“There was never a standing order to separate things. Mass classification or, in a whisper, sorting things out – I don’t remember Trump doing that. He didn’t do that,” Bolton said. The “split and buy” routine didn’t happen to him. He thought that if he tweeted something or said something, it was only classified.