WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 (Reuters) – The US Department of Justice said Friday it was investigating former President Donald Trump for removing White House records because it believed he had illegally kept documents, including some related to the intelligence gathering by government and sources. most kept secrets in the country.
The heavily redacted affidavit on government documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, released Friday, contained some new details, though it revealed no major disclosures.
Nevertheless, the affidavit could help explain why the Justice Department has sought court approval for an Aug. 8 search of the Florida resort.
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The FBI search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump has faced since his tenure and in private affairs.
The former Republican president has suggested he may return to the White House. He described the search as politically motivated and on Friday he again described the court-approved search as a “burglary.”
The FBI’s action was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, and whether he was trying to obstruct the government’s investigation. .
According to the document released Friday, an unidentified FBI agent said the FBI reviewed and identified 184 documents “with classification marks” containing “national defense information” after Trump returned 15 boxes of government documents to the U.S. State Department in January. archive.
The agent who prepared the affidavit said that after the FBI looked at the first batch of documents, he believed there were likely reasons to believe there were more documents in Mar-a-Lago.
“There is also likely reason to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found in the property,” the officer added.
The Justice Department also said in a separate set of unsealed documents on Friday that it has “a significant number of civilian witnesses” aiding the investigation, a rare revelation for an investigation at such early stages.
Like many of the 32-page affidavits, many pages in those other unsealed documents were redacted as well.
Trump complained on social media Friday that the affidavit was “heavily redacted,” and he demanded that the judge in the case withdraw himself without giving any clear basis — a request Trump’s legal team has not formally filed with the court. .
“Judge Bruce Reinhart should NEVER have allowed the break-in to my house,” Trump wrote.
The data disclosed on Friday also revealed how Trump’s lawyers tried to convince the Justice Department not to launch a criminal investigation, arguing that Trump had the authority to release documents.
In one section, it references an article published in May by former Trump administration official Kash Patel who claimed media reports about the National Archives identifying classified material in Mar-a-Lago were “misleading” .
Brandon Fox, a former federal prosecutor now at Jenner and Block, said he believes the references to Trump’s claims about releasing the documents are significant, even though much of the material has been redacted.
“They are likely to indicate the evidence the DOJ believes it has that shows that Mr. Trump did not release the documents,” he told Reuters.
The newly released records also showed how Trump’s lawyers tried to downplay the Justice Department’s concerns about the records.
“Any attempt to hold criminally liable a president or former president involving his actions regarding documents marked as classified would imply serious constitutional separation of powers,” Trump attorney Evan Corcoran wrote in a May 25 letter. at the head of the Ministry of Justice. of counterintelligence.
“In addition, the primary criminal law statute governing the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or materials does not apply to the president,” he added.
The FBI agent said a preliminary review of the records received by the archives in the 15 boxes, conducted between May 16 and 18, found 184 “unique documents” labeled as classified. Of those, 67 were marked “confidential”, while 92 were marked “secret” and 25 were marked “top secret”.
Other defense-related documents include references to such things as confidential sources that help the United States gather intelligence, as well as details of how the US monitors foreign surveillance and information it has gathered using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – the law that regulates domestic country’s surveillance program.
The agent added that there was likely cause to search a number of rooms in Mar-a-Lago, including a storage room and Trump’s living suit, as well as “Pine Hall” and the “45 Office.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday’s documents underscore the panel’s need to obtain a two-pronged “damage assessment of any national security threat resulting from mishandling” the information.
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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen, Mike Scarcella, Karen Freifeld Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell
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