The US Division of Justice says Trump papers contained materials about intelligence businesses and sources
- The document cites 184 secret documents Trump used to keep
- Affidavit substantiated FBI search of Trump’s home on Aug. 8
- The redacted affidavit was released after the media sued
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) – The US Justice Department said Friday it is investigating former President Donald Trump for removing White House records it believes he illegally possessed documents, including some pertaining to intelligence gathering and classified human sources — among America’s tightest secrets.
The department released a heavily redacted affidavit supporting the FBI’s extraordinary search of Trump’s Florida residence on Aug. 8, during which agents seized 11 sets of classified records, including some documents marked “top secret” that, if discovered, would have the could seriously jeopardize national security.
In the affidavit, an unidentified FBI agent said the agency reviewed and identified 184 documents with “classification marks” and “national defense information” after Trump returned 15 boxes of government records sought by the US National Archives in January. Other records in those boxes included handwritten notes by Trump, according to the affidavit.
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The search was part of a federal probe into whether Trump illegally 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 shut down the probe hinder.
Trump, a Republican who is considering another presidential bid in 2024, has called the court-authorized search of the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach politically motivated and again on Friday called it a “burglary.”
Documents released with the affidavit showed that “a significant number of civilian witnesses” who were aware of Trump’s actions after leaving office helped the investigation, a rare revelation.
The search was a significant escalation of one of several federal and state investigations Trump is facing that affect his time in office and in the private sector.
‘PROOF OF DISABILITY’
The agent who authored the affidavit wrote that after the FBI reviewed materials Trump returned to the National Archives — the agency responsible for keeping government records — in January, it likely had reason to believe that there were other documents in Mar-a-Lago.
“There is also probable reason to believe evidence of disability will be found at the site,” the agent added.
Other defense-related records Trump returned included references to topics such as “clandestine human sources” that help collect US intelligence, the affidavit showed, as well as details of how the nation conducts foreign surveillance and information it provides collected through a law establishing this US Domestic Surveillance Program.
The 32-page affidavit, an affidavit containing evidence that gave the Justice Department probable cause to ask a judge to authorize a search warrant, was heavily redacted at the Department’s request. Most pages had at least some parts blacked out. Some completely black. With that, a further six pages of documents were released.
The department had attempted to keep the affidavit secret. But after media organizations sued to make it public, US Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the search warrant based on the affidavit, on Thursday ordered a redacted version to be released.
Trump complained on social media that the released affidavit was “heavily edited” and urged Reinhart to withdraw from the case without providing any apparent basis. Trump’s legal team has not formally made such a request.
“Judge Bruce Reinhart should NEVER have allowed my home to be broken into,” Trump wrote.
BIDEN WEIGHS IN
Asked by reporters if it’s ever appropriate for a president to bring classified material home, Biden said, “It depends on the document and how secure” the place is.
Biden added that he had a “completely secure” location at his home and that he would take home a copy of his daily intelligence briefing on Friday, but said those records would later be returned to the military.
The FBI agent said in the affidavit that a preliminary review in May of records the archives had previously received from Trump found 184 “unique documents” marked as classified — 67 as “confidential,” 92 as “Secret” and 25 as “Top Secret”.
The newly released documents showed how Trump allies tried to claim he had declassified the records in question to downplay the investigation. The affidavit mentioned an article published in May by Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official, who called media reports of the National Archives identifying classified material at Mar-a-Lago as “misleading.”
Brandon Fox, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Jenner & Block, said the references to Trump’s claims about the documents’ release are significant, although much of the material has been redacted.
“They are likely showing evidence that the DOJ (Department of Justice) believes shows that Mr. Trump did not release the documents,” Fox told Reuters.
Taking to social media, Patel said the fact that his name wasn’t redacted was evidence of “DOJ politicization at its finest.”
The newly released documents showed Trump’s lawyers attempting to downplay the department’s concerns about the records.
“Any attempt to impose criminal liability on a president or former president for his actions in relation to classified documents would imply serious constitutional problems of separation of powers,” Trump attorney Evan Corcoran wrote in a May 25 letter to an official of the Ministry of Justice.
“In addition, the primary criminal statute governing the unauthorized removal and preservation 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; Edited by Alistair Bell, Will Dunham and Scott Malone
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