The Memo: Trump’s narrative takes a big hit with the release of the affidavit

One of former President Trump’s key claims about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago is undermined by the release of a key affidavit on Friday.

Trump pushed the narrative that he and his attorneys were cooperating with Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations into documents from his time in the White House. That, he claims, means the Aug. 8 raid on his Florida property was gratuitous.

But the affidavit that persuaded a judge to grant the search warrant tells a different story.

Even in heavily redacted form, the affidavit highlights that there was a protracted process of about seven months in 2021 before Trump’s team coughed up any documents.

He gives a far less friendly account than Team Trump of the events of June of this year.

The former president and his allies, for example, described an affable visit to Mar-a-Lago by senior DOJ official Jay Bratt and three FBI agents on June 3. According to a Trump legal filing earlier this week, one of the FBI agents, having seen the storage room in which certain documents were kept, allegedly said, “Now everything makes sense.”

The same Trump filing refers to a June 8 letter in which the DOJ “requested, in relevant part, that the storage room be secured” — a request that would have been implicitly met when Trump told staff to put a second lock on the door.

In contrast, the DOJ affidavit cites a letter dated the same day — presumably the same letter — reiterating to a Trump lawyer that there was no “authorized secure location for the storage of classified information” at the compound. .

The letter makes it clear that the DOJ’s request was not a blanket security check, but a request to “preserve” the storage room in its “present state until further notice” – wording that sounds much more like a investigating a possible crime scene than a friendly chat about padlocks.

The filing also includes, as an exhibit, a May 2022 letter from Trump attorney Evan Corcoran to Bratt, the head of the counterintelligence section of the DOJ’s National Security Division.

In the letter, Corcoran argues that presidents have “absolute authority to declassify documents” and that, in any event, no president can be prosecuted for “actions involving classified documents.”

These claims are controversial and, again, strike a different tone from what Trump and his allies have sought to portray.

Put it all together and the effect on Trump’s preferred narrative of the investigation seems stark.

“It blows it up,” Harry Litman told this column.

Litman, a former U.S. attorney and assistant deputy attorney general, focused on various delays on Trump’s side as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and then the DOJ searched for missing documents.

The affidavit requesting the search warrant, Litman said, “is at the end of an infuriating and very protracted procrastination on their part that would never be tolerated by any other citizen.”

The argument that Trump simply declassified all relevant documents also drew the sharpest comment yet from President Biden, who had previously sought to distance himself from the investigation.

“I declassified everything in the world. I am president, I can do anything! Biden sarcastically told reporters at the White House on Friday shortly after the affidavit became public. “Let’s go!”

Meanwhile, a footnote in the affidavit made it clear that the classification status of the documents in question would not materially affect at least one of the possible crimes under investigation.

Trump, characteristically, goes all out on his claims that he is being abused for political reasons during the raid.

He argued in a Truth Social article on Friday that the judge handling the case, Bruce Reinhart, “should NEVER have allowed the burglary of my house.”

He further alleged that Reinhart harbored “animosity and hatred” towards him.

Yet even deploying his usual combative rhetoric, Trump still insisted that his side had had “a close working relationship regarding the rotation of documents.”

It is impossible to reconcile this claim with the FBI’s assertion in the affidavit that investigators had “probable reason to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found” during a search at Mar-a-Lago.

The bureau’s reasons for this claim remain mysterious, however, given the numerous redactions from the 32-page affidavit.

In a related document also released on Friday, the DOJ claimed the redactions were necessary because of the imperative to “protect the safety of multiple civilian witnesses” in the burgeoning case.

The department further argued that “the government has well-founded concerns that action could be taken to thwart or otherwise impede this investigation if facts contained in the affidavit are disclosed prematurely.”

Yet the leaked information brought a new level of granular detail into the public domain.

In particular, he revealed that of the 15 boxes that were recovered from Mar-a-Lago about a year after Trump’s departure, 14 contained classified information.

In total, according to the affidavit, there were 184 such documents, of which 67 were marked as confidential, 92 of which were marked as secret and 25 of which were marked as top secret.

These details alone baffle experts in the field.

“While we don’t know what this information relates to, by its very definition it could conceivably threaten the lives of individuals,” said Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer.

Zaid pointed out that it is not yet clear that Trump himself is the target of the criminal investigation, only that investigators believe evidence of a crime could be found at Mar-a-Lago.

Even so, he warned, “I believe, based on the affidavit, that the danger facing one or more individuals continues to increase.”

“I don’t know who these people are,” he added. “It could be Mar-a-Lago staff, it could be the president, it could be his lawyers.”

The Memo is a column reported by Niall Stanage.

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