Takeaways from the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit
The record shows, among other things, that the documents that may have been unlawfully mishandled at Mar-a-Lago contained some of the United States’ most sensitive secrets.
The FBI said there was likely ‘obstruction evidence’ and classified defense documents
The FBI told U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart the search would likely find ‘evidence of obstruction’ in addition to its explanation in court that there were ‘probable reasons to believe’ classified national security documents had been inappropriately taken to « unauthorized » places in Trump’s home. seaside resort.
“There are probable reasons to believe that additional documents that contain classified information (national defense information) or that are presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at (Mar-a-Lago)” , the FBI said under oath. « There are also probable reasons to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at (Mar-a-Lago.) »
The FBI found 184 classified documents in 15 boxes earlier this year
When the FBI in May examined the 15 boxes the National Archives recovered from the Florida resort town in January, it found « 184 unique documents bearing a classification mark, » the affidavit states.
Among the documents were « 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET, » according to the filing.
The officer who filed the affidavit noted that there were markings on the documents with multiple classified compartmentalized checks, as he told the court that « [b]From my training and experience, I know that documents classified at these levels usually contain « national defense information ».
Also, among the documents were what appeared to be handwritten notes from the former president, according to the affidavit.
New details on how the DOJ got involved in the docs smash in the first place
The FBI affidavit reveals new information about the start of the investigation. It started after a criminal referral from the National Archives, which was transmitted to the Ministry of Justice on February 9.
The Archives told the Justice Department that the boxes recovered in January contained « newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous printed matter, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post- presidential documents and numerous classified documents ».
The Archives official said there was « significant concern » that « highly classified documents were… mixed in with other documents » and not being properly identified.
After receiving this information, the DOJ and FBI launched a criminal investigation into the matter, leading to the subpoena in June for classified material, and the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. this.
Redactions keep evidence of obstruction secret for now
An unredacted caption of the affidavit indicates probable cause why the FBI must have believed there were documents containing classified defense information and presidential records at Mar-a-Lago.
Most of the section that follows is redacted, and the unredacted subtitle aligns with two of the criminal statutes cited by the affidavit at the beginning.
But the third potential crime – obstruction – that was cited by the warrant documents does not have a corresponding unredacted subheading in the affidavit. The FBI should have provided the court with its explanation of why it believed there was likely evidence of this crime at Mar-a-Lago, so the absence of unredacted details of this evidence indicates that this Part of the department is particularly sensitive about this aspect of its investigation being made public.
Alphabet soup shows high sensitivity of documents Trump took from White House
The affidavit used a handful of acronyms to describe the sensitivity of the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago earlier in the year. This alphabet soup is likely baffling to most Americans, but national security experts say it reveals the terrifying scale of this security breach.
Some of the classified documents Trump brought with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago contained marks for « HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN and SI, » according to the FBI affidavit.
« HCS » indicates that the material relates to human sources, or spies, who often work with the CIA. « FISA » refers to court-ordered surveillance for the collection of foreign intelligence, including wiretapping. « ORCON » means that the document is so sensitive that its author must approve any sharing request. « NOFORN » means that the material cannot be shared with any foreign entity, even allied, without authorization. « SI », short for Special Intelligence, relates to signal interceptions, which are usually handled by the National Security Agency.
These sentences confirm what many feared – that the documents that may have been illegally mishandled at Mar-a-Lago contained some of America’s most sensitive secrets.
DOJ keeps details of personnel involved close to chest
The department said in its legal filing justifying the memos that FBI personnel who had previously been identified as involved in the investigation received « threats of violence from members of the public. »
The FBI told the judge that « [m]minor but significant redactions » in the affidavit were necessary to « protect the safety of law enforcement personnel ».
Even with the redactions, the affidavit revealed information about the work history of the FBI agent who submitted the affidavit. The affiant said they were trained in « counterintelligence and espionage investigations » at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In the legal proceedings regarding the release of the affidavit, the Justice Department limited the number of its officials known to be involved. The legal documents in this dispute bear the signatures of only two DOJ attorneys: Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jay Bratt, the head of counterintelligence for the DOJ’s National Security Division.
Bratt argued for the DOJ during last week’s court hearing on the unsealing of the document — a notable choice, given that there are plenty of other lower-level DOJ attorneys who would have been equipped to argue the claims. criminal procedural issues that were at the heart of the dispute.
Trump team says it could unilaterally declassify documents were presented to judge
During the warrant application, the FBI informed the judge that Trump’s team had asserted that Trump had « absolute authority to declassify documents. »
The affidavit quoted, and included as an attachment, a letter from Trump’s lawyer, Evan Corcoran, sent to the Justice Department in May – after the existence of the investigation was made public – claiming that Trump had such authority. As the affidavit stated, the letter directed the DOJ to provide the letter to any court considering queries related to the investigation.
The rest of the affidavit section, however, is classified, so it’s unclear why federal investigators cited Patel’s comments.
Since the FBI search, Trump has pointed to a Jan. 19, 2021, memo in which he declassified documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. There is no evidence, however, that these documents were what the FBI was looking for when it searched Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
The DOJ hoped to keep the document secret
It is important to remember the process that led to the disclosure of the affidavit last Friday.
Shortly after the Mar-a-Lago raid, news outlets including CNN urged the judge to unseal the entire court file, to provide unprecedented transparency in an unprecedented investigation.
The Justice Department argued in court last week against releasing the affidavit, but its attorneys failed to convince the court that the entire affidavit should be kept under seal. Instead, prosecutors were asked to prepare a version for the public with limited redactions that contained a surprisingly strong amount of information.
When the DOJ argued that the entire affidavit should be kept under seal, prosecutors argued that once all necessary redactions were made to the affidavit, it would be devoid of any meaning that would serve the public interest. in terms of transparency.
The outcome of the Justice Department’s investigation is unclear. Documents released on Friday, however, say that so far it has involved a « significant number of civilian witnesses. »
When the FBI sought warrant approval, it told the court that it planned to search « office 45 » in Mar-a-Lago, as well as « all storage rooms and any other rooms or areas in premises used or available for use by FPOTUS and its personnel and in which boxes or documents may be stored, including any structures or buildings on the estate. »
The deadline for filing is midnight Friday – less than 12 hours after the public disclosure of the redacted affidavit.
This story has been updated with additional details.