Kash Patel’s grand jury appearance focused on Trump’s declassification claims

Kash Patel’s grand jury appearance focused on Trump’s declassification claims


Kash Patel, loyal assistant to Donald Trump and former White House deputy, faced questions before a grand jury Thursday as part of a criminal investigation into the former president’s possession of classified documents more than 18 months after he left office, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

National security prosecutors asked Patel about his public claims this spring that Trump declassified a large number of government documents before he left office in 2021. Patel was also asked about how and why the outgoing president took classified and top-secret records to Mar -a- Lago, his part-time residence and private club in Florida, according to a person familiar with the session, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the grand jury investigation.

Patel, a former federal prosecutor, is seen by the Justice Department as a key witness in large part because of what evidence he can provide in defense of Trump’s withholding of the records, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter. Some of the records contained top secret information on Iran’s missile system and intelligence related to Chinathe Washington Post previously reported.

Investigators did not expect Patel to offer evidence implicating Trump in possible crimes, the people said. But they added that the government badly wanted his first-hand account, under oath, of any declassification decisions made by Trump.

Seized Mar-a-Lago documents include information on Iranian missiles, China

Patel said in media interviews in May and June that he was present when Trump decided to declassify the material — though he raised the issue in the context of investigations into any ties between Trump and Russian election meddling, or past investigations involving Hillary Clinton, and he didn’t mention the Mar-a-Lago probe, then in its early stages.

Although Trump has said publicly that he declassified the material he brought to Mar-a-Lago, his lawyers have studiously avoided such a claim in court filings — arguing only that he could have done so.

Patel’s grand jury appearance is his second in less than a month. At his first appearance in October, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. Prosecutors argued that he was not in legal jeopardy and therefore could not take the fifth, but a federal judge disagreed with the government.

Prosecutors eventually decided to grant Patel limited immunity, people familiar with the matter said, meaning he could not be charged with a crime based on what he told a grand jury, as long as he did not lie.

That doesn’t mean his testimony will necessarily hurt Trump; it is entirely possible that his answers could be helpful to the former president. But prosecutors would still be very keen to figure out how much of a declassification defense Trump might have, and Patel may be the witness best able to explain that.

The lead national security prosecutor joins the Mar-a-Lago investigation

Days after Trump and his lawyers learned that the FBI had opened a criminal investigation this spring, Patel offered right-wing media what amounted to a public explanation for why Trump still has so many sensitive government secrets.

“The information that Trump believed spoke about everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security issues of great public importance,” Patel said in Breitbart interview May 5.

“Trump declassified a whole bunch of material in anticipation of leaving the government that he thought the American public should have the right to read for themselves,” he said.

FBI agents have since questioned other former administration officials about whether such a declassification occurred — and, more broadly, how Trump handled classified documents. They specifically asked if officials had seen any evidence of what Patel claimed.

In May and June, the FBI separately interviewed former deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin and John Eisenberg about a range of topics related to the handling of classified documents, according to two people familiar with their interviews, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. an ongoing investigation.

The agents’ first set of questions focused on whether the lawyers were involved in packing boxes of files for Trump’s departure from office or knew the details of that effort. They both said they didn’t.

But FBI agents also pointed former White House lawyers to Patel’s statements and asked if they knew whether Trump had actually declassified many of the records, the people said. Their questions tested the validity of Patel’s claims and also sought to learn what process, if any, the Trump White House followed to declassify the records.

In the Trump White House, classified files are routinely mishandled, former aides say

Both Philbin and Eisenberg told the FBI they had no knowledge of such a massive declassification, people close to the matter said. Eisenberg explained his position that Trump has the legal authority to declassify the documents on the spot if he wants to, but said Trump has not done so to his knowledge.

In fact, Eisenberg recalled to the FBI specific times when Trump wanted to publicly tweet a classified image or fact from a top-secret document, people familiar with the matter said. He told agents that White House officials encouraged Trump to follow a careful declassification process to ensure that the intelligence or defense agency that produced the document could weigh in on concerns and assess the damage that even a partial release could cause.

In one instance, the people said, Eisenberg told agents that the agencies quickly reviewed an image of an Iranian missile on a launch pad — an image from a top-secret document — and removed identifying marks and other traces of the trade so Trump could tweet it.

Dealing with another request from Trump to release a national secret on Twitter, Eisenberg told the FBI, according to these people, Trump was discouraged from immediately declassifying and sharing a document that could reveal human intelligence sources. Aides convinced the president to wait for a multi-agency review of the potential harm from the release, Eisenberg said, according to the people. In the end, Trump did not send the tweet.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser until Trump fired him in September 2019, said in an interview that he was not questioned by the FBI. He also disputed Trump’s claim that he had a standing order to declassify anything he took from the West Wing to his residence for inspection. And he said he was highly skeptical of Patel’s description of Trump suddenly outclassing a slew of records.

“There was never a standing order to take things down. The notion of mass declassification or on a whim, declassifying things — I don’t recall Trump doing that. He didn’t do it,” Bolton said. “He acted so casually that the formality of saying ‘detail something’ did not occur to him. He thought if he tweeted something or said something, then it was just declassified.”

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