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A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s residence and private club in Mar-a-Lago last month, related to the matter Familiar People, underscoring U.S. Secret Service officials’ concerns about classified material hidden at the Florida property.
Some of the documents seized describe top-secret US operations that are so closely guarded that many top national security officials remain ignorant. According to people familiar with the search, who spoke on condition of anonymity to sensitively describe, only the president, some members of his cabinet, or an official at near-cabinet level could authorize other government officials to know details about these programs with special access details one ongoing investigation.
Documents relating to such top-secret operations require special approvals on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret approvals. In some special access programs, only a few dozen government employees may be authorized to know of the existence of an operation. Records dealing with such programs are kept under lock and key, almost always in a secure, segregated information facility, with a designated control officer carefully monitoring their location.
But such documents have been kept in Mar-a-Lago with uncertain security more than 18 months after Trump left the White House.
Deep in bustling Mar-a-Lago, a storeroom where secrets were kept
After months of trying, the FBI has seized more than 300 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago this year, according to government court records: 184 in a set of 15 boxes that were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration in January, and 38 others were found handed over to investigators by a Trump attorney in June, and more than 100 other documents were unearthed in a court-authorized search Aug. 8.
In this latest batch of government secrets, people familiar with the matter said, the information on a foreign government’s nuclear defense readiness was found. These people have not identified the foreign government in question, say where in Mar-a-Lago the document was found, or offer additional details about one of the Justice Department’s most sensitive national security investigations.
A Trump spokesman initially did not comment. Justice Department and FBI spokesmen declined to comment.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is conducting a risk assessment to determine how much potential damage has resulted from the removal of hundreds of classified documents from government custody.
Trump and the Mar-a-Lago Documents: A Timeline
The Washington Post previously reported that FBI agents who searched Trump’s home were partly looking for classified documents related to nuclear weapons. After this story was published, Trump took to social media to compare it to a variety of previous government investigations into his behavior. “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 so much more. Same shoddy people involved,” he wrote, further suggesting that FBI agents may have planted evidence against him.
A grand jury subpoena issued May 11 required the return of “any document or writing in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the office of Donald J. Trump that bears non-disclosure markings,” including “Strictly Secret” and fewer “Secret” and “Confidential” categories.
The subpoena, issued to Trump’s records clerk, then listed more than two dozen document subclassifications, including “S/FRD,” an acronym for “Formerly Restricted Data,” reserved for information primarily related to 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 list is to ensure all classified records at the property are recovered, and not just those that investigators had reason to believe were they could be there.
According to a person familiar with the search, investigators were alerted when they began reviewing documents found in August from the club’s storage closet, Trump’s home and his office. The team soon encountered records that are extremely restricted, so much so that even some of the top national security officials in the Biden administration did not have the authority to review them. A government filing alluded to this information when it noted that FBI counterintelligence agents and prosecutors examining the Mar-a-Lago documents were initially not authorized to review some of the seized material.
FBI search in Mar-a-Lago follows months of resistance, delay by Trump
Among the more than 100 classified documents extracted 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 which come from secret human sources, according to a court filing. A partially unsealed affidavit said documents found in the boxes sent to the National Archives in January related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. There was also material that should never be shared with foreign nations.
Investigating the possible misuse of classified information and the possible hiding, tampering, or destruction of government records became even more complex Monday when a Florida federal judge granted Trump’s request to appoint a special master to review materials seized in August. 8 Searching and sorting out documents that may fall under executive privileges – a legal standard that is poorly defined as applied to former presidents.
US 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 took to identify those who may be protected by attorney-client privilege, though the attorneys of the Justice Department said a “filter” The team has already completed this task.
Cannon’s ruling could slow and complicate the government’s criminal investigation, especially if the Justice Department decides to appeal unresolved and thorny issues about what executive privileges a former president might have. The judge ruled that investigators should not “use” the seized material in their investigation until the special foreman completed his investigation.
A special master has yet to be appointed; Cannon has 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 question witnesses, use other evidence, and provide information to a grand jury while the special master examines the seized material.
In her order, Cannon said the appointment of a special master was necessary “to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity in the extraordinary circumstances at hand.”
The Justice Department filing points to a new legal threat to Trump and his attorneys
She also argued that a special master could mitigate potential harm to Trump “through improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” suggesting the knowledge or details of the case were harmful to the former president and would be diminished by inserting a special report could master the document review process.
“Because of plaintiff’s previous position as President of the United States, the stigma attached to the seizure is in a league of its own,” Cannon wrote. “Any future indictment based in any way on property intended to be returned would result in reputational damage on a whole different scale.”
While the FBI search has been strongly condemned by Trump and his Republican allies, who are accusing the Justice Department of using political malice against a former president who may run for office again in 2024, some Republicans have said the action may have been necessary would.
In an interview that aired Friday, former Trump Attorney General William P. Barr said there was no reason classified documents should have been in Mar-a-Lago after Trump left office.
“People are saying this is unprecedented,” Barr told Fox News. “But it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put it in a country club, okay?”