Witness in Trump’s classified documents case asked FBI not to record interview

A witness who spoke to federal investigators about Donald Trump was so afraid of repercussions for cooperating with the FBI that he asked agents not to record his voluntary interview.

The FBI officials were speaking to the witness — whose name is redacted in documents — as part of their probe into how documents with classification markings ended up at the former president’s Palm Beach, Florida home long after the end of his term in office.

According to a copy of an FD-302 — an FBI form memorialising the contents of a witness interview — the witness, a former Trump White House official, spoke to investigators on 2 November 2022.

The investigators, including Department of Justice attorneys Jay Bratt and Julie Edelstein, advised the witness — referred to as “Person 16” in the heavily redacted document — that it is unlawful to lie to federal investigators.

The FD-302 form states that after he acknowledged the warning, the witness “refused recording of the interview” even though he was told such behaviour would be “anomalous” because other witnesses had consented to being recorded.

Despite that caution from the government, the witness told investigators he “accepted ‘that risk’” because having his interview with FBI agents recorded would be “a far bigger risk to him in the Trump world”.

The FBI form documenting the interview of “Person 16” is one of several internal government documents related to the case that have been turned over to Mr Trump’s defence team as part of the pre-trial discovery process.

Although it would ordinarily be shielded from public view by a protective order barring Mr Trump’s team or the prosecution from disseminating it to unauthorised parties, the heavily redacted version of the document has been made public as an attachment to a court filing submitted late Monday.

The filing by prosecutors was made to oppose Mr Trump’s effort to have the judge overseeing the felony case against him, US District Judge Aileen Cannon, order the government to produce internal communications from the National Archives as well as other agencies.

Mr Trump’s legal team hopes to mine those nonpublic documents for evidence of potential bias against the former president, who is currently on trial for allegedly falsifying business records in his former home state of New York.

According to the FBI form, the witness known as “Person 16” is someone who had “free access” to Mr Trump and the Oval Office on a “daily” basis during Mr Trump’s presidency. It states that he regularly observed Mr Trump or an aide carry documents back from the West Wing to the White House residence, including classified documents.

While some former Trump aides have posited that the ex-president issued an order declassifying any document which he removed from the White House, the witness told investigators there was “no standing declassification order” and said such an idea appeared to have originated during the FBI probe into Mr Trump’s alleged unauthorised possession of national defence information in 2022.

He also told investigators that another former Trump White House aide known as “Person 24” in the redacted document was “pushing the ‘declassified everything’ line of thinking”.

Based on the description of “Person 24” — a former White House aide who “bragged a lot about ... access” while working for an unnamed US Congressman, The Independent understands “Person 24” to be former Trump aide Kash Patel.

Mr Patel was hired by the White House after working for then-House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes during Mr Nunes’ efforts to discredit the FBI probe into alleged links between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government. Person 24 is described by the witness as someone who “was motivated to ‘move up in the world’ and would brag about the ‘unbelievable things’” he had seen.

The witness also told investigators he and Mr Patel did not part on the best of terms because he had told Mr Patel that he was not qualified for a position he’d sought during the last days of the administration, when Mr Trump briefly considered installing him as acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He described the former Trump aide — who is rumoured to be on a shortlist for top national security roles if Mr Trump returns to the White House — as “crazy” and “unhinged” and added that any meetings Mr Trump would be having with Mr Patel would be “scheduled as a golf outing and possibly on a golf calendar”.