The Department of Justice search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property indicates that the 45th president is under investigation for obstruction of justice and violations of the Espionage Act.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report details of the warrant, and Daily Kos obtained it after it became part of the public record—when information contained therein could be independently confirmed.
According to the warrant, the search was predicated on the belief that Trump held documents at his Palm Beach, Florida property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 793, 2071, and 1519.
18 U.S.C. 793 is the Espionage Act, and specifically, it references the willful or grossly negligent removal of information related to the national defense.
18 U.S.C. 2071 is related to the concealment, removal, or mutilation of documents, and 18 U.S.C. 1519 is related to the destruction, alteration, or falsification of documents that are part of a federal investigation.
According to court records, federal agents took 11 sets of classified materials. Four sets contained “top secret” documents, while three sets contained items that qualified as “secret,” and another three sets were labeled “confidential.”
A description of the items on the warrant receipt noted that contents collected included an executive grant of clemency for Roger Stone, the former president’s longtime ally and advocate for Trump to overturn the 2020 election results; plus items related to the president of France, a leatherbound box of documents and various handwritten notes and photos, some of which were kept in binders.
“All physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of a crime or other items illegally possessed” in violation of the Espionage Act, and other criminal statutes were pursued, the warrant states.
The search was executed on Aug. 8 and came only after the former president and his team of attorneys had met with the FBI and DOJ investigators several weeks before to discuss concerns over records. The original warrant application was dated Aug. 5 and signed by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart.
Though Republicans in the House and Senate and right-wing outlets like Breitbart have used this lapse of time as a talking point to suggest the delay was inappropriate and, further, that the search was inappropriate, it is worth noting that the application was filed on a Friday, before a weekend, and that Reinhart actually gave agents until Aug. 19 to execute their warrant.
Attorney General Merrick Garland disclosed in a national announcement Thursday that he personally reviewed the warrant. He also noted the less intrusive pathways offered to the former president to respond to the investigation of the records. Part of the reason Garland made the announcement, he said, was because of the disinformation that had exploded around the warrant and the search of Trump’s property.
When the warrant first started circulating Friday, it was also initially obtained by Breitbart, regularly a right-wing cesspool of conspiracy theory and an outsized echo chamber for the former president and his allies. In its coverage Friday, the outlet published the name of the FBI agents who served the warrant and conducted the search.
According to Ben Collins, a reporter for NBC that covers the network’s disinformation and conspiracy beat, the “top comments on Trump forums” Friday were the former president’s supporters trying to track down the agents so they could become “helicopter passengers.”
That remark is a reference to how Chilean dictator Augusta Pinochet killed dissidents by hurling them out of helicopters in mid-air.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and former U.S. attorney, said on Twitter Friday that the inventory of materials taken from Mar-a-Lago confirmed his initial suspicions that Trump had failed to fully respond to requests for the documents numerous times before.
David Oddo, a former state prosecutor from New York and onetime president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, offered Daily Kos a similar theory earlier Friday. Oddo said talks between the DOJ and a defendant would start as “regular communications.”
“Usually, there is cooperation. If not, you go the subpoena route. All non-intrusive,” Oddo said.
Whitehouse opined that the FBI’s search warrant almost certainly arose because they had evidence that Trump had yet to fully comply with rules governing records sought after by the National Archives.
The search of Trump’s home this week was reportedly preceded by a secret grand jury subpoena for classified documents served to him in June. A federal prosecutor and three FBI agents held a meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Trump’s attorneys on June 3 to reportedly discuss boxes of records Trump took from the White House after his term was over.
The grand jury subpoena that preempted this visit had requested that Trump turn over any documents with classification labels as well as any other items he may have kept that should have been returned.
This was because when the National Archives had finally recovered 15 boxes of documents and other items Trump took from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, the agency confirmed it had also found some records inside of those boxes containing “classified national security information.”
The National Archives asked the Department of Justice to get involved thereafter, and by April, the Department of Justice had opened an investigation into the records.
At the June 3 meeting, Trump was not expected to be there. But according to his lawyer, Christina Bobb, he appeared abruptly, extended an offer to be cooperative, and encouraged agents to work with his legal team. Bobb’s disclosures have so far grossly undercut Trump’s insistence that the search was improper. To that end, Bobb acknowledged this to other outlets and said this week that a few days after the June 3 meeting, Jay Bratt, the FBI’s chief of counterintelligence and export control, contacted Trump’s office and asked that a layer of security—a padlock—be added to the room holding the documents.
Trump’s attorney Evan Corcoran told The Wall Street Journal they obliged on the padlock and even provided the FBI with surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago requested under a separate subpoena sent to the Trump Organization.
In the last 24 hours, citing anonymous sources, The Wall Street Journal and NBC have both reported investigators were encouraged to search the property because of a tip from someone familiar with where documents at Mar-a-Lago were held. This source also believed there may be additional classified records on Trump’s property.
According to the redacted warrant, agents believed classified, confidential, and top secret records were being held improperly at Mar-a-Lago. The FBI sought access to “the 45 Office” plus all of the storage rooms and “all other rooms or areas” that might be used to store records.
Not released on Friday was a copy of the probable cause affidavit. This was not expected to be released. Search warrant affidavits almost always remain permanently under seal unless charges are filed.
The probable cause affidavit is what Judge Reinhart relied on to approve the warrant.
It is exceedingly unlikely this affidavit will become public in Trump’s case any time soon since the Justice Department has already indicated it does not intend to release it just yet.
Its contents would elaborate on the criminal statutes at issue, and it would also potentially disclose information about grand jury subpoenas. It would also clearly detail how the department launched its probe into the classified records to start.
Trump’s supporters on Friday tried to play down the news that the twice-impeached president is now under investigation for violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction. Instead, many, including those at Breitbart, suggested meritlessly that the former president can effectively declassify any materials he so chooses at any time, rendering the FBI’s findings moot.
But that is not so, and further, even if Trump did have the power to mind-meld declassification without any outside input, the Espionage Act and all the other statutes cited on the warrant make clear: unlawful retention of documents related to the national defense—or their destruction—does not hinge on whether the documents are classified or declassified.
The classified materials Trump had at Mar-a-Lago were highly sensitive, according to The New York Times. Some of the records were labeled as items that fall under the “Special Access Programs” or SAP category. This is particularly elite access because it is reserved for only the highest ranking military officials and members of the intelligence community,
An SAP label would usually cover an item that contained very sensitive defense information about American weapons or weapons systems technologies, for example,
In a statement Friday, Trump’s spokesman Taylor Budowich slammed the search of Mar-a-Lago.
“The Biden administration is in obvious damage control after their botched raid where they seized the President’s picture books, a ‘handwritten note,’ and declassified documents,” Budowich said.
Again, however, it is not clear what—if any—items were declassified.
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