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During then-President Donald Trump’s final days in office, a 10-inch-thick binder of raw Russian intelligence transported from the CIA went missing after it was last seen at the White House, CNN reported Friday. The investigation offered disturbing new details about the final frantic days of Trump’s term.
These revelations about what Trump tried to release publicly just before leaving the White House are yet another example of his ongoing effort to undercut the intelligence community on the issue of Russia. They are also a possible window into what he may view as unfinished business if he wins a second term as president next year.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis, Natasha Bertrand, Evan Perez and Zachary Cohen have a methodical and in-depth report that also includes interactive features to explain what we know about how the binder got from the “safe within a safe” where it was kept at the CIA to the White House, where much of its contents were declassified by Trump.
The authors also explore what may have happened to the version of the binder that went missing. It does not appear to have been found, and intelligence officials briefed Senate Intelligence Committee leaders last year about ongoing efforts to retrieve it.
Read the full report here.
Some key passages from CNN’s report are below.
The binder contained raw intelligence the US and its NATO allies collected on Russians and Russian agents, including sources and methods that informed the US government’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, sources tell CNN.
The intelligence was so sensitive that lawmakers and congressional aides with top secret security clearances were able to review the material only at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where their work scrutinizing it was itself kept in a locked safe.
The binder’s origins trace back to 2018, when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, compiled a classified report alleging the Obama administration skewed intelligence in its assessment that Putin had worked to help Trump in the 2016 election.
The GOP report, which criticized the intelligence community’s “tradecraft,” scrutinized the highly classified intelligence from 2016 that informed the assessment Putin and Russia sought to assist Trump’s campaign. House Republicans cut a deal with the CIA in which the committee brought in a safe for its documents that was then placed inside a CIA vault – a setup that prompted some officials to characterize it as a “turducken” or a “safe within a safe.”
The former president had ordered it brought there so he could declassify a host of documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. Under the care of then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the binder was scoured by aides working to redact the most sensitive information so it could be declassified and released publicly.
The Russian intelligence was just a small part of the collection of documents in the binder, described as being 10 inches thick and containing reams of information about the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. But the raw intelligence on Russia was among its most sensitive classified materials, and top Trump administration officials repeatedly tried to block the former president from releasing the documents.
The day before leaving office, Trump issued an order declassifying most of the binder’s contents, setting off a flurry of activity in the final 48 hours of his presidency. Multiple copies of the redacted binder were created inside the White House, with plans to distribute them across Washington to Republicans in Congress and right-wing journalists.
Instead, copies initially sent out were frantically retrieved at the direction of White House lawyers demanding additional redactions. … An unredacted version of the binder containing the classified raw intelligence went missing amid the chaotic final hours of the Trump White House. The circumstances surrounding its disappearance remain shrouded in mystery.
US officials repeatedly declined to discuss any government efforts to locate the binder or confirm that any intelligence was missing.
Is the binder part of the criminal case against Trump for mishandling classified documents?
The binder was not among the classified items found in last year’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a US official familiar with the matter, who said the FBI was not looking specifically for intelligence related to Russia when it obtained a search warrant for the former president’s residence last year.
There’s also no reference to the binder or the missing Russian intelligence in the June indictment of Trump over the mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
On January 19, 2021, Trump issued a declassification order for a “binder of materials related to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
The White House had planned to distribute the declassified documents around Washington, including to Trump-allied conservative journalist John Solomon. But Trump’s order did not lead to its release – and earlier this year Solomon sued the Justice Department and National Archives for access to the documents.
Solomon claims that on the night of January 19, Meadows invited him to the White House to review several hundred pages of the declassified binder. One of Solomon’s staffers was even allowed to leave the White House with the declassified records in a paper bag.
(Cassidy) Hutchinson (one of Meadows’ top aides) writes in her book that (then-White House Counsel Pat) Cipollone told her after 10:30 p.m. on January 19 to have Meadows retrieve the binders that had been given to Solomon and a right-wing columnist. “The Crossfire Hurricane binders are a complete disaster. They’re still full of classified information,” Hutchinson writes that Cipollone told her. “Those binders need to come back to the White House. Like, now.”
The documents were returned the next morning, on January 20, after they were picked up by a Secret Service agent in a Whole Foods grocery bag, according to Hutchinson.
Hutchinson … testified to Congress and wrote in her memoir that she believes Meadows took home an unredacted version of the binder. She said it had been kept in Meadows’ safe and that she saw him leave with it from the White House.
“I am almost positive it went home with Mr. Meadows,” Hutchinson told the January 6 committee in closed-door testimony, according to transcripts released last year.
A lawyer for Meadows, however, strongly denies that Meadows mishandled any classified information at the White House, saying any suggestion Meadows was responsible for classified information going missing was “flat wrong.”
In June 2022, Trump named Solomon and (former Trump official Kash) Patel as his representatives to the National Archives, who were authorized to view the former president’s records. Solomon’s lawsuit included email correspondence showing how Solomon and Patel tried to get access to the (declassified version of the) binder as soon as they were named as Trump’s representatives.
“There is a binder of documents from the Russia investigation that the President declassified with an order in his last few days in office. It’s about 10 inches thick,” Solomon wrote in June 2022 to Gary Stern, the Archives’ general counsel. “We’d like to make a set of copies – digital or paper format – of every document that was declassified by his order and included in the binder.”
In February and March, the FBI released under the Freedom of Information Act several hundred pages of heavily redacted internal records from its Russia investigation, following lawsuits from conservative groups seeking documents from the probe.
The Justice Department said in a June filing seeking to dismiss Solomon’s lawsuit that the FBI’s document release had fulfilled Meadows’ request for a Privacy Act review, noting that it had “resulted in the posting of most of the binder” on the FBI’s FOIA website.