WASHINGTON — Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate early this year contained documents with classification markings, including at the top secret level, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday explaining the justification for this month’s search of the property.
The 32-page affidavit, even in its heavily redacted form, offers the most detailed description to date of the government records being stored at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property long after he left the White House and reveals the gravity of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally.
“The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit in seeking a judge’s permission for a warrant to search the property.
This affidavit doesn’t provide any new information about the 11 sets classified records that were found during Aug. 8 searches at Mar-a-Lago, but rather focuses on a separate group of 15 boxes that National Archives and Records Administration took from the house in January.
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According to an affidavit by officials, they found 184 documents with classification markings in those boxes. This includes 25 top-secret documents. Inspections of the boxes revealed that markings had been placed on information from confidential sources and information related the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The affidavit, taken together, reveals more details about a criminal investigation that Trump is currently under. This comes as Trump prepares for another run for the presidency. The affidavit also shows the extent of the sensitive documents from government that were kept at Mar-a-Lago and not being given to the National Archives.
The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain the warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there.
In a separate document unsealed Friday, Justice Department officials explained that it was necessary to redact some information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Commonly, Affidavits are kept secret during investigations. This makes the Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s decision not to disclose portions of them all that much more remarkable.
Reinhart, in acknowledgment of extraordinary public interest regarding the investigation on Thursday, ordered that Friday’s redacted version be made public by the department. Hours after federal law enforcement officers had submitted the sections of the affidavit they wanted to keep confidential as the investigation progresses, Reinhart issued the directive.
The FBI has reportedly reclaimed 11 sets of classified documents from the property. These include information at the highest secret level. These documents also reveal that federal agents are looking into possible violations of three federal laws. One governs the gathering, transmission, or loss defense information under Section 202. They also address concealment of mutilation, removal, or destruction of records as well as alteration, falsification, or alteration to records that are part of federal investigations.
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It’s possible that the affidavit, particularly in its unredacted form, could shed light on key unanswered questions, including why sensitive presidential documents — classified documents, among them — were transported to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House and why Trump and his representatives did not supply the entire tranche of material to the National Archives and Records Administration despite repeated entreaties.
This could provide additional information on Trump’s back and forth with the FBI. It includes a subpoena issued to documents last spring and a June visit of FBI and Justice Department personnel to evaluate how materials were stored.
In an earlier dispute with media groups, the Justice Department said that it would not make the affidavit publicly. It claimed any publication could include private information on witnesses and investigative methods. Reinhart admitted that the investigation was of extraordinary public importance and requested federal officials submit the necessary redactions to Reinhart in private.
In his order Thursday, Reinhart said the department had made compelling arguments to leave sealed broad swaths of the document that, if disclosed, would reveal grand jury information; the identities of witnesses and “uncharged parties”; and details about the investigation’s “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods.”
But he also said he was satisfied “that the Government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”
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