When the General Services Administration prepared to ship pallets of supplies to Florida for former President Donald Trump in July 2021, the federal agency asked Trump aide Beau Harrison to affirm what there were in the boxes shipped.
Harrison, Trump’s former aide for operations, was asked to say that anything packaged and shipped to Florida was either ‘necessary to shut down the former president’s office or items that belong to the federal government’ , so it could be covered by transition funding.
Former presidents are allowed to take certain government materials and office equipment needed to set up a permanent office away from the White House. But that doesn’t include the kind of classified documents Trump brought to Mar-a-Lago – which are at the center of an ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation.
Harrison, one of the few aides interviewed by federal investigators in the spring as they sought information on presidential records, returned a letter on the letterhead “The Office of Donald J. Trump” stating what there were in the boxes.
The email exchange between GSA officials and Harrison is one of more than 100 pages of emails and documents recently released by the GSA that debunk claims by Trump and his allies that the government agency is responsible. to have packed the boxes containing classified documents which were then recovered. by the FBI during the search of its Mar-a-Lago resort in August.
The recently released emails also provide new details underscoring the rushed and chaotic nature of Trump’s transition after spending two months exhausting numerous avenues in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
The emails clearly indicate that the boxes had already been shrink-wrapped and placed in an empty office space in Arlington, Va., as GSA officials planned the logistics to ship the five pallets of boxes – including 30 bank boxes similar to those recovered by the FBI. in Mar-a-Lago – Florida.
The released communications, which were first reported by Bloomberg News, describe how boxes, including 1,400 books of “document boxes,” traveled from the White House to Florida, inventories from the purchase of boxes and shipping materials to photos of the new office space. Trump’s team would live.
It remains unclear whether anything in the boxes the GSA shipped contained the government documents in the 15 boxes sent to the National Archives in January or the tens of thousands of documents the FBI recovered in August – materials now at the heart of the criminal investigation into the classified material found at Mar-a-Lago.
But the new email cache adds new details showing how the Trump administration documents arrived in Florida — and directly debunks attempts Trump and his allies have made to defend the former president by blaming the GSA.
In an Aug. 12 interview on Fox News, four days after the FBI raid, former Trump defense official Kash Patel claimed the GSA was responsible for the documents at Trump’s home in Florida.
“Even if (the documents were) classified…they will never meet the burden of intent because the president didn’t pack it up and take it out himself, the GSA said they did and that they had made a mistake,” Patel said. . The GSA never said they packed the boxes.
“They packed them,” Trump said in an interview with Sean Hannity on Sept. 23.
A Trump spokesperson did not directly explain how the emails disputed claims by the former president and his allies, and instead attacked the Biden administration.
“A routine and necessary process was used by power-hungry partisan bureaucrats to intimidate and silence those who dared to support President Trump and his America First agenda,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said. “Why? Because the Democrats have done nothing to offer the American people and are scrambling to fabricate a new witch hunt to distract from their abject failures.
In emails throughout 2021, however, GSA career officials explained to Trump aides what could and could not be included in the mailings the GSA would send to Florida – pointing out that the agency federal relied on Trump’s aides to assess the content being shipped.
As the transition team worked with the GSA to facilitate the move, concern within the National Archives about missing presidential records grew. The National Archives alerted Trump’s lawyers in May 2021 that Trump’s letters with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – and two dozen boxes of documents – were missing.
But the documents never came up in the logistics email exchanges.
Instead, they sometimes focused on items that could and could not be shipped to Florida at federal expense. In particular, a 300-pound portrait of Trump that had been gifted to the former president led to multiple back-and-forths, with the GSA ultimately refusing to ship the item, considering it “personal property.”
At one point, the outgoing GSA director of transition sent Trump aides advice on what was allowed to be sent.
“If the item is deemed property of the former president, it should not be shipped using transition funds. If the item is deemed federal property, it should be turned over to the NARA or GSA,” Kathy Geisler wrote in an email and attached the gift tips. “Just wanted to make sure we understand what you’re allowed to ship with transition funds.”
The gigantic portrait was sent to the home of an aide and eventually shipped to the former president’s resort.
In the email exchange, Trump’s director of correspondence, Desiree Thompson Sayle, asked Geisler to point out which part of the federal code she was referring to. “I want to make sure we are in compliance, and the attachment appears to be general guidance on gifts (foreign and domestic) that may be accepted by a government employee or elected official,” she wrote.
“Working with NARA and GSA, I am in full compliance with the final disposition of gifts. So much so that we load the large portrait received after the 21st onto a Penske truck to transport to my house so I can put it on my moving van,” Sayle added.
It wasn’t until mid-January – just nine days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration – that Trump’s staff began to set up a post-presidential life for the former president following a a plan signed by former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Following the same pattern of past presidential transitions, the GSA would provide the necessary funds and support to assist with the transition and the establishment of a post-presidential office.
Around the time Meadows signed the plan, White House aides described a chaotic and uncertain environment with a president more focused on canceling the 2020 election than beginning his next chapter. These circumstances lead to a delayed, unorganized and non-traditional transition, evident in the multitude of emails.
The chaotic environment continued after Trump left the White House. In July 2021, a flurry of late-night emails shows staff scrambling unsuccessfully to get the boxes sent on the final night the outgoing team would be allowed to use transition funds to help with the move, possibly having to use d other resources.
After the boxes were picked up and Trump’s team was long gone to Florida, there was another problem in August: a pallet was the wrong size and couldn’t fit on the lift . The event again delayed delivery, according to the emails, and prompted the return of a Sunshine State intern to repack the pallets and prepare them to be sent to Mar-a-Lago, where they eventually arrived. in mid-September.
“My intern is going back to DC tomorrow, and he can repack the pallets in Crystal City,” Sayle wrote to GSA. “Before I send him to get a roll of shrink wrap from Uhaul and plan to head over, can you tell me if there’s air conditioning on the 12th floor?”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly reference General Services Administration.