Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Donald Trump’s failure to fully comply with the subpoena last year was a deliberate act of obstruction. They have evidence that the former president was informed he could not keep any classified documents after being subpoenaed for their return.

Given that it demonstrates that Trump was aware of his subpoena duties, the previously unreported warning sent to him by his attorney Evan Corcoran may be crucial in the criminal probe into his handling of sensitive data.

When Corcoran discovered about 40 classified documents in the Mar-a-Lago storage room in June of last year, he informed the justice department that there were no more items on the property. That was subsequently disproved when the FBI went back with a warrant and collected 101 more secret papers, disproving the earlier claim.

Recently, the federal inquiry under the direction of special counsel Jack Smith has concentrated on the reasons why the subpoena was not produced, particularly if Trump ordered the removal of boxes of secret papers from the storage area so he could unlawfully keep them.

Walt Nauta, Trump’s valet, has drawn special attention from the prosecution because he told the justice department that Trump instructed him to remove boxes from the storage area both before and after the subpoena. Despite gaps on the tapes, the behaviour was documented on subpoenaed security footage.

On the condition of anonymity, Corcoran recounted 50 pages of contemporaneous notes to the Guardian, one of which was the warning. Prosecutors have recently seen these notes as being essential to the criminal inquiry.

The notes showed that Trump and Nauta knew unusually specific information about the bungled subpoena response, including where Corcoran meant to look for classified papers at Mar-a-Lago and where Corcoran did not plan to look for them, as well as when Corcoran was really there.

The notes, which are typically off bounds to prosecutors, were eventually presented to the grand jury in Washington hearing evidence in the case after a US appeals court permitted attorney-client confidentiality to be breached because judges thought Trump may have utilised Corcoran’s legal counsel to pursue a crime.

The notes described how Corcoran told Nauta about the subpoena before he started looking for classified documents because Corcoran needed him to unlock the storage room – which prosecutors have taken as a sign that Nauta was closely involved at essentially every step of the search.

Corcoran then described how Nauta had offered to help him go through the boxes, which he declined and told Nauta he should stay outside. But going through around 60 boxes in the storage room took longer than expected, and the search ended up lasting several days.

The notes also suggested to prosecutors that there were times when the storage room might have been left unattended while the search for classified documents was ongoing, one of the people said, such as when Corcoran needed to take a break and walked out to the pool area nearby.when Corcoran decided he wanted a break and went out to the area around the pool.

Corcoran reported Trump’s emotions and facial expressions whenever they addressed the subpoena in addition to their conversation. The exceptional thoroughness of his notes is reported to have infuriated Trump, who was only made aware of them after the subpoena for the notes was issued.

Although Corcoran testified separately to the grand jury that Trump did not intentionally mislead him about where to look, he also did not provide any instructions on where to look, the notes did not answer why Corcoran only looked in the storage room. A synopsis of his statement was originally published in The New York Times.

When contacted for comment, Corcoran did not provide any. The special counsel’s office’s spokeswoman declined to comment.

Prosecutors would need to demonstrate that Trump ordered Nauta to remove boxes that he specifically knew contained the sensitive materials required by the subpoena in order to hide them from his lawyer’s search. Building an obstruction case is still difficult.

Trump’s legal team has constantly claimed that Corcoran was not as comprehensive as he should have been in his subpoena answer because he left it until the very last minute and only realised upon arrival how many boxes there were in the storage area.

An earlier statement from a Trump official regarding the inquiry read: “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch-hunt against President Trump that is devised to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from making an informed decision.”He was brought back to the White House.

The director of corporate security Matthew Calamari Jr. and his father Matthew Calamari Sr., the security chief of the Trump Organisation who later rose to the position of chief operating officer, were most recently subpoenaed by the special counsel to testify on the gaps in the surveillance footage.

According to a prior Guardian article, both Calamaris gave grand jury testimony earlier this month and were questioned in part over a text message Nauta made asking Calamari Sr to call him back regarding the justice department’s request for the tapes last year.

According to two persons, Nauta was questioned by the justice department numerous times last year before prosecutors became worried that he had not given them a comprehensive and accurate account of his participation in transporting boxes containing sensitive papers.acquainted with the circumstances.

Prosecutors threatened to accuse him of lying to the FBI after he provided conflicting versions during many interviews in order to coerce his cooperation. However, it infuriated Nauta’s attorney, who informed the justice department that his client would not speak to them again until they filed charges against him or gave an immunity agreement.

Investigators are now looking to additional witnesses who may be able to throw light on his role after losing Nauta. They have recently questioned Nauta about whether he took any boxes holding sensitive information when he was in the storage room at the time of the subpoena, as well as his whereabouts.

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