The government has delivered the latest dramatic twist in the saga of the FBI, former President Trump and the documents he held at Mar-a-Lago.
A new filing released late Tuesday sheds more light on a case that exploded into public view when the former president’s Florida estate was raided on August 8.
The filing came in response to a request by Trump’s legal team for the courts to appoint a so-called special master to review seized documents.
Trump’s lawyers argue that investigators shouldn’t have unlimited access to everything taken, saying some items may contain inside information.
The government responded harshly. What are the main takeaways?
The alleged obstruction becomes clearer
It was already known that the Justice Department believed that three crimes could have been committed – potential violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction and unlawful destruction of official documents.
The new iron filings hammered hard at the obstructing element.
He noted that a May 2022 subpoena forced Trump to relinquish “all” documents bearing classified marks. The following month, Trump’s team produced recordings that supposedly complied with those conditions.
But the government claimed in the new filing that “the FBI has uncovered multiple sources of evidence” suggesting cooperation with the previous subpoena was “incomplete”.
Referring to the main storage room at Mar-a-Lago, the filing noted: “In particular, the government has developed evidence that a search limited to the storage room would not have uncovered all of the classified documents. in the places”.
“The government has also developed evidence that the government records were likely concealed and removed from storage and that efforts were likely made to impede the government investigation,” the filing adds.
Simply put, investigators suggest documents were moved to Mar-a-Lago to keep them out of government hands – at a time when the Trump team knew a criminal investigation was underway.
That, in itself, deepens the seriousness of the whole case – and makes it even clearer why a magistrate authorized the first-ever search of a former president’s home.
The filing also describes how the August 8 search uncovered more than 100 documents marked as classified.
FBI agents, he noted, were able to find such documents “within hours” – which he dryly added “seriously calls into question” the Trump team’s claim that it had previously performed a “diligent search” and waived all such Material.
A picture is worth a thousand words
The core government brief is 36 pages, with an additional 18 pages of attachments and annexes.
The most dramatic element is on the very last page – a photo, described as an “FBI redacted photograph of certain classified documents and cover pages recovered from a container in the Office of 45”, referring to Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago.
The photo, which immediately received widespread coverage on cable, is dramatic in part because of the messy scene it purports to capture.
It shows at least five folders or cover sheets, bearing bright yellow borders and the title in bold red letters, “Top Secret/SCI.” This label, the second half of which stands for “Sensitive Compartmented Information”, designates one of the highest levels of confidentiality.
The documents seem spread out on a carpet. Next to them is an open cardboard box, in which only a framed cover of Time magazine linked to Trump can be seen.
The suggestion is clear: that extremely sensitive documents have been kept alongside random memories of Trump’s days in the White House.
Perhaps because the photo is so arresting and the implication so powerful, some Trump allies reacted furiously to its publication.
Richard Grenell, who served as Acting Director of National Intelligence under Trump, tweeted: “The staged photo was reckless and unprofessional. Whoever did it and whoever approved his release should be fired.
One of the most sensitive questions surrounding the investigation is also one of the most intriguing: Are people in Trump’s inner circle cooperating with the feds? And, if so, who?
The plot mounts on the secret sources
The Justice Department has previously resisted disclosing its affidavit in support of a search warrant, in part on the grounds that the action could chill cooperation from current and future witnesses.
When the affidavit was released in redacted form last week on the orders of a judge, anything that might have provided clues in this regard was blacked out.
The new filing deepens the plot.
For example, the filing noted that at some point the FBI “developed evidence” that classified information was still at Mar-a-Lago and that the Trump team failed to acknowledge this fact.
A footnote added that “out of necessity…the government cannot publicly describe the sources of its evidence. especially while the investigation is ongoing.
A later reference alluded to “multiple sources of evidence.”
Of course, such evidence doesn’t necessarily come from household names in Trump’s circle, and media speculation about a fat “Mar-a-Lago mole” can prove hyperbolic.
But the feds are making it clear they’re getting cooperation from someone, somewhere near the president’s home.
Scathing response to claims of privilege
The dossier is above all a direct refutation of the Trump team’s claims about the need for a special master.
In short, Trump’s view is that an independent expert should decide whether whatever was seized was privileged.
But from the outset, the administration asserted that Trump lacked standing to seek the return of the presidential records “because those records do not belong to him.” He cites the Presidential Archives Act that these documents are the property of the government.
He later also noted that investigators have their own “privilege review team” – often known as a screening team. This is intended to serve a purpose similar to a Special Master, and he has already completed his work with the Mar-a-Lago documents.
The government was equally scathing that Trump could claim executive privilege — as opposed to attorney-client privilege — over any of the documents.
To do so, the government says, would be to suggest that a former president can “validly assert executive privilege against the executive branch itself.”
Summarizing its argument, the government said appointing a special petty officer “would do little or nothing to protect any legitimate interests” that Trump may have, while “impeding the government’s ongoing criminal investigation, as well as the intelligence community’s review of potential risks”. to national security. »
Trump hits back, but with few details
The former president took to his favorite social network, Truth Social, to denounce the investigation, and the FBI in general, early Wednesday.
In one post, he objected to the photographing of classified documents, saying the FBI “randomly threw documents on the floor (maybe claiming I did it!)”.
He also repeated his controversial claim that he “declassified!” all relevant records.
Trump’s claims will, of course, be amplified by his loyal supporters – but there are now questions about whether his support within the GOP will start to crumble, even as he mulls a presidential election in 2024.