Some of the documents seized detail top secret US operations so closely watched that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, certain members of his cabinet or a An official close to the Cabinet could allow other government officials to know the details of these special access programs, according to people familiar with the research, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive details of an investigation in Classes.
Documents regarding these highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top secret clearance. Some special access programs may have only about 20 government personnel authorized to know of an operation. Files that deal with these programs are kept under lock and key, almost always in a secure information compartment, with a designated monitoring officer to keep a close eye on their location.
But such documents have been stored at Mar-a-Lago, with uncertain security, more than 18 months after Trump left the White House.
After months of trying, according to government court documents, the FBI has recovered more than 300 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago this year: 184 in a set of 15 boxes sent to the National Archives and Records Administration in January, 38 more turned over by a Trump lawyer to investigators in June, and more than 100 additional documents discovered in a search approved by the court on August 8.
It was in this latest batch of government secrets, people familiar with the matter said, that information about a foreign government’s readiness for nuclear defense was found. These people did not identify the foreign government in question, say where in Mar-a-Lago the document was found, or provide additional details about one of the Justice Department’s most sensitive national security investigations. .
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately comment. Spokespersons for the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is conducting a risk assessment to determine the potential harm caused by the removal from government custody of hundreds of classified documents.
The Washington Post previously reported that the FBI agents who searched Trump’s home were looking for, in part, for any classified document relating to nuclear weapons. After the story was published, Trump compared it on social media to a host of previous government investigations into his conduct. “The nuclear weapons issue is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax, two impeachments were a hoax, the Mueller investigation was a hoax, and much more. The same shady people involved,” he wrote, suggesting that FBI agents may have filed evidence against him.
A grand jury subpoena issued May 11 demanded the return of “all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or Donald J. Trump’s office bearing classification marks,” including “Top Secret” and the lesser “Secret” and “Confidential” categories.
The subpoena, issued to the custodian of Trump’s records, then listed more than two dozen document subclassifications, including “S/FRD,” an acronym for “Formerly Restricted Data,” which is reserved for information that primarily relates to the military use. of nuclear weapons. Despite the “formerly” in the title, the term does not mean that the information is no longer classified.
A person familiar with the Mar-a-Lago search said the goal of the comprehensive listing was to ensure the recovery of all classified documents on the property, not just those that investigators had reason to believe.
Investigators grew alarmed, according to a person familiar with the search, as they began examining documents recovered from the club’s storage closet, Trump’s residence and his office in August. The team quickly stumbled upon extremely restricted records, so much so that even some of the Biden administration’s top national security officials were not authorized to review them. A government filing alluded to this information when it noted that FBI counterintelligence agents and prosecutors investigating the Mar-a-Lago documents were initially barred from reviewing some of the documents. seized.
Among the more than 100 classified documents taken in August, some were labeled “HCS,” a category of highly classified government information that refers to “HUMINT control systems,” which are systems used to protect information collected from secret human sources, according to a court filing. A partially unsealed affidavit said documents found in boxes sent to the National Archives in January related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. There was also material which was never meant to be shared with foreign nations.
The investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, as well as the possible concealment, falsification or destruction of government documents, became even more complex on Monday when a Florida federal judge granted Trump’s request to appoint a special master to review material seized in the Aug. 8 search and weed out documents that may be covered by executive privilege — a legal standard that, as applied to former presidents, is ill-defined.
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon ruled that the special master will also sift through all of the nearly 13,000 documents and items the FBI has taken to identify those that may be protected by secrecy. professional lawyer, even although Justice Department lawyers said a “filter” team had already completed that task.
Cannon’s decision could slow and complicate the government’s criminal investigation, particularly if the Justice Department decides to appeal the unresolved and sensitive issues of what executive privilege a former president may have. The judge ruled that investigators could not “use” the seized material in their investigation until the special master had completed his examination.
A special master has not yet been named; Cannon asked Trump and the Justice Department to agree on a list of qualified candidates by Friday. Legal experts noted that the Justice Department can still interview witnesses, use other evidence and present information to a grand jury while the special master reviews seized material.
In his order, Cannon said the appointment of a special master was necessary “to provide at least the appearance of fairness and integrity in the extraordinary circumstances presented.”
She also opined that a special master could mitigate potential damage to Trump “through the inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” suggesting that knowledge or details of the case were detrimental to the former president and could be mitigated by inserting a special master into the document review process.
“Based on the applicant’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with entering the subject is unique,” Cannon wrote. “A future indictment, based in any degree on property that should be returned, would result in reputational damage of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”
While the FBI research has drawn strong condemnation from Trump and his Republican allies, who accuse the Justice Department of acting with political malice against a former president who may run for office again in 2024, some Republicans have said that action might have been necessary.
In an interview aired on Friday, Trump’s former attorney general William P. Barr said there was no reason why classified documents should have been at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left.