The legal system is very careful about keeping secret what it has decided should be secret and making public what it can to facilitate understanding of what’s transpired. But sometimes mistakes are made, and things that should be in the first category — secret — end up in the second.
This week, a document related to the ongoing legal battle between former president Donald Trump and the federal government was made public in exactly that way. The document, a detailed list of material seized by the FBI when it searched Mar-a-Lago in August, is marked with a bright red “SEALED” stamp. But, for a brief moment, it was published publicly, and Bloomberg News’s Zoe Tillman managed to grab a copy.
The list includes two batches of documents, about five dozen in total. What’s included are about 520 pages of documents that the government believed should be screened for privilege by the special master assigned to the case. The government broke the documents into two groups. The first was material that related to Trump’s tenure as president, labeled Exhibit A. The second was material that appeared to be subject to attorney-client privilege. It’s marked Exhibit B.
Reviewing the list itself, though, we get a good sense of the breadth of information that was present at Mar-a-Lago. There are documents related to grants of clemency, to endorsements, to legal fights, to policy proposals. At times, the documents are cryptic. We’ve done our best to clarify where we can, but we might not have explained everything.
Think you know what one of the documents below refers to? Let us know.
The identifiers below (such as “A1”) are the reference points used in the list. The bold text is how the document is identified on the list, as written.
Here’s what’s included.
A1. Draft 2019 immigration initiative
This is sufficiently vaguely worded as to potentially refer to a range of things. Trump began 2019 with the government shut down, after he refused to sign a funding bill that didn’t include money for a wall on the border. He soon announced a state of emergency at the border that allowed him to reallocate funding to build barriers. It’s also possible this is related to the policy that went into place in January 2019, under which asylum-seekers were made to wait for immigration hearings in Mexico.
A2. Congressional clemency request for “RN” and A3. Senate clemency request for “RN”
This may refer to the pardon of Ronen Nahmani in 2019, who had received letters of support on his behalf from members of both the House and the Senate. Nahmani was convicted of distributing synthetic marijuana in 2015.
A4. Printed email between Head Baseball Coach at U.S. Air Force Academy and White House
The date on this is unclear, but there’s a likely explanation for the outreach. In 2019, the coach, Mike Kazlausky, publicly advocated a change to rules governing post-college service for attendees of military academies. Kazlausky wanted athletes with major-league prospects to be able to delay their service obligations.
A5. Unsigned letter from Kasowitz Benson & Torres to Robert Mueller dated 6/23/2017
This letter from a law firm representing Trump is dated just over a month after Robert S. Mueller III took over the Russia investigation. At the time, Trump was advocating that Mueller step down based on purported “biases.” The following year, a confidential memo to Mueller from this firm was made public.
A6. Document titled “Executive Action to Curb Illegal Immigration and Move Towards Merit-Based Entry” (2 copies)
Trump and his aides discussed efforts to limit immigration by tightening qualifications at multiple points during his presidency. In 2017, the White House backed a Senate bill aimed at overhauling immigration. In 2019, he announced an executive action from the White House centered on the themes described in the title of this document.
A7. Printed email between White House and National Security Council regarding John Walker Lindh’s release
Lindh — the so-called “American Taliban” — was released in May 2019, over Trump’s public objections.
A8. Letter to President regarding Ted Suhl clemency and Ted Suhl commutation internal analysis (2 copies)
Suhl was granted clemency in 2019 after serving two years in prison on bribery and fraud charges. ProPublica detailed all of the context around Suhl’s crime that was excluded from Trump’s announcement.
A9. Publicly filed letter to judge regarding Rod Blagojevich clemency and A10. Rod Blagojevich commutation internal analysis (2 copies) and A11. Publicly filed letter to Congress regarding Rod Blagojevich clemency
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) was granted clemency in early 2020. He’d been convicted on corruption charges after seeking to leverage President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat for his personal benefit.
A12. Internal pardon package for “IR” and “JC”
This probably relates to Trump’s post-election pardoning of two former Border Patrol agents — Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean — who went to prison for shooting a drug smuggler in Texas.
A13. Internal pardon package for “MB”
These documents could address two different clemency recipients during Trump’s administration. Michael Behenna was pardoned by Trump in 2019 after being convicted of killing a detainee in Iraq. Mahmoud Reza Banki was granted a pardon the day before Trump left office. He’d been accused of violating sanctions against Iran.
A14. Printed email from Charles Harder to New York Times
In February 2020, Trump’s campaign sued the New York Times for defamation, a lawsuit that was tossed out in March 2021. Harder, known for targeting media outlets, was the campaign’s attorney.
A15. Document titled “Meeting Requests for Your Approval”; post-it note “For POTUS Review” and A16. Document titled “Molly’s Questions for POTUS Approval”
Probably material from Trump’s tenure as president. Molly Michael served as his assistant in the Oval Office.
A17. Printed email dated 12/31/2020 from Kurt Hilbert to White House email account regarding signed verifications for Fulton County lawsuit and federal complaint and three verifications and A18. Printed email dated 12/31/2020 from Kurt Hilbert to White House email account sharing 10 files regarding federal lawsuit
Shortly after the 2020 election, Trump sued various Georgia officials in a court in Fulton County. His aim was to have his loss in the state overturned; the suit was quickly turned away. Hilbert was part of Trump’s effort. In early January 2021, he was on the call in which Trump tried to cajole Georgia officials into overturning the election results.
A19. Contents of red folder marked “NARA letters & other copies” and A20. Contents of manila folder marked “NARA letters one top sheet + 3 signing sheets”
It’s not clear what letters from NARA (the National Archives and Records Administration) might have been included here. Among the letters NARA sent to Trump’s team, though, were ones demanding he turn over presidential records — the dispute at the heart of the legal fight that yielded these documents.
A21. 35 pages, each titled “The President’s Calls” with the Presidential Seal in the upper left corner, containing handwritten names, numbers, and notes that primarily appear to be messages (including “Message from Rudy …”); four blank pages with miscellaneous handwritten notes
Probably material from Trump’s tenure as president.
B1. Medical letter from Dr. Harold N. Bornstein dated 9/13/2016
This is probably a copy of the letter that Trump released publicly shortly before the 2016 campaign (and discussed with celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz on the now-Senate-candidate’s television show). This is not the same letter from Bornstein that proclaimed that, if he won, Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
B2. Summons and Complaint with attached exhibits in Trump for President v. Northland Television
In April 2020, Trump sued a Wisconsin-based television station for airing an ad critical of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit was thrown out in November 2020.
B3. Letter from Morgan Lewis regarding taxes (4 copies) and B6. Letter from Morgan Lewis regarding taxes (duplicate of Item No. 03)
Under pressure to release his tax returns as the 2016 campaign approached, Trump began claiming that his returns were under audit and therefore couldn’t be made public. To bolster this point, he released a letter from the mentioned firm, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, claiming that audits were underway. That may be the letter indicated here.
B4. Pat Cipollone business card with “LIC Sat Night Live” written on it; post-it note “Joe Digernova Appoint Special Councel [sic]”
Pat Cipollone served as White House counsel beginning in late December 2018. It’s not clear what the “LIC” reference is, but, in the same time frame that Trump was looking for new counsel, “Saturday Night Live” aired a skit that had Jeff Bezos (the owner of The Washington Post) selecting a new Amazon headquarters in Long Island City (often referred to as “LIC”) specifically to troll Trump. In mid-December, he tweeted a complaint about how “Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live” were “nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials” that should be “tested in courts.”
Joe DiGenova is another attorney and was intertwined with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and the effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine. It’s not clear what he would be appointed special counsel to investigate or when the note was written.
B5. Signed letter from Trump campaign legal advisor to Biden campaign copying Facebook & Twitter CEOs
This is vague, but could relate to a dispute in late 2019 when the Biden campaign pushed Facebook and Twitter to reject ads from Trump that made false claims about Biden and Ukraine.
B7. Last page of letter signed by Philip Ruffin
Ruffin owns casinos in Las Vegas, including half of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. That property is part of New York Attorney General Letitia James’s lawsuit targeting the Trump Organization.
B8. First page of letter from Balch & Bingham to Kurt Hilbert; post-it note “from Cleta Mitchel”
This may be part of communication sent from a Balch & Bingham attorney to Hilbert related to the Georgia lawsuit. Balch & Bingham represented Georgia election officials against Trump in both the aforementioned lawsuit and a later civil action.
The firm sent Hilbert a letter expressing willingness “to cooperatively share information with you outside the pending litigation on the condition that all currently pending suits against the governor, the secretary of state and/or the members of the state election board be voluntarily dismissed.”
Mitchell, another attorney who aided Trump’s effort to retain power, was also on the Georgia phone call.
B9. Envelope containing Blue Cross Blue Shield Explanation of Benefits for “WG”; post it note “Molly-Talk to Aronwald”
It’s not clear who “WG” or “Aronwald” refer to.
B10. Yellow folder marked “TMG” containing execution copy of “Restrictive Covenant Agreement” signed by Donald J. Trump
TMG probably refers to the Trump Media & Technology Group, the umbrella corporation that runs Truth Social. A restrictive covenant agreement is a clause in an employment contract aimed at preventing staff members from working for competitors for some period of time after their departure.
B11. Red folder marked “Galicia” containing document titled “Bronx Mediation Program’s Agreement to Mediate” signed by Donald J. Trump
After a Trump Organization staffer confronted protesters outside of Trump Tower in 2015, the protesters sued, claiming they’d been assaulted. The suit, Galicia v. Trump, is being heard in a court in the Bronx. Trump offered several hours of testimony related to the case last year.
B12. Invoice for legal fees from Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner; post-it notes “said you agreed to pay this bill? Work prior to his becoming WH counsel” “No”
Apparently a bill from Cipollone’s old firm. If it went unpaid, that would not be surprising.
B13. Manila folder marked “accountants” containing signed letter from BKM accounting firm regarding retention
Presumably an agreement for accounting services.
B14. Trump Media Group Board “Resolution for Appointment of Company Secretary” and “Joint Written Consent of Board of Directors” and Trump Media Corp letter of employment to Philip Juhan; pages from agreement involving Trump Media Group
Juhan is the chief financial officer of TMG. As of June, he was one of only two board members for the umbrella corporation.
B15. Confidential settlement agreement between PGA & Trump Golf signed by Donald J. Trump
After Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the PGA canceled an agreement to hold the PGA Tour at Trump’s New Jersey golf club in 2022. Trump’s team disputed the decision; the two sides settled.
B16. Manila envelope marked “UBS” containing signed power of attorney
UBS is a financial services firm.
B17. Manila envelope marked “NYC 8/10” containing IRS Form 872 and B18. Manila envelope containing IRS Form 872 (copies)
Form 872 extends the statute of limitations for an IRS investigation. Taxpayers may grant the extension to avoid the IRS running out of time to determine what penalty to impose and, therefore, simply imposing the available maximum.
B19. Civil complaint in Trump v. Kemp & Raffensperger (N.D. Ga)
Trump also filed that civil suit targeting Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). With Hilbert representing Trump, it was dismissed shortly after the Capitol riot because of “an out of court settlement” — perhaps related to the letter sent to Hilbert (as in B8).
“N.D. Ga.” refers to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
B20. Consent to substitute counsel for Habba, Madaio & Associates and retainer agreement with Habba
Alina Habba is an attorney on Trump’s team.
B21. Red folder containing retainer agreements related to campaign and Fulton County lawsuit
“Retainer agreements” refer to attorney fees.
B22. Invoices for Habba legal fees
B23. Filed summons to Mary L. Trump and complaint in Donald J. Trump v. Mary L. Trump
Trump sued his niece Mary Trump (along with the New York Times and others) last year centered on reporting on Trump’s taxes.
B24. Folder marked “Harder” containing signed settlement agreement
Probably a reference to Charles Harder. He negotiated a hefty settlement agreement with the Daily Mail over false claims centered on Melania Trump.
B25. Manila Folder marked “Serio Contract” containing contract with CIC Ventures and Gold Ventures and B26. CIC Ventures signed written consent
CIC Ventures is a corporation headquartered at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Its officers include Nick Luna, a former White House staffer for Trump. (“CIC” probably refers to “Commander in Chief.”) It’s not clear what “Serio” or “Gold Ventures” refer to.
B27. Manila folder marked “Molly 2018 IRS Tax Audit” containing IRS Form 2848
Form 2848 allows a taxpayer to delegate an official representative to deal with the IRS.
B28. “Trump” folder containing filed substation of counsel in E. Jean Carroll vs. Trump
This is presumably a typo; the document probably centers on “substitution” of counsel. Carroll sued Trump for defamation after he claimed she was lying about having been sexually assaulted by him in the 1990s.
B29. FEC designation of counsel
Designation of counsel for the Federal Election Commission.
B30. Folder marked “news article” containing “Event Appearance and Commentating Services Agreement”
The agreement appears to center on some sort of public appearance or commentary — perhaps related to a series of events Trump participated in with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
B31. Red Folder containing endorsement request for state official and email accepting Trump’s resignation from SAG
Trump no doubt receives many requests for endorsement. One can only speculate why he kept this one.
After the Capitol riot, the Screen Actors Guild announced that it would expel Trump from the union (of which he was a member thanks to his various television and movie appearances). Trump preemptively resigned.
B32. Folder containing nondisclosure agreement and contract agreement regarding Save America and service agreement regarding United Atlantic Ventures
Save America is Trump’s umbrella post-presidency political action committee. It’s not clear what “United Atlantic Ventures” is.
Several of the documents included on the list were identified as being included in the same folder. They’re broken out below.
B33. Letter from Charles Harder regarding “AJ” allegations
Harder’s specialty is media fights, so “AJ” might mean something such as Al Jazeera. But it could also relate to a lawsuit filed by former campaign staffer A.J. Delgado, who alleged that she was discriminated against after becoming pregnant.
B34. Signed tax return disclosure consent form
B35. Dave Wolfe fee agreement
It’s not clear who “Dave Wolfe” is. Given the enclosing folder, this is probably an attorney.
B36. Draft non-disclosure agreement with handwritten notes
Trump regularly used non-disclosure agreements, even in his political work.
B37. Meadows Coller terms of representation and fee arrangement
Meadows, Collier, Reed, Cousins, Crouch & Ungerman is a Texas-based law firm.
B38. Legal services engagement agreement with Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn, Levin regarding DC and Fulton County
Van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin is a firm based in Pennsylvania. Michael van der Veen represented Trump in his second impeachment trial before signing on to defend a member of the Oath Keepers who took a plea deal in relation to charges centered on the Capitol riot.
B39. Signed letter to transfer files regarding estate planning
B40. Stipulation for counsel in Jane Doe, Luke Doe, Richard Roe, Mary Moe v. Trump; post-it note “signed give to Molly”
This suit was brought by an attorney named Raj Patel, who has filed a number of suits and documents centered on Trump in recent years.
B41. Not recorded
B42. Signed escrow agreement
B43. Consent order for substitution of counsel in E. Jean Carrol vs. Trump