Donald Trump hid at least 184 classified documents, including 25 containing some of the US’s most sensitive state secrets, on his Florida estate after leaving office, a recently released sworn letter says.
The FBI is investigating the former president for obstruction after he failed to turn over documents to the National Archives for more than a year, court documents say, in addition to previously released investigations into whether he violated U.S. laws on espionage and dealing with government documents.
Judge Bruce Reinhart on Friday ordered the release of the affidavit that the FBI used to obtain a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago this month. The document, requested by several media outlets, has been heavily edited to remove identifying details about witnesses who cooperated with the investigation.
This sheds new light on the extent and extent of Trump being accused of stealing from the White House.
In January, eight months after the request from the National Archives, he handed over 15 boxes of papers. Investigators found inside 25 documents marked “top secret,” the highest level of secrecy, 92 marked “secret” and 67 marked “confidential,” the affidavit said. The documents contained information about national defense, including foreign intelligence. Some had Mr. Trump’s handwritten notes.
An FBI search subsequently uncovered more than 20 additional boxes and several file folders, according to previously released court documents, including more classified information.
In a statement on his Truth Social platform, Mr. Trump accused the FBI and the Justice Department of a “complete PR stunt”, said Judge Reinhart had “hostility and hatred towards your beloved president, me” and denied interfering with the investigation: “WE GIVE THEM A LOT.”
As the ex-president faces criminal investigation into his handling of classified material, here’s what you need to know.
Will Trump be charged?
Maybe. The search warrant and affidavit indicate that the FBI is investigating possible violations of several different laws. One of these is the Espionage Act of 1917, which makes it a crime to divulge state secrets; the other two prohibit the concealment or destruction of government documents. The maximum punishment varies from three to 20 years in prison. The FBI is also investigating whether they were intentionally hindered by Mr. Trump.
A letter from national archivist Debra Steidel Wall, addressed to Mr. Trump’s lawyers last spring, indicates that investigators are trying to determine whether “these records were processed in an illegal manner” and whether there was any “damage” to national security. One concern, for example, is that leaking classified information can threaten the lives of sensitive intelligence sources abroad.
Senior officials such as former CIA director David Petraeus and former national security adviser Sandy Berger have been convicted over the years for illegally taking classified documents home.
Lindsey Rodman, a national security law expert at George Washington University, said the rules on government documents are technically very strict. But it’s hard to predict whether Mr. Trump will be held accountable because there are so many factors besides the law alone. The former president is gearing up for a possible return in 2024, and some of his supporters have threatened violent retaliation for the searches.
“I would not confuse this case with anything before because the politics are very relevant,” said Prof. Rodman.
What are Trump’s legal arguments?
Mr. Trump claims he declassified documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago and that those documents could be subject to executive privilege.
Lisa Kern Griffin, an expert on federal criminal law and the constitution, said incumbent President Joe Biden should claim executive privilege over documents, which he does not have. According to her, even if Mr. Trump declassifies all the documents, for which he did not provide evidence, this will not have legal significance. These laws also apply to unclassified documents.
“Despite the seeming absurdity of both of these arguments, they are also irrelevant,” said Professor Griffin, who teaches law at Duke University.
It is also a bad omen for Mr. Trump that the federal government has been asking for documents for over a year, but he has not provided them voluntarily. The National Archives made its initial request in May 2021 and received 15 cases in January this year. But the FBI says Mar-a-Lago had even more unreturned classified papers when it conducted a search this month.
“Given what we now know about the nature of document volume, the implications for national security are significant,” Professor Griffin said. “Given all correspondence, including subpoenas, the intent to commit a crime is also clear.”
On Friday, Mr. Biden ridiculed Mr. Trump’s defense. “I just want you to know, I declassified everything in the world,” he said at the White House. “Come on.”
What is happening in court now?
Mr. Trump has gone to court to stop, or at least delay, the examination of the FBI documents. In a statement, his lawyers asked a court official, called a “special master”, to review the documents and decide whether they fall under executive privilege or attorney-client privilege or are outside the scope of a search warrant.
The former president tried something similar earlier this year when he asked the archives to deny the FBI access to the documents until his lawyers reviewed them and decided whether he would invoke the executive branch. Ms Wall denied the request, saying it didn’t make sense to hide government documents from the government itself.
What kind of documents?
For the most part, we only have a general sense.
The affidavit states that the documents include “confidential pieces of information,” including intelligence from a “human source” and “signals” — in other words, intelligence obtained from monitoring foreign communications and talking to informants. It also states that the content of some of the documents is related to defense.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, said that some of the documents related to nuclear weapons. Others were affectionate letters to Mr Trump from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. An earlier court filing said the FBI received a copy of Mr. Trump’s pardon for politician Roger Stone, as well as an unspecified “Information on the President of France.”
The affidavit states that classified documents were mixed with piles of other papers, including newspapers, photographs and Mr. Trump’s correspondence. “The most serious concern was that highly classified records were exposed, mixed with other records,” the report says.
The nature of the documents and what Mr. Trump did with them could influence the Justice Department’s decision to file charges. When the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, then-director James Comey found that she was “extremely casual” when discussing classified information over non-government email, but chose not to press charges after discovering little information. confidential information in email messages.
“There were records that were mistreated, but they didn’t have much value,” said Professor Rodman.
In the case of Mr. Trump, the affidavit states that documents were allegedly stored at several locations around Mar-a-Lago, including Office 45, a room called Pine Hall, a warehouse, and Mrs. on Trump.
How does it play politically?
Mr. Trump is already using search to polish his claims that the government wants him and rally support ahead of the party’s expected presidential bid in two years.
“He’s out of the office, people should leave him alone,” Lane Urban, a 26-year-old Trump supporter from Cheyenne, Wyoming, told the Globe and Mail the day after the search. “No one is perfect. Every time you make a mistake, the FBI is after you?”
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