Material From Russia Investigation Went Missing as Trump Left Office


Material from a binder with highly classified information connected to the investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election disappeared in the final days of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, two people familiar with the matter said.

The disappearance of the material, known as the “Crossfire Hurricane” binder for the name given to the investigation by the F.B.I., vexed national security officials and set off concerns that sensitive information could be inappropriately shared, one of the people said.

The material’s disappearance was reported earlier Friday by CNN. The matter was so concerning to officials that the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed about it last year, a U.S. official said.

The binder consists of a hodgepodge of materials related to the origins and early stages of the Russia investigation that were collected by Trump administration officials. They included copies of botched F.B.I. applications for national-security surveillance warrants to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser as well as text messages between two F.B.I. officials involved in the inquiry, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, expressing animus toward Mr. Trump.

The substance of the material — a redacted version of which has since been made public under the Freedom of Information Act and is posted on the website of the F.B.I. — is not considered particularly sensitive, the official said.

But the raw version in the binder contained details that intelligence agencies believe could reveal secret sources and methods. (The publicly available version contains numerous portions that were whited out as classified.)

It is not clear if the missing material comprises the entire original binder of material provided to the White House for Mr. Trump’s team to review and declassify in part before leaving office.

Among other murky details, it is not known how many copies were made at the White House or how the government knows one set is missing.

The binder has been a source of recurring attention since January 2021, just before Mr. Trump left office. At the time, Mr. Trump’s aides prepared redactions to some of the material it contained because the president — who was obsessed with the Russia investigation and believed his political enemies had used it to damage his presidency — planned to declassify it and make it public.

Officials made several copies of the version with the redactions, which some Trump aides planned to release publicly.

Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had a copy of material from the binder given to at least one conservative writer, according to testimony and court filings.

But when Justice Department officials expressed concerns that sharing some of the material would breach the Privacy Act at a time when the department was already being sued by Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page for having publicly released some of their texts, the copies were hastily retrieved, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump was deeply focused on what was in the binder, a person close to him said. Even after leaving the White House, Mr. Trump still wanted to push information from the binder into the public eye. He suggested, during an April 2021 interview for a book about the Trump presidency, that Mr. Meadows still had the material.

“I would let you look at them if you wanted,” Mr. Trump said in the interview. “It’s a treasure trove.”

Mr. Trump did not address a question about whether he himself had some of the material. But when a Trump aide present for the interview asked him, “Does Meadows have those?” Mr. Trump replied, “Meadows has them.”

“We had pretty much won that battle,” Mr. Trump added, referring to questions about whether his 2016 campaign had worked with Russia. “There was no collusion. There was no nothing. And I think it was maybe past its prime. It would be sort of a cool book for you to look at.”

George J. Terwilliger III, a lawyer for Mr. Meadows, said the former chief of staff was not responsible for any missing material. “Mark never took any copy of that binder home at any time,” he said.

A person familiar with the matter said, shortly after the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 by F.B.I. agents looking for classified documents, that they had not found any Crossfire Hurricane material.

Adding to the confusion about the material and who was in possession of it, a set of the Russia investigation documents that Mr. Trump believed he had declassified did not have their classification markings changed when they were given to the National Archives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

At the time, Mr. Trump was in a standoff with the archives over the reams of presidential material he had taken with him upon leaving the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, and was resisting giving back. So Mr. Trump told advisers he would give back those boxes in exchange for the Russia-related documents.

Aides never pursued his suggestion.

In the run-up to the 2020 election, John Ratcliffe, then Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence, declassified around 1,000 pages of intelligence materials related to the Russia investigation, which Trump allies used to try to discredit the inquiry.

In 2022, Mr. Trump made John Solomon, a conservative writer who had been briefly given the binder before it was retrieved, one of his representatives to the National Archives. This allowed Mr. Solomon to see Trump White House records deposited with the agency. He later filed a lawsuit against the government over the binder, seeking access to what he said were declassified documents from the binder being denied to him by the archives.

A court filing he submitted in August described the binder as about 10 inches thick and containing about 2,700 pages. The publicly released version is 585 pages; it is not clear what accounts for the discrepancy.

The filing said Mr. Solomon had been allowed to thumb through a version of the binder at the White House on Jan. 19, 2021. The contents, it said, included a 2017 F.B.I. report about its interview of Christopher Steele, the author of a dossier of unverified claims about Trump-Russia ties; “tasking orders” related to an F.B.I. confidential human source; “lightly-redacted” copies of botched surveillance warrant applications; and text messages between the F.B.I. officials.

The filing said Mr. Solomon or an aide had gone back to the White House that evening and had been given a copy of the materials in the binder in a paper bag, and that separately a Justice Department envelope containing some of the documents had been delivered to his office.

But as Mr. Solomon’s office was scanning the larger set, the filing said, the White House requested that the documents be returned so certain private details could be removed. Mr. Meadows promised Mr. Solomon he would get back the revised binder, it said, but he never did.

When Mr. Solomon later tried to see the binder within the Trump White House records at the National Archives, he said, the agency denied him access to a box of 2,700 pages “with varying types of classification and declassification markings” that it said it was obligated to treat as highly classified. The agency also told him it did not have the declassified version of the binder that Mr. Solomon had briefly possessed, because the Justice Department still has it.


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