Fourteen of the 15 boxes found earlier this year at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate contained classified documents, many top secret, as well as various newspapers, magazines and personal correspondence, according to an official FBI statement released Friday.
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate did not have a place to store classified materials, according to court documents outlining the FBI’s rationale for searching the property this month, including likely grounds for believing evidence of obstruction would be found. .
The 32-page sworn document, heavily edited to ensure the safety of witnesses and law enforcement officials and the integrity of the ongoing investigation, offers the most detailed description to date of government documents held in Mar-a-Lago, long after Trump left White House. . It also indicates the seriousness of the government’s concern that the documents were there illegally.
The document makes clear how the haphazard storage of top secret government documents and the failure to return them despite months of efforts by U.S. officials to return them has exposed Trump to new legal risks as he lays the groundwork for yet another potential presidential run. in 2024.
The government is conducting a criminal investigation into the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized locations, as well as the illegal concealment or removal of government documents, the FBI agent wrote on the front page of the affidavit, asking the judge for permission to search the property.
Previously released documents show federal agents are investigating possible violations of three federal laws, including one that governs the collection, transfer or loss of protection information under the Espionage Act. Other laws deal with the concealment, alteration, or deletion of records, and the destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in the course of federal investigations.
Trump has long insisted, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he was fully cooperating with government officials. And he rallied Republicans behind him by presenting the raid as a politically motivated witch hunt designed to undermine his prospects for re-election. On Friday, he repeated the refrain on his social media site, saying that he and his representatives had a close working relationship with the FBI and gave them a lot.
The affidavit does not provide new details about the 11 sets of classified documents found during a search on August 8 in Mar-a-Lago, but instead refers to a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration seized from the house in January .
The National Archives then forwarded the case to the Department of Justice, stating in its filing that the audit revealed a lot of classified material, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit alleges that the search at Mar-a-Lago was necessary due to highly classified material found in boxes recovered by the National Archives. Of the 184 documents marked “secret,” 25 are classified as “top secret,” the sworn statement said. Some had special markings indicating that they contained information from highly sensitive human sources or the collection of electronic signals authorized by a special intelligence court.
Some of these secret records were mixed with other documents, including newspapers, magazines and miscellaneous printouts, the sworn statement said, citing a letter from the Archives.
Douglas London, a former high-ranking CIA officer and author of The Recruiter, said this showed Trump’s disrespect for controls. One of the rules of secrecy is not to mix secret and unclassified, so that there are no mistakes or accidents, ”he said. .
The affidavit shows how the agents were allowed to search most of Mar-a-Lago, including Trump’s official post-presidential “Office 45,” storage areas, and all other places where boxes or documents could be stored. They did not offer to search areas of property used or rented by Mar-a-Largo members, such as private guest suites.
The document notes that no place in Mar-a-Lago has been authorized to store classified information, at least since the end of Trump’s term.
The FBI submitted an affidavit or sworn statement to a judge in order to obtain a search warrant for Trump’s property. Affidavits usually contain vital information about the investigation, with agents explaining why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they can find evidence of a potential crime there.
The affidavit usually remains sealed during pending investigations. But in recognition of the extreme public interest in the investigation, US Magistrate Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department to release an edited version of the affidavit by Friday.
In a separate document printed on Friday, Justice Department officials explained that it was necessary to redact some of the information to protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses other than law enforcement officers and to protect the integrity of what was happening. the study.
The second half of the affidavit is almost entirely redacted, making it impossible to determine the scope of the investigation or where it might be directed. He does not name people who may be the subjects of the investigation, and does not answer basic questions, such as why top secret documents were delivered to Mar-a-Lago at the end of the presidential term, although the government considers them important. like presidential records, which belong to the National Archives and require special storage.
It also does not include details of interactions between Trump officials and the Justice Department in the months leading up to the search, including a subpoena in May and a site visit in June by the Department’s top counterintelligence officer. The transfer culminated in a search on August 8, during which agents recovered 11 sets of secret records.
Still, the document released on Friday gives an idea of the arguments Trump’s legal team is expected to make as the case progresses. It includes a letter from Trump attorney M. Evan Corcoran arguing that the president has absolute authority to declassify documents and that the president’s actions regarding classified documents are not subject to criminal penalties.
Mark Zaid, a longtime national security lawyer who has been critical of Trump’s handling of classified information, said the letter was blatantly wrong to claim that Trump could declassify anything and everything.
According to Zaid, there are some legal, technical remedies for certain provisions of the espionage law, whether they apply to the president. But some of these provisions do not make distinctions that might raise an objection.
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