FBI: Trump mixed top secret docs with magazines, other items

4:30 P.M. UPDATE

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate early this year contained classified documents, many of them top secret, mixed in with miscellaneous newspapers, magazines and personal correspondence, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday.

No space at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was authorized for the storage of classified material, according to the court papers, which laid out the FBI’s rationale for searching the property this month, including “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.”

The 32-page affidavit — heavily redacted to protect the safety of witnesses and law enforcement officials and “the integrity of the ongoing investigation” — offers the most detailed description to date of the government records being stored at Mar-a-Lago long after Trump left the White House. It also reveals the gravity of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally.

The document makes clear how the haphazard retention of top secret government records, and the apparent failure to safeguard them despite months of entreaties from U.S. officials, has exposed Trump to fresh legal peril just as he lays the groundwork for another potential presidential run in 2024.

“The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit in seeking a judge’s permission for a warrant to search the property.

Documents previously made public show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of three federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

Trump has long insisted, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he fully cooperated with government officials. And he has rallied Republicans behind him by painting the search as a politically motivated witch hunt intended to damage his reelection prospects. He repeated that refrain on his social media site Friday, saying he and his representatives had had a close working relationship with the FBI and “GAVE THEM MUCH.”

The affidavit does not provide new details about 11 sets of classified records recovered during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago but instead concerns a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved from the home in January. The National Archives then sent the matter to the Justice Department, indicating in its referral that a review showed “a lot” of classified materials, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit argues a search of Mar-a-Lago was necessary due to the highly sensitive material found in the boxes recovered by the National Archives. Of 184 documents marked classified, 25 were at the top secret level, the affidavit says. Some had special markings suggesting they included information from highly sensitive human sources or the collection of electronic “signals” authorized by a special intelligence court.

Some of those classified records were mixed with other documents, including newspapers, magazines and miscellaneous print-outs, the affidavit says, citing a letter from the Archives.

Douglas London, a former senior CIA officer and author of “The Recruiter,” said this showed Trump’s lack of respect for controls. “One of the rules of classified is you don’t mix classified and unclassified so there’s no mistakes or accidents,” he said.

The affidavit shows how agents were authorized to search a large swath of Mar-a-Lago, including Trump’s official post-presidential “45 Office,” storage rooms and all other areas in which boxes or documents could be stored. They did not propose searching areas of the property used or rented by Mar-a-Largo members, such as private guest suites.

The document notes that no space at Mar-a-Lago had been authorized for the storage of classified information at least since the end of Trump’s term in office.

The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain the warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there.

Affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations. But in an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit.

In a separate document unsealed Friday, Justice Department officials explained that it was necessary to redact some information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”

The second half of the affidavit is almost entirely redacted, making it impossible to discern the scope of the investigation or where it might be headed. It does not identify by name any people who may be subjects of the investigation and it does not answer core questions, such as why top secret documents were taken to Mar-a-Lago at the end of the president’s term even though the government regards them as presidential records and even though classified information requires special storage.

Though Trump’s spokesman derided the investigation as “all politics,” the affidavit makes clear that the FBI search was hardly the first time federal law enforcement had expressed concerns about the records. The government issued a subpoena for records in May, the Trump legal team has said, and the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official visited Mar-a-Lago in June.

In addition, the affidavit includes excerpts from a June 8 letter in which a Justice Department official reminds a Trump lawyer that Mar-a-Lago is not authorized to hold classified records and requests that the room at the estate where the documents had been stored be secured and that they “be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”

The back-and-forth culminated in the Aug. 8 search in which agents retrieved the 11 sets of classified records.

The document unsealed Friday also offer insight into arguments the Trump legal team is expected to make as the case moves forward. It includes a letter from Trump lawyer M. Evan Corcoran in which he asserts that a president has “absolute authority” to declassify documents and that “presidential actions involving classified documents are not subject to criminal sanction.”

Mark Zaid, a longtime national security lawyer who has criticized Trump for his handling of classified information, said the letter was “blatantly wrong” to assert Trump could declassify “anything and everything.”

“There are some legal, technical defenses as to certain provisions of the espionage act whether it would apply to the president,” Zaid said. “But some of those provisions make no distinction that would raise a defense.”

 

Noon update

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate early this year contained documents with classification markings, including at the top secret level, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday explaining the justification for this month’s search of the property.

The 32-page affidavit, even in its heavily redacted form, offers the most detailed description to date of the government records being stored at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property long after he left the White House and reveals the gravity of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally.

“The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit in seeking a judge’s permission for a warrant to search the property.

The affidavit does not provide new details about the 11 sets of classified records recovered during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago but instead concerns a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved from the home in January.

In those boxes, according to the affidavit, officials located 184 documents bearing classification markings, including 25 documents marked as top secret. Agents who inspected the boxes found markings related to information provided by confidential human sources as well as information related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Taken together, the affidavit reveals additional details about an ongoing criminal investigation that has brought fresh legal peril for Trump just as he lays the groundwork for another presidential run. It also shows in stark detail the volume of sensitive government documents that were stored at Mar-a-Lago instead of being turned over to the National Archives.

The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain the warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there.

In a separate document unsealed Friday, Justice Department officials explained that it was necessary to redact some information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”

Affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations, making the decision by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to reveal portions of it all the more striking.

In an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit. The directive came hours after federal law enforcement officials submitted under seal the portions of the affidavit that they wanted to keep secret as their investigation moves forward.

Documents previously made public show the FBI retrieved from the property 11 sets of classified documents, including information marked at the top secret level. They also show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of three federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

It’s possible that the affidavit, particularly in its unredacted form, could shed light on key unanswered questions, including why sensitive presidential documents — classified documents, among them — were transported to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House and why Trump and his representatives did not supply the entire tranche of material to the National Archives and Records Administration despite repeated entreaties.

It could also offer additional details on the back-and-forth between Trump and the FBI, including a subpoena for documents that was issued last spring, as well as a June visit by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the materials were being stored.

The Justice Department had earlier contested arguments by media organizations to make the affidavit public, saying any disclosure could contain private information about witnesses and about investigative tactics. But Reinhart, acknowledging the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, said last week that he was disinclined to keep the entire document sealed and told federal officials to submit to him in private the redactions it wanted to make.

In his order Thursday, Reinhart said the department had made compelling arguments to leave sealed broad swaths of the document that, if disclosed, would reveal grand jury information; the identities of witnesses and “uncharged parties”; and details about the investigation’s “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods.”

But he also said he was satisfied “that the Government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”

 

ORIGINAL STORY

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is set to release Friday a heavily blacked out document explaining the justification for an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate earlier this month, when agents removed top secret government records and other classified documents.

The document, expected by noon, is likely to offer at least some new details about an ongoing criminal investigation that has brought fresh legal peril for Trump just as he lays the groundwork for another presidential run. Though Justice Department officials are expected to have removed sensitive details about witnesses, and the scope and direction of the probe, the affidavit may offer the fullest explanation yet about the events leading up to the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.

The document being released is the redacted form of an affidavit, or sworn statement, that the FBI submitted to a judge so it could obtain a warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out to a judge the justification for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there. But affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations, making the judge’s decision to reveal portions of it all the more striking.

In an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit. The directive came hours after federal law enforcement officials submitted under seal the portions of the affidavit that they want to keep secret as their investigation moves forward.

The redactions proposed by the Justice Department are likely to be extensive given the sensitivity of the investigation, lessening the likelihood that the document will offer a comprehensive look at the basis for the unprecedented search or significant insights about the direction of the probe. Yet even a redacted affidavit can contain at least some fresh revelations about the investigation, and is likely to help explain why federal agents who had tried for months to recover sensitive government records from Mar-a-Lago ultimately felt compelled to obtain a search warrant.

Documents already made public show the FBI retrieved from the property 11 sets of classified documents, including information marked at the top secret level. They also show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

It’s possible that the affidavit, particularly in its unredacted form, could shed light on key unanswered questions, including why sensitive presidential documents — classified documents, among them — were transported to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House and why Trump and his representatives did not supply the entire tranche of material to the National Archives and Records Administration despite repeated entreaties.

It could also offer additional details on the back-and-forth between Trump and the FBI, including a subpoena for documents that was issued last spring, as well as a June visit by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the materials were being stored.

The Justice Department had earlier contested arguments by media organizations to make any portion of the affidavit public, saying the disclosure could contain private information about witnesses and about investigative tactics. But Reinhart, acknowledging the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, said last week that he was disinclined to keep the entire document sealed and told federal officials to submit to him in private the redactions it wanted to make.

In his order Thursday, Reinhart said the department had made compelling arguments to leave sealed broad swaths of the document that, if disclosed, would reveal grand jury information; the identities of witnesses and “uncharged parties”; and details about the investigation’s “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods.”

But he also said he was satisfied “that the Government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”