The FBI searched for documents that Trump accumulated for years, including on Russiagate

Donald Trump's FBI documents
Donald Trump’s cache of documents included some on Russiagate. Here, the former president arrives at the America First Policy Institute Agenda Summit in Washington, DC on July 26, 2022
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago last Monday was specifically aimed at recovering donald trumpPersonal ‘stash’ of hidden documents, two senior US intelligence officials say Newsweek.

To justify the unprecedented raid on the residence of a former president and to protect the source who exposed the existence of Trump’s private treasure, agents entered Trump’s residence under the pretense that they were looking for everything government documents, said an official who participated in the investigation. But the real target was this private reserve, which Justice Department officials feared Donald Trump was weaponizing.

“They collected everything that legitimately belonged to the US government, but the real target was those documents that Trump had been collecting since the beginning of his administration,” says the source, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.

The documents sought cover a variety of intelligence matters relevant to the former president, officials suggest, including documents that Trump says would exonerate him from any allegations of Russian collusion in 2016 or any other election-related charges.

When Trump left the White House in January 2021, many of the normal transition processes were not followed, including because the president would not admit he had lost the election or was leaving office. As a result, we now know, some 27 boxes of documents were shipped to Mar-a-Lago by mistake: official documents under US law, which the National Archives is supposed to handle and catalog.

Over the past 18 months, the Trump camp and the Archives have engaged in a back-and-forth that has resulted in the return of 15 boxes (and some additional documents). As recently as June 3, when FBI and Justice officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago to serve a Grand Jury subpoena for specific documents, those negotiations were largely cordial.

But during its investigation, the FBI and the justice system became aware of Trump’s private collection. As Newsweek previously reported, a confidential human source revealed that the former president has no plans to disclose that he is in possession of some of his own documents and has no intention of returning them.

Trump administration officials, including a former national security adviser John Bolton, described how the president routinely ripped out pages from intelligence reports or took documents of interest to him from his White House residence. Most of these documents had the potential to reveal the “sources and methods” of US intelligence, such as Newsweek reported.

The Washington Post reported that these documents dealt with nuclear weapons, adding on Tuesday: “Those familiar with the investigation did not provide additional details, such as whether the documents sought involved weapons belonging to the United States or another country”.

The two US officials with direct knowledge of the situation say Newsweek that while some of the intelligence documents may have dealt with nuclear weapons, that was not the primary focus. “Donald Trump kept documents that were of interest to him,” said one such official, “sometimes Iranian or North Korean nukes, sometimes Ukraine or Russia, some foreign leaders.” It wasn’t the topic itself that the justice was interested in because he feared Trump was “weaponizing” the information, including for personal gain, the official said.

“Trump was particularly interested in issues related to the Russian hoax and Deep State misdeeds,” a former Trump official said. Newsweek. “I think he felt, and I agree, that these are facts that the American people need to know.” The official said Trump may have planned to use them in a run for president in 2024.

Senior US government officials say it wasn’t necessarily the documents’ classification level or even their subject matter that investigators focused on.

“All official documents, regardless of their classification, must be returned to the Archives under the Presidential Archives Act,” one of the officials said. “And surely the FBI was going about their business recovering everything.”

But it’s fair to consider what was recovered at Mar-a-Lago as two separate sets of documents – those openly wanted under the Presidential Records Act and those that were part of Donald Trump’s stash.

“What we are talking about here are not just records that the Archives sought to satisfy under the provisions of the Act,” one of the officials said. “They were also looking for a number of documents that they considered to be more sensitive, but also documents that they believed the former president had no intention of returning.”

The decision to search Mar-a-Lago was prompted by fears that the documents could be misplaced as negotiations drag on, or that former President Trump could use them, revealing secrets or revealing sources and sources. intelligence methods (including agents on the US payroll or other secrets, such as what was electronically intercepted).

Trump said the FBI broke into his personal safe, apparently located in his office or bedroom, a claim the government has not confirmed. Both government sources agree that the private cache was located separately from the storage room that held the 11 sets of documents that made up the bulk of what the FBI recovered.

On Monday, the Justice Department returned three passports the FBI says they inadvertently seized during the search: a virtual admission that a Trump safe could have been the specific target, US officials say.

Also on Monday, in response to a Florida court filing by multiple news outlets requesting that the affidavit justifying the search be made public, the Justice Department said its release would jeopardize “an ongoing investigation into the law enforcement that involves national security”. “

The affidavit, the Justice Department said in its opposition to the unsealing, would reveal “very sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses being interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information that the law requires keeping under seal”.

Simply put, the affidavit reveals human sources (“witnesses”) and the possibility that “specific investigative techniques,” including information from the intelligence community about what they believed Donald Trump had, or on the surveillance of Mar-a-Lago, would be compromised.

“I know it’s hard for people to understand that the classification of documents was not the primary concern per se,” says one of the senior government officials. “It’s Donald Trump’s potential breach of law that’s the focus. That applies to the Records Act stuff. As for his private stash? I don’t know what that material is , but the judiciary was alarmed that Trump planned to keep his possession a secret.”

“People are too focused on sensitivity and not on the law,” laments the other official. It’s what they knew (or believed) of Donald Trump’s plans that prompted the search now. The official, who is convinced that the search was legally valid, wonders if it was the smartest decision. “We still have to unpack all these terms – nuclear, espionage, classified – for the public to understand. It will be tricky because the technical issues and details are actually extremely complicated.”

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