Stephen Miller's legal group recycles debunked claims about Biden's supposed involvement in the recovery of documents from Mar-a-Lago

Although the White House did give permission to the DOJ to investigate the first 15 boxes recovered by NARA, there is no public evidence that either was involved in the later raid of Mar-a-Lago

On March 31, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released its latest batch of redacted records regarding the materials recovered from former President Donald Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Since then, conservative figures — most notably white nationalist and former Trump adviser Stephen Miller and his far-right legal group, America First Legal (AFL) — have grasped onto one newly released email in particular to spread already debunked claims that the Biden administration orchestrated the search of Mar-a-Lago last August. 

In January 2022, the National Archives recovered 15 boxes of White House documents improperly kept at Trump’s personal residence in Mar-a-Lago, some of which were discovered to have been marked as classified and even “top secret.” Soon after, the National Archives referred to the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of the documents taken from the White House.  

In August 2022, the FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago and seized a number of documents as part of the investigation into missing records. Afterward, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that President Joe Biden “was not aware” of the search beforehand and that “no one at the White House was given a heads up.”

On April 10, Miller’s America First Legal issued a press release claiming the Biden White House was involved in directing the August 2022 “raid” of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago office and residence, after previously denying any role in it. The group’s debunked argument for Biden’s involvement rests largely on a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that obscures two different events: NARA receiving the 15 boxes of classified material in January 2022 and the FBI subsequently searching Mar-a-Lago that August. 

AFL primarily highlights one August 23, 2022, email from NARA’s general counsel which mentions the Biden White House granted the Department of Justice “special access” to view the documents contained within 15 boxes of presidential records after the National Archives’ referral to the DOJ. With this, AFL claims that such access given by the White House “perhaps create[d] a pretext” for the subsequent search of Mar-a-Lago months later. Miller’s group is also accusing NARA acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall of misleading Congress when she told Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) on August 16, 2022, that the National Archives had “not been involved in the DOJ investigation or any searches that it has conducted.” 

It is simply false to suggest Biden was using his office to attack his political foes. Although the White House did give permission to the Justice Department to investigate the first 15 boxes recovered by the National Archives, there is no public evidence that either the White House or NARA was involved in the subsequent investigation or search of Trump’s Florida residence.

In fact, a similar argument was debunked last August, when Trump ally John Solomon went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to claim Biden had directed the search. Solomon pointed to a May 10, 2022, letter by Wall to Trump attorney Evan Corcoran denying Trump's request to claim executive privilege on the documents and delay turning them over. Wall’s letter also mentioned that the Justice Department requested access from the White House to view the documents for which Biden waived Trump’s claims to executive privilege. 

The White House approved the request from the Department of Justice according to the Presidential Records Act, which states that presidential records are in “the exclusive legal custody of the President” and requests for access “must be made to the President, not NARA.” After NARA referred the 15 boxes to the Justice Department for investigation in January 2022, the White House granted the DOJ “special access” to view the contents of the boxes and proceed with an investigation. AFL’s claims revolve around conflating that instance with the FBI’s search of Trump’s residence, which took place many months later. 

Notably, these newly released documents being seized upon by Miller’s America First Legal come in response to numerous FOIA requests made to the National Archives from a host of media outlets and other groups. The agency wrote, “To respond most efficiently to these overlapping requests, NARA is processing all related requests in the same manner,” and has been releasing them in batches as they are processed. On its website, however, AFL has seemingly taken credit for releasing these documents and subsequently placed its own watermark over NARA’s initial records released to the public a week or so prior. 

Despite these conspiracy theories having already been debunked, a number of right-wing figures have run with the AFL’s accusations. 

  • On Tuesday, Hannity said that Miller’s group “is now reporting that the Biden administration and officials there were actually involved with the raid, despite them denying any knowledge of it,” before playing a clip of the White House press secretary back in August. Hannity went on to quote AFL Senior Counselor Reed Rubinstein that “the National Archives misled Congress about the Biden White House and their role in the raid at Mar-a-Lago. And the evidence … further suggests that Biden officials in the executive office of the president and the Department of Justice unlawfully abused their power and then lied about it to you, the American people.”
  • Co-host Sean Duffy of Fox Business’ The Bottom Line was equally excited to attack the Biden administration the same day with guest Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Conflating the 15 boxes received by NARA and DOJ’s search of Mar-a-Lago, Duffy claimed, “They're saying, hey, the White House, who said we had nothing to do, we were shocked when we found out that there was a raid at Mar-a-Lago, now America First Legal is saying, well, no, no, in our, in our request for documents, you actually were facilitating the documents through the, through the records-keeping organization to the DOJ.”
  • Anchor Maria Bartiromo made the same claims on her Fox program, saying AFL “found that the Biden administration was in fact involved in last year's raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, despite all the pushback and pushing a different narrative back in August.”
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) also amplified these false claims on Twitter by quote-tweeting America First Legal’s thread. The official House Judiciary GOP account also shared AFL’s thread, “Wow.”