- Document cites 184 classified documents Trump previously held
- The affidavit supported the August 8 FBI search of Trump’s home
- A redacted affidavit was released after news outlets were sued
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department revealed on Friday it was investigating former President Donald Trump for deleting White House records because he believed he was in possession of documents illegally, some of which involved intelligence gathering and clandestine human sources – some of the closest to America. held secrets.
The department released a heavily redacted affidavit that underpinned the FBI’s Aug. 8 extraordinary search of Trump’s Florida residence, during which officers seized 11 sets of classified documents, including some labeled “top secret” as documents that could pose a serious threat to national security if exposed.
In the affidavit, an unidentified FBI agent said the agency reviewed and identified 184 documents ‘bearing classification marks’ containing ‘national defense information’ after Trump returned 15 boxes of documents in January. wanted by the National Archives of the United States. Other documents in those boxes, according to the affidavit, bore handwritten notes from Trump.
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The search was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump unlawfully removed and retained documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the 2020 election to President Joe Biden and whether Trump attempted to hinder the investigation.
Trump, a Republican who is eyeing another presidential run in 2024, described the court-approved search of the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach as politically motivated, and on Friday described it again as a “break-in.” .
Documents released with the affidavit revealed that “a significant number of civilian witnesses” with knowledge of Trump’s actions after leaving office were assisting the investigation, a rare revelation.
The search was a significant escalation of one of many federal and state investigations Trump faces involving his time in office and in private matters.
The agent who drafted the affidavit wrote that after the FBI reviewed the documents Trump returned in January to the National Archives – the agency responsible for preserving government records – he had probable cause to believe that other documents were still inside Mar-a-Lago.
“There are also probable reasons to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the scene,” the officer added.
Other defense-related documents Trump had returned contained references to topics such as “underground human sources” who assist in US intelligence gathering, the affidavit showed, as well as details of how the nation conducts foreign surveillance and the information it has gathered using a law that established the US Domestic Surveillance Program.
The 32-page affidavit, a sworn statement outlining evidence that gave the Justice Department likely reason to ask a judge to approve a search warrant, was heavily redacted at the department’s request. Most of the pages had at least some parts blacked out. Some have completely died out. Six additional pages of documents were released with it.
The department had sought to keep the affidavit secret. But after the media sued to make it public, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the search warrant based on the affidavit, ordered a redacted version to be released on Thursday.
Trump complained on social media that the released affidavit had been “largely redacted” and demanded that Reinhart step down from the case, without giving any apparent basis. Trump’s legal team has not officially made such a request.
“Judge Bruce Reinhart should NEVER have authorized the burglary of my house,” Trump wrote.
BIDEN WEIGHS IN
Asked by reporters if it’s ever appropriate for a president to bring home classified documents, Biden said, “It depends on the document and it depends on the security” of the location.
Biden added that he had a “fully secure” site at his home and was taking home a copy of his daily intelligence briefing on Friday, but said those recordings would later be returned to the military.
The FBI agent said in the affidavit that a preliminary review in May of files the Archives had previously received from Trump found 184 “unique documents” labeled as classified – 67 marked “confidential”, 92 marked “secret”. and 25 marked “top secret”.
The newly released documents showed how Trump allies tried to claim he had declassified the records in question to minimize the investigation. The affidavit cites an article published in May by Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official who called “misleading” media reports about the National Archives identifying classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Brandon Fox, a former federal prosecutor now with law firm Jenner & Block, said the references to Trump’s claims about declassifying the documents are significant, even though much of the material is redacted.
“They likely point to evidence that the DOJ (Department of Justice) thinks it has showing that Mr. Trump did not declassify the documents,” Fox told Reuters.
On social media, Patel said the fact that his name was not redacted was proof of “politicization by the DOJ at its best.”
The newly released documents showed how Trump’s attorneys tried to downplay the department’s concerns about the records.
“Any attempt to impose criminal liability on a president or former president involving his actions regarding documents marked classified would involve serious constitutional separation of powers issues,” Trump attorney Evan Corcoran wrote in a letter. of May 25 to an official from the Ministry of Justice. .
“Beyond that, the primary criminal law that governs the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material does not apply to the president,” Corcoran added.
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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen, Mike Scarcella, Karen Freifeld, Richard Cowan, Alexandra Alper and Moira Warburton; Editing by Alistair Bell, Will Dunham and Scott Malone
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