Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, White House counsel and his deputy under President Donald J. Trump, were interviewed by the FBI over boxes of sensitive documents stored at Mr. Trump’s Florida residence after he left office, three people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin are the most prominent people to have worked for Mr. Trump, who are known to have been interviewed by investigators after the National Archives referred the case to the Department of Justice this year. The interviews are a sign of the intensity of the investigation into how sensitive government material left the White House with Mr. Trump and spent more than a year at his Palm Beach, Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Mr. Philbin was interviewed in the spring, according to two of the people familiar with the case, when investigators reached out to members of Mr. Trump’s circle to find out how 15 boxes of material — some of which had been marked as classified – found their way to Mar-à-Lago. It was unclear when Mr Cipollone was interviewed.
Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin were two representatives of Mr. Trump who dealt with the National Archives; they were appointed to the posts shortly before the end of the president’s term, in January 2021. Another was Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff.
At some point, after National Archives officials realized they had no Trump White House documents, which must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act, they reached out to Mr. Philbin for assistance in returning them.
More coverage of the FBI search into Trump’s home
A spokesman for Mr Philbin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Philbin was trying to help the National Archives recover the material, two of those familiar with the discussions said. But the former president repeatedly withstood pleas from his advisers.
“It’s not theirs, it’s mine,” several advisers tell them.
Among the items in the boxes packed from the White House residence when Mr. Trump left was Mr. Trump’s correspondence with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as well as a letter to Mr. Trump from the former President Barack Obama when Mr. Trump Obama left the White House.
But there were also all kinds of other documents that traveled to Mar-a-Lago.
The former president returned 15 boxes of material to the National Archives in January, but the Justice Department issued a subpoena in May for documents he said were still in his club. On June 3, counterintelligence officers from the Justice Department’s National Security Branch went to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the remaining documents with secret markings.
Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Mr. Trump who is alleged to have suggested that the former president resolve the matter with the Justice Department, reviewed the materials, which were kept in boxes in a storage room in the basement, before that meeting, according to for people familiar with the move. It was unclear if he was the only one to do so.
At the time, at least one Trump attorney signed a statement stating that material with the classified markings had been returned, according to four people familiar with the document, although it was not clear what the statement was specifically about. The two attorneys on site for the meeting who worked with Mr. Trump were Mr. Corcoran and Christina Bobb.
But officials then used a subpoena to obtain surveillance footage of the hallway outside a storage facility in Mar-a-Lago and saw something that alarmed them. They also received information from at least one witness who indicated more material may be left in the home, people familiar with the investigation said.
Mr. Philbin is one of eight people who work or have worked for Mr. Trump that the FBI has contacted since a grand jury was formed this year. Investigators also interviewed Derek Lyons, a former White House secretary.
Mr. Lyons’ last day at the White House was December 18, 2020, meaning he didn’t know how the last boxes were packed as Mr. Trump prepared to leave. But he had information about the flow of paper in the White House and how the former president handled material.
The FBI has contacted about half a dozen people currently working for Mr Trump who may know what documents he may still have in his possession.