The redacted affidavit used by FBI agents to obtain a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home has been unsealed, revealing more details about what the Justice Department knew about government records at Trump’s home before the research.
According to the 38-page document, which was released by order of US Judge Bruce Rinehart on Friday, FBI agents who reviewed the contents of the boxes recovered from Trump in January 2021 found “184 unique documents marked classification, including 67 documents marked CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked CONFIDENTIAL and 25 documents marked TOP SECRET’.
The Justice Department said it was concerned that documents held at Mar-a-Lago could compromise “undercover human sources” in intelligence gathering.
The unidentified FBI agent who signed the affidavit also said that among the boxes were documents bearing Mr. Trump’s handwriting.
The agent wrote that the Justice Department’s counsel sent a letter on June 8 to Mr. Trump’s lawyer to inform him that Mar-a-Lago “does not include a secure location authorized to store classified information” and asked them to secure the room where the boxes of documents were stored.
The next day, Mr. Trump’s lawyer responded to acknowledge receipt of the letter.
In a memo in support of keeping the extensive redactions to the document intact, the Justice Department said it was necessary to shield the details of the affidavit from public view to protect “the many citizen witnesses whose information was included throughout the affidavit ».
The government disclosed that it had received information from a “wide range of citizen witnesses” whose identities had to be protected because they might be subject to retaliation or intimidation or harassment by Trump supporters, including threats to their lives or safety.
“FBI agents who have been publicly identified in connection with this investigation have received repeated threats of violence from members of the public. Disclosure of the witnesses’ identities would likely erode their confidence in the government’s investigation and would almost certainly deter other potential witnesses from coming forward in this and other investigations,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors added that the government has “legitimate concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation” if too much information about the investigation’s strategy becomes known.
Judge Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to provide the redacted affidavit after a coalition of news organizations and a conservative group argued that intense public interest in the search of a former president’s home justified the release, though prosecutors successfully persuaded him to allow them to black out sections of the document that could reveal “identities of witnesses, law enforcement officials and unwarranted parties” or “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods” related to the ongoing investigation into how the highly classified documents ended up in Mr. Trump holding beyond his time in office.
He also asked the department to add corrections to protect juror information required to be protected under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Specifically, Mr. Trump did not agree to the request and did not take a position on whether the affidavit should be unsealed in whole or in part, although the former president and his lawyers have requested that the identities of the witnesses be released. The former president’s camp previously leaked an unredacted copy of the search warrant and affidavit obtained by his lawyers following the FBI probe that named several FBI agents involved, prompting several Trump allies to release allegedly personal information about agents on social media.
In an order Monday directing the department to submit the proposed redactions, the judge said concerns about possible witness intimidation “are not hypothetical in this case,” citing the flood of threats received by FBI agents and officials since the Mr. Trump announced that his property was searched.
“Given the public notoriety and controversy surrounding this investigation, it is likely that even witnesses not specifically named in the affidavit will be quickly and widely identified through social media and other communication channels, which could lead to harassment and bullying them. He wrote.
The probe into Trump’s assets was the latest chapter in what has emerged as a long-running dispute over the former president’s retention of documents from his former administration.
FBI agents under the supervision of prosecutors from the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control division swore out the affidavit when they applied for a search warrant for the former president’s home and office on Aug. 5.
At a press conference several days after the investigation, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he “personally” signed off on the decision to seek a warrant, which came after talks between his attorneys, the department and officials with the National Archives and Archives broke down. Administration for federal records that Trump took from the White House when he left office on January 20, 2021.
According to a May 2021 letter reported by the Washington Post, Nara chief counsel Gary Stern said Mr. Trump had collected about 24 boxes of documents — official presidential records that by law belong to the U.S. government — at the White House residence. during his term of office.
Stern wrote that the boxes at issue “had not been transferred to NARA” when Trump left office despite a ruling by then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone that the documents Trump had collected belonged in the archives.
The missing records, which Mr Trump had sent to his Mar-a-Lago home – the Palm Beach mansion turned private club where he maintains his primary residence and government-sponsored post-presidential office – were the subject of long negotiations between the former president and the government he once led.
Mr. Trump eventually agreed to hand over about 15 boxes of records to Nara in January 2022, a full year after his term ends along with his legal ability to own any presidential records.
But the transfer of those 15 boxes raised even more unresolved questions after Nara officials discovered that many of the papers inside bore markings indicating they were highly classified, with some files so sensitive they are usually stored and handled in specialized rooms. built to government security specifications known as Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.
In February 2022, Nara officials informed the Justice Department that they had recovered classified documents from among the boxes recovered from Mr. Trump. The department then opened an investigation and asked Nara for access to the boxes so that FBI and Intelligence Community officials could review the documents.
The affidavit reveals that Nara’s subpoena informed the Justice Department that the boxes recovered from Mar-a-Lago contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photographs, miscellaneous printouts, memos, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records and “many classified records” and noted that the classified documents were “unfolded, mixed with other records and otherwise inappropriate [sic] identified”.
The agent wrote that this development was “the most important concern” for Nara.
According to a May 2022 letter from United States Deputy Archivist Debra Wall to Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran, the White House Counsel’s Office asked Nara to provide the FBI with access to the boxes. Under the Presidential Records Act, the current President must give consent for anyone to have access to the presidential records of a recently departed administration and must also consult with the former president whose records are to be accessed.
Ms Wall wrote that the files in question included “100 classified documents, consisting of more than 700 pages” with some documents bearing markings indicating “the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) material.”
The May 2022 letter, which was made public by a conservative journalist who is also one of Mr. Trump’s official representatives in Nara, shows that Trump’s lawyers resisted giving consent to the FBI’s review of the documents. They tried to invoke executive privilege — a legal doctrine that protects conversations between and among a president and his advisers — to block the FBI from seeing the records.
But Ms. Wall, citing advice from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, said there was no basis for Mr. Trump to block the FBI from seeing the documents using executive privilege because the FBI is part of the executive branch.
“The question in this case is not a narrow one,” he wrote. “The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to the Federal Government itself and in custody, not only to investigate whether those records were handled in an illegal manner but also, as the Department of Homeland Security explained, ‘to conduct an assessment of the potential damages resulting from the obvious manner of storage and transportation of these materials and take the necessary remedial measures.’
The following month, a team of Justice Department officials — including the head of the department’s counterintelligence branch — visited Mar-a-Lago in hopes of persuading Trump to return more of the documents, which he kept in a first-floor room. . of Mar-a-Lago.
A department official later emailed Trump’s lawyers asking them to add an extra lock to the facility, but within weeks the department applied for a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s home.
The warrant authorized them to seize “all physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, proceeds of crime, or other items illegally possessed” in violation of several sections of the US criminal code dealing with the illegal possession of national defense information and the obstruction of justice.
It also directed agents to take possession of “classified physical documents, together with any containers/boxes (including any other contents) in which such documents are located” and information “relating to the retrieval, storage or transmission of national defense information or classified material,” along with any records created during Mr. Trump’s tenure and “evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or presidential record or any classified documents.”