Takeaways from the unsealed Mar-a-Lago search affidavit
The Justice Department on Friday released an FBI affidavit justifying an unprecedented search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. While the released document is highly redacted, with many of its 32 pages crossed out, it includes new details about a trove of sensitive and highly classified information stored in the former president’s Florida waterfront home, underscoring the administration’s scrutiny of its safety.
Here are the main elements of what the document revealed:
Trump stores ‘a lot’ of classified material at his club
While the affidavit did not provide new details about the 11 sets of classified records recovered by the FBI during a search of Trump’s winter home on Aug. 8, it did help explain why the Justice Department deemed it necessary to retrieve the outstanding documents.
Federal investigators knew months before the search that Trump had been storing top-secret government records at Mar-a-Lago, a private club that not only Trump, his staff and his family could use, but also Also available to paying members and their guests, there is also a revolving door for those attending a variety of events, including weddings, paid political fundraisers and charity galas.
The affidavit states that the Mar-a-Lago storage area, Trump’s office, his residential suite and other areas of the club where documents are suspected of still holding documents are not authorized locations for storing classified information. In fact, it notes that, at least since the end of Trump’s term, Mar-a-Lago has not had any space authorized to store classified information.
However, 14 of the 15 boxes recovered from Trump’s home by the National Archives and Records Administration in January contained classified documents, affidavits show. Inside, they found 184 classified documents, with 67 classified as classified, 92 classified and 25 classified.
After an initial review of the boxes, the Archives referred the matter to the Justice Department on Feb. 9 and found what they called “a large number of classified records.”
Records include top intelligence secrets
Agents inspecting the boxes found special markings that indicated they contained information from highly sensitive human sources or electronic “signals” authorized by courts to collect under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The affidavit lists several marks, including ORCON or “Originator Controlled”. That means the intelligence agency officials responsible for the report do not want to distribute it to other agencies without permission.
There may be other types of records whose classification names or codewords are still redacted.
“When things are at that classification level, it’s because there’s a real danger to the person collecting the information or the capabilities,” said Douglas London, a former senior CIA official who wrote a book about the agency, “Recruiters. ” “
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to calls from Congress for a damage assessment. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement renewing his call for a briefing.
“Among the mishandled documents at Mar-a-Lago appears to be our most sensitive intelligence, according to the affidavit unsealed this morning,” Warner said.
Classified records mixed with other files
Some of the classified records were mixed with other documents, the affidavit cited a letter from the archives.
The boxes contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photographs, miscellaneous printouts, notes, presidential letters, personal and post-presidency records, and a ‘large number of classified records,'” according to the director of the Archives’ White House Liaison Office. “Some of them contained what appeared to be Trump’s handwritten notes.
The bottom line: “Highly classified records were unrolled, intermingled with other records, and otherwise improperly (sic) identified.”
The president may receive raw intelligence reports to supplement his briefings or to report on emergencies or matters of critical importance, said David Price, a former CIA official and White House briefer who wrote the President’s Daily’s report. history. briefly.
But he said “it is unusual, if not unprecedented, for the president to keep it and mix it with other documents.”
“Even though I was prepared for it because I knew a judge would not grant a search based on petty matters, the breadth and depth of the careless handling of classified information is truly astounding,” Price said.
Trump has had multiple opportunities to return documents
The affidavit once again made clear that Trump had numerous opportunities to return the documents to the administration, but simply chose not to.
The long process of retrieving documents has essentially begun since Trump left the White House. The document states that on or about May 6, 2021, the Archives made a request for lost records “and continued to make requests until approximately late December 2021,” when it was told that 12 boxes had been found and were ready to be removed from the archives. When the club takes it back.
The affidavit made clear that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation not only involved the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces and the possible unlawful concealment or removal of government records, but said investigators “may believe there is evidence of obstruction” that would found in their search.
In a letter included in the press release, Trump’s lawyers argued to the Justice Department that the president has “absolute” authority to declassify documents, claiming his “unrestricted constitutional-based document classification and declassification authority.” Trump has provided no evidence that Mar-a-Lago documents were declassified before he left Washington.
Trump says he ‘did nothing wrong’
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Trump has long maintained that he cooperates fully with administration officials and has full authority to obtain the documents on the spot. On his social media site, he responded to the unblocking by continuing to discredit law enforcement.
He called it “a PR ruse by the FBI and DOJ” and said “we gave them a lot.” In another article, he offered just two words: “Witch Hunt!!!”
In an interview with Lou Dobbs on “The Great American Show” Thursday, he said he did nothing wrong.
“This is a political attack on our country and a disgrace,” he added. “It’s a shame.”
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.