The file shows, among other things, that the documents that may have been illegally misused in Mar-a-Lago contain some of America’s most sensitive secrets.
The FBI said there was likely “evidence of obstruction” and classified defense documents
The FBI told U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart that the search would likely find “evidence of obstruction” in addition to explaining to the court that there was “probable reason to believe” that classified national security material was improperly sent to “not -authorized” locations in Trump’s refuge.
“There is likely reason to believe that additional documents that contain classified (national defense information) or that are presidential documents subject to holds currently remain in (Mar-a-Lago),” the affidavit said. FBI. “There is also probable reason to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found in (Mar-a-Lago.)”
FBI found 184 classified documents from 15 boxes earlier this year
In May, when the FBI checked the 15 boxes that the National Archives retrieved from the Florida resort in January, it found “184 unique, classification-marked documents,” the affidavit said.
Among the materials were “67 documents marked CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked SECRET and 25 documents marked TOP SECRET,” the filing said.
The agent 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 education and experience, I know that documents classified at these levels generally contain “national defense information”.
The documents also included what appeared to be handwritten notes from the former president, the affidavit said.
New details on how the DOJ got involved with the documents faction in the first place
The FBI’s affidavit reveals new insights into how the investigation began. It started after a criminal referral from the National Archives, which was sent 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, photographs, miscellaneous prints, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential data and a lot of classified data.”
The Archives official said there was “significant concern” that “highly classified records…were mixed with other records” and were not being identified correctly.
Upon receiving this information, the DOJ and FBI launched a criminal investigation into the matter, leading to the June subpoena for classified material and the Mar-a-Lago house search earlier this month.
Editors keep obstruction evidence secret for the time being
An unedited subheading in the affidavit indicates the likely cause that the FBI had to believe there were documents containing classified defense intelligence and presidential records in Mar-a-Lago.
Most of the section that follows has been redacted, and the unedited subheading matches two of the criminal laws the affidavit cited at the outset.
But the third potential crime — obstruction — cited by the warrant material has no corresponding unedited subheading in the affidavit. The FBI should have explained to the court why it believed there was likely evidence of that Mar-a-Lago crime, so the absence of unedited details on that evidence indicates that part of the department is particularly sensitive to that aspect of his research is made public.
Alphabet soup shows high sensitivity of documents Trump took from White House
The affidavit used a handful of acronyms when describing the sensitivity of the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago earlier in the year. This alphabet soup is probably confusing to most Americans, but national security experts have said it reveals the horrific scale of this security breach.
Some of the classified documents Trump brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago contained markings for “HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN and SI,” according to the FBI’s affidavit.
“HCS” indicates that the material is about human resources, or spies, who often collaborate with the CIA. “FISA” refers to court-ordered surveillance for foreign intelligence gathering, including wiretapping. “ORCON” means that the document is so sensitive that the originator must approve any request to share it. “NOFORN” means that the material cannot be shared with foreign entities, even allies, without permission. “SI”, short for Special Intelligence, refers to signal interception, which is typically handled by the National Security Agency.
These sentences confirm what many feared — that the documents that may have been illegally misused in Mar-a-Lago contain some of America’s most sensitive secrets.
DOJ keeps details about involved personnel close to chest
The department said in its legal briefing justifying the memos that FBI personnel already identified as involved in the investigation had received “threats of violence from members of the public.”
The FBI told the judge that “[m]small but important” redactions in the affidavit were needed to “protect the safety of law enforcement.”
Even with the editorials, the affidavit revealed some information about the professional background of the FBI agent who submitted the affidavit. The affiant said they had been trained in “counter-espionage and espionage investigations” at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In court proceedings over whether to release the affidavit, the Justice Department has limited the number of known officials. The legal files in that dispute bear the signatures of just two DOJ attorneys: Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jay Bratt, the chief of counterintelligence for the DOJ’s National Security Division.
Bratt argued in front of the DOJ at the court hearing last week over the disclosure of the document — a remarkable choice given that there are plenty of other lower DOJ attorneys out there who would be equipped to argue the criminal proceeding issues at the heart of the dispute.
Trump team claims he could unilaterally release the documents that surfaced in court
In seeking the warrant, the FBI informed the judge that Trump’s team had claimed that Trump had “absolute authority to release documents.”
The affidavit quoted and attached a letter that Trump attorney Evan Corcoran sent the Justice Department in May — after the existence of the investigation publicly surfaced — in which he claimed Trump had such authority. As the affidavit noted, the letter instructed the DOJ to provide the letter to any court considering motions related to the investigation.
However, the rest of the section in the affidavit is classified, so it’s not clear why federal investigators cited Patel’s comments.
Since the FBI’s search, Trump has pointed to a Jan. 19, 2021 memo in which he released documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. However, there is no evidence that those materials were what the FBI was looking for when it searched Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
DOJ hoped to keep the document secret
It’s important to remember the process that led up to Friday’s blockbuster to unlock the affidavit.
Shortly after the Mar-a-Lago search, news outlets, including CNN, urged the judge to unlock 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 lawyers were unable to convince the court that the entire affidavit should be sealed. Instead, the prosecutors were tasked with drafting a version for the public with limited redactions that contained a surprisingly robust amount of information.
When DOJ argued that the entire affidavit should be sealed, the prosecutors argued that once all necessary redactions were made to the affidavit, it would no longer have any meaning that would serve the public interest of transparency.
What comes next in the Justice Department’s investigation is not clear. However, the documents released Friday state that a “significant number of civilian witnesses” have been involved so far.
When the FBI sought approval for the warrant, it told the court it intended to search the “45 Office” in Mar-a-Lago, as well as “all storage areas and any other rooms or areas within the property that are used or available for use by FPOTUS and its staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored, including any structures or buildings on the estate.”
The filing deadline is midnight Friday — less than 12 hours after the redacted affidavit was made public.
This story has been updated with additional details.