FBI agents seized ‘top secret’ papers at Trump’s home
As the dust settles from the initial shock of the FBI raid on the Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, the shock was replaced by concern as we learned that classified records recovered from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI were labeled “top secret”.
The public is learning more information after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorized the unprecedented search. A notice filed by the Justice Department to the U.S. District Court South District of Florida informed the judge that lawyers for Donald Trump did not object to the government’s motion to unseal the search warrant for Trump’s estate. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant, unsealed the warrant and property receipt Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter”.
Included in the release were property receipts, documents prepared by federal agents to specify what was taken during a search. They were unsealed and showed that the FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from the estate during their search. The seized records include some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. interests.
The warrant says federal agents were investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation, or removal of records and the destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations.
The search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home earlier this year. The Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.
In a statement earlier Friday, Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked. However, despite multiple requests from agencies, including the National Archives, to turn over presidential records in accordance with federal law, Trump kept possession of the documents.
While an incoming president generally has the power to declassify information, his authority ends as soon as he leaves office. It is unclear if any of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago have ever been declassified. In addition, when it comes to secrets dealing with our nuclear weapons programs, covert operations, operatives, and some data shared with allies, the power to declassify is limited.
The move by the justice department to speak out versus remaining silent, which is their normal response, was a result of the bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and the public was entitled to know the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home. “The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court.
In January, the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mara-Lago that Archives officials said should have been turned over when Trump left the White House. “The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” David S. Ferriero, then the archivist of the United States, said in a statement in February.
Trump had been resistant to giving over the records for months. It is unclear if the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation.