The former president claimed in a new interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that the hundreds of top secret papers he took to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House were “interspersed” with his personal effects.
“I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don’t want to hand that over to (National Archives) yet. And I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen,” he said.
Mr Trump was arraigned in Miami last week on 37 federal counts related to willful mishandling classified documents, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
In the Fox interview which aired on Monday night, Mr Baier asks the former president why he failed to comply with the request from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to return the documents.
“The only way NARA could ever get this stuff, this back, would be ‘please, please, please, could we have it back?’” he replied.
Mr Baier then points out that NARA had asked for them back, and then sought a subpoena from the Department of Justice when he refused.
The sensitive documents included the US’s nuclear capabilities, invasion plans and defence capabilities, according to the DoJ indictment.
The Fox host then asked Mr Trump about allegations in the indictment that he ordered his aide Walt Nauta to move documents “after telling lawyers to say you’d fully complied with the subpoena when you hadn’t”.
“Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things.”
Mr Trump went on to repeat lies about the 2020 presidential election being stolen, insult his Republican primary opponents, and quip that Fox was losing viewers.
Watchdog Citizens for Ethics tweeted that Mr Trump’s comments would be admissible in court.
“The most damning evidence against Trump is Trump talking.”
His excuses echoed a speech Mr Trump made to supporters at his Bedminster private club last Tuesday.
“Many people have asked me why I had these boxes, why did you want them?” he said.
“The answer, in addition to having every right under the Presidential Records Act, is that these boxes were containing all types of personal belongings — many, many things, shirts and shoes, everything.”