Federal agents removed top-secret documents as they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant released Friday.
FBI agents seized a total of 11 sets of documents, including some marked “classified/TS/SCI” – short for “top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information,” according to an inventory of materials seized during the search. Information categorized in this way is only intended to be viewed in a secure government facility.
It was the latest stunning revelation in the series of investigations that revolved around his attempts to maintain power after his election loss, his business practices and, in this case, his handling of government material he took with him when he left the White House.
The results of the search showed that material classified as closely guarded national secrets was kept in an unsecured resort club, Mar-a-Lago, owned and occupied by a former president who has long shown disdain for the careful handling of secrets. information.
The documents released Friday also made clear for the first time the seriousness of the potential crimes under investigation in an investigation that has led to Justice and FBI convictions by prominent Republicans and fueled the anger of Mr. presidential president of 2024. candidate.
In total, agents collected five sets of top-secret documents, three sets of classified documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. The FBI agents also seized files pertaining to the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material about President Emmanuel Macron of France — along with more than a dozen boxes that were sold alone. number were labeled.
The disclosure of the search warrant and inventory revealed what was at stake in the clash between a Justice Department, which said it intends to enforce federal law at the highest level, and a former president whose norm-breaking behavior under more consists of displaying one’s own view of material that legally belongs to the government.
It’s not clear why Mr. Trump apparently chose to stick with materials that would ignite another legal firestorm around him. But last year, he told close associates that he considered some presidential documents to be his own personal property. Speaking about his friendly correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said, “They are mine,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.
Although the inventory of the FBI’s materials seized at Mar-a-Lago indicated that numerous files had markings such as “top secret,” Mr. Trump said Friday he had released all the material. Presidents have far-reaching powers to release documents, although such markings are normally removed.
More coverage of the FBI search into Trump’s home
But even if Mr. Trump released the information before he left office, none of the three possible crimes listed by the department in its search for the warrant depends on whether a mishandled document was considered classified.
The order said the agents would search for material while investigating possible violations of the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized retention of defense-related information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary — a standard previously passed by Congress. written the establishment of the modern classification system.
It also cited a federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or hide a document to hinder a government investigation, and another statute that prohibits the unlawful taking or destruction of government records or documents.
The existence of a search warrant does not mean that the Justice Department has decided to prosecute someone. Mr Trump has repeatedly said he has done nothing wrong.
A federal court in Florida unlocked the search warrant and inventory Friday after a request from the Department of Justice a day earlier to make them public. Portions of the warrant and associated inventory were previously reported in The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times also secured them before being unsealed.
The warrant appears to have given agents wide latitude in seeking out materials believed to have been improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago, granting access to “the 45 office” and “all storage areas and any other rooms or spaces.” ” on site that may be used to store documents.
The most informative and sensitive document – the Justice Department’s application for the warrant, which most likely contained an affidavit describing the evidence that convinced a judge that there were likely reasons to believe that a search would reveal evidence of crimes find – was not among the documents that the ministry asked to unseal. It’s unlikely to go public anytime soon, if at all.
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The documents offered few answers to several fundamental questions about the day-long search, including its timing. It took place after months of negotiations between the department and the former president’s lawyers.
The investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act represents a previously unknown and potentially significant dimension of an investigation launched by the National Archives.
The law contains several provisions that may apply to Mr Trump’s case, especially if it is later determined that he was grossly negligent in storing the material, or knew that the information he possessed could harm American interests and yet refused to return it to investigators, said Mary McCord, a former top official with the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“We are talking about highly classified documents that could seriously damage US national security, including by favoring foreign agents,” said Ms. McCord, now the executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
The unsealing of the search warrant helped to understand what is known about why, on the advice of the National Security Division, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland felt compelled to search the former president’s home.
The search was conducted as part of the government’s effort to recover documents that one person on the matter said was linked to some of the United States’ most secretive programs.
The individual told The Times that investigators had been concerned about material containing some of what the government calls “special access programs,” a designation typically reserved for extremely sensitive operations conducted by the United States abroad or for closely occupied technologies and capabilities .
The Washington Post reported that some of that material may have been related to classified documents “related to nuclear weapons,” which could be part of the designation of special access programs.
In January, Mr. Trump handed over 15 boxes of material to the National Archives that he had mistakenly taken with him when he left office. The archives then identified classified material in the boxes and referred the case to the Justice Department, which later convened a grand jury.
But as the results of Monday’s search appeared to show, other government material remained in Mar-a-Lago. Why Mr. Trump did not return it along with the 15 boxes he gave to the archives in January is not clear. But at some point, the Justice Department learned of it, and it issued a subpoena this spring demanding the return of some materials.
The existence of the subpoena suggests the department tried methods to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending unannounced FBI agents to Mar-a-Lago.
Jay Bratt, the department’s top counterintelligence officer, traveled to Mar-a-Lago with a small group of other federal officials in early June.
There they met with Mr. Trump’s attorney Evan Corcoran and investigated a basement storage room where the former president had stored material brought with him from the White House. Mr. Bratt then emailed Mr. Corcoran, telling him to further secure the documents in the storage area with a stronger padlock.
Subsequently, federal investigators subpoenaed surveillance footage from the club, which could have given officials a glimpse of who was coming in and out of the storage area, according to a person with knowledge of the case.
During the same period, investigators were in touch with a number of Mr. Trump’s aides who had some knowledge of how he stored and moved documents in the White House and who were still working for him, three people familiar with the events said.
According to one person familiar with the investigation, at least one witness provided investigators with information that led them to further press Mr. Trump for material.
Federal officials began to believe this summer that Mr Trump had not left behind all of the material the White House left with him at the end of his tenure, according to three people familiar with the investigation.
Last Friday, the Department of Justice applied for the search warrant. Early Monday morning, FBI agents arrived in Mar-a-Lago.
Katie Benner reporting contributed.