FBI seized ‘top secret’ documents from Trump home, citing possible violations of Espionage Act and other records laws

WASHINGTON | The FBI recovered documents that were labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to court papers released Friday after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorized the unprecedented search this week.

A property receipt unsealed by the court shows FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from the estate during a search on Monday.

The seized records include some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. interests. The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain.

The warrant says federal agents were 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.

READ THE WARRANT HERE

The property receipt also shows federal agents collected other potential presidential records, including the order pardoning Trump ally Roger Stone, a “leatherbound box of documents,” and information about the “President of France.” A binder of photos, a handwritten note, “miscellaneous secret documents” and “miscellaneous confidential documents” were also seized in the search.

Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, who was present at Mar-a-Lago when the agents conducted the search, signed two property receipts — one that was two pages long and another that is a single page.

In a statement earlier Friday, Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked.

While incumbent presidents generally have the power to declassify information, that authority lapses as soon as they leave office and it was not clear if the documents in question have ever been declassified. And even an incumbent’s powers to declassify may be limited regarding secrets dealing with nuclear weapons programs, covert operations and operatives, and some data shared with allies.

Trump kept possession of the documents despite multiple requests from agencies, including the National Archives, to turn over presidential records in accordance with federal law.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home earlier this year. The Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.

It remains unclear whether the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant simply as a means to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information, with both criminal and civil penalties, as well as presidential records.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant, unsealed the warrant and property receipt Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Trump said he backed the warrant’s “immediate” release. The Justice Department told the judge Friday afternoon that Trump’s lawyers did not object to the proposal to make it public.

In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents … I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”

The Justice Department’s request was striking because such warrants traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the department appeared to recognize that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and felt that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home.

“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday.

The information was released as( Trump prepares for another run for the White House. During his 2016 campaign, he pointed frequently to an FBI investigation into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information.

To obtain a search warrant, federal authorities must prove to a judge that probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home.

In this case, according to a person familiar with the matter, there was substantial engagement with Trump and his representatives prior to the search warrant, including a subpoena for records and a visit to Mar-a-Lago a couple of months ago by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the documents were stored. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

FBI and Justice Department policy cautions against discussing ongoing investigations, both to protect the integrity of the inquiries and to avoid unfairly maligning someone who is being scrutinized but winds up ultimately not being charged. That’s especially true in the case of search warrants, where supporting court papers are routinely kept secret as the investigation proceeds.

In this case, though, Garland cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.

The Justice Department under Garland has been leery of public statements about politically charged investigations, or of confirming to what extent it might be investigating Trump as part of a broader probe into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The department has tried to avoid being seen as injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Clinton regarding her handling of email — and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails.

The attorney general also condemned verbal attacks on FBI and Justice Department personnel over the search. Some Republican allies of Trump have called for the FBI to be defunded. Large numbers of Trump supporters have called for the warrant to be released hoping they it will show that Trump was unfairly targeted.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.”

Earlier Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office in Ohio, then fled and was later killed after a standoff with law enforcement. A law enforcement official briefed on the matter identified the man as Ricky Shiffer and said he is believed to have been in Washington in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol and may have been there on the day it took place.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

Here’s a look at how the monthslong investigation unfolded and the rapid drumbeat of what’s happened since:

Mid-January 2022: Fifteen boxes of presidential records are retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives and Records Administration. The transfer came after a Trump representative told the agency in December 2021 there were records in Florida nearly a year after he left office. The agency says that under federal law, all records have to be preserved, a process that is “critical to our democracy.”

Trump calls the discussions “collaborative and respectful” and says it was a “great honor” to work with the National Archives. His representatives told the agency they would keep looking for more presidential records.

Jan. 31, 2022: The agency says in a statement that some paper records from Trump’s time in office had been torn up by Trump. During his tenure in office, White House records management officials had recovered and taped together some of the torn-up presidential records and turned them over to the archives as he left office, along with other torn-up records that had not been reconstructed.

Feb. 18, 2022: C lassified information was found in the 15 boxes of White House records that had been stored at Mar-a-Lago, the National Archives and Records Administration says. The revelation came in a letter responding to a congressional oversight committee. It also confirmed that the matter had been sent to the Justice Department.

Federal law bars removing classified documents to unauthorized locations, though Trump could argue that as president he was the ultimate authority on whether documents were classified.

Trump, for his part, says the National Archives were given the requested presidential records “in an ordinary and routine process.”

Feb. 25: The House Committee on Oversight and Reform seeks additional documents from the National Archives as part of its investigation into Trump’s handling of White House records.

The committee chaired by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York laid out a series of documents it needed to determine if the former president violated federal records laws when he took the boxes to Florida.

Spring 2022: Investigators from the Justice Department and FBI visit Mar-a-Lago to get more information about classified materials taken to Florida, according to a source familiar with the matter. Federal officials also served a subpoena for some documents believed to be at the estate.

Aug. 5: U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in South Florida approves an application for a search warrant, finding the FBI had probable cause to search Mar-a-Lago. The search warrant is sealed, as is typical for any pending investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland later says he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant.

Aug 8: The FBI executes the search at Mar-a-Lago in an unprecedented escalation of law enforcement scrutiny of the former president. Trump wasn’t at the estate at the time, which was shuttered for the season, but disclosed the search in a fiery public statement. He asserted agents had opened up a safe at his home in what he called an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct.”

Trump and his allies cast the search as a weaponization of the criminal justice system aimed at keeping him from potentially winning another term if he formally decides to run for president in 2024. President Joe Biden’s White House said it had no prior knowledge of the search, and the current FBI director was originally appointed by Trump.

Aug. 10: The director of the FBI speaks out against a proliferation of threats and calls to arms in corners of the internet favored by right-wing extremists in the wake of the search. Speaking during a previously scheduled visit to the FBI field office in in Omaha, Nebraska, Christopher Wray says the rhetoric targeting federal agents and the Justice Department is “deplorable and dangerous” and “violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with.”

Aug. 11: After days of public silence, Garland holds a brief news conference where he drops a major announcement: He will ask the court to unseal the search warrant, a striking and unusual step for a pending investigation. Garland said the public was entitled to know what prompted the extraordinary search at a former president’s home.

Trump responds with a statement calling for “immediate” release of the warrant. His lawyers do not immediately make public records they have that the government sought to unseal.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, an armed man wearing body armor tries to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office. He fled and was later killed following a standoff with police. A law enforcement official briefed on the matter identified him as Ricky Shiffer and said he is believed to have been in Washington just before the attack on the Capitol and may have been there on Jan. 6.

Aug. 12: Judge Reinhart is expected to make the final court decision on whether to unseal the warrant that authorized the FBI to search Mar-a-Lag

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Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

This man’s actions seem so un-American and against American interests, which flies in the face of his claims to be pro-American.

The Rosenbergs were executed for espionage.

sugar
sugar
1 month ago

Trump’s defense – all documents coming from the White House to his estate were “automatically”
declassified. Also, Trump states that President Obama did the same thing. Both defenses are
incorrect. Why doesn’t he just state why he had
these documents?

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

Hope trump has not sold any top secrets yet to other countries, and all documents at all his homes get confiscated. Also need to search Giuliani’s homes and all the trump enablers/followers who might be hiding classified documents. That’s a large scary group.