WASHINGTON — The FBI recovered documents that were labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to court papers released Friday after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorized the unprecedented search this week.
The court has not sealed the property receipt. It shows FBI agents took 11 sets from the estate’s classified records during Monday’s search. Federal agents prepare the property receipt to indicate what items were taken in a search.
Some of the seized documents were classified or top-secret. However, the court records didn’t provide any specific information about documents or their contents.
In a statement Friday, Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents at his Florida club were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned over the documents to the Justice Department if asked.
Although incumbent presidents are able to declassify information after they retire from office, this authority expires and it is not known if any of the incriminating documents have been classified. Trump retained the documents, despite numerous requests by agencies including the National Archives to hand over records as required under federal law.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant unsealed the warrant and property receipt Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Trump backed the warrant’s “immediate” release. The Justice Department told the judge Friday afternoon that Trump’s lawyers did not object to the proposal to make it public.
In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents … I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
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Trump was granted at most some of those records by the government, however, he has declined to share them with his legal counsel.
The Justice Department’s request is striking because such documents traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the department appeared to recognize that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home.
“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday.
The warrant could reveal disturbing information about Trump, as well FBI scrutiny over his handling sensitive documents. In 2016, Trump frequently referenced an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s Democratic opponent. This was to determine if she had mishandled classified data.
The documents may not contain all the information requested. If the documents are publicized, it is also unclear if the documents will include an FBI affidavit which would likely provide a thorough factual basis for the search. In addition to requesting the removal of the warrant, the department also requested a property receipt listing all items seized and two other attachments.
Reinhart was asked by several news organisations to release the entire search results due to high public interest.
Federal authorities have to prove probable cause to believe that the crime has been committed in order to obtain a warrant for search. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home.
A person who is familiar with the case said that there had been substantial engagement between Trump and his representatives, prior to the search warrant. The subpoena was for records. Also, Mar-a-Lago officials visited Mar-a-Lago several months ago to check the condition of the documents. This person spoke only under condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the subject.
Trump and the FBI have not said anything regarding the FBI’s possible documents or the specific agents they were searching for.
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The FBI and Justice Department policies warn against talking about ongoing investigations to preserve the integrity of inquiries and avoid unfairly vilifying someone being examined but not charged. That’s especially true in the case of search warrants, where supporting court papers are routinely kept secret as the investigation proceeds.
In this case, though, Garland cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.
Garland’s Justice Department has not been open to making public statements regarding politically-charged investigations or confirming that it is investigating Trump in a wider probe into Trump’s Jan. 6 riot at Capitol and attempts to reverse the results of 2020 elections.
The department has tried to avoid being seen as injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Clinton regarding her handling of email — and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails.
The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year. After finding 15 boxes of classified documents in the records, the National Archives asked the department for an investigation. The handling of classified information is governed by multiple federal laws.
He also condemned the verbal abuses directed at FBI personnel and Justice Department staff over this search. Some Trump supporters have demanded that the FBI be disbanded. Many Trump supporters want the warrant released in hopes that it will prove Trump unfairly targeted.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.”
A body-armoured armed man tried to enter a security area at the FBI Ohio field office. After he fled, a struggle ensued with law enforcement and he was ultimately killed. According to a law enforcement official, Ricky Shiffer was identified as the suspect. He is thought to have been present in Washington during the period leading up to the attack and possibly even on that day.
Associated Press journalists Zeke Miller, Lindsay Whitehurst Meg KinnardContributed to the report.
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