Aug 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Mar-a-Lago search warrant's clues


Mar-a-Lago. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The FBI seized documents from former President Trump's home that may have been kept in violation of the Espionage Act, as well as other federal laws, according to documents released yesterday.

Why it matters: The search related to highly sensitive documents that could carry national security concerns.

  • Trump on Friday afternoon said in a statement that "it was all declassified" and insisted that "they didn't need to 'seize' anything. They could have had it at anytime."
  • The Justice Department has rebutted those claims.

Driving the news: Affidavit B in the redacted search warrant materials made public on Friday called for seizure of "all physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of" 18 U.S. Code § 793, 2071, or 1519.c

  • That covers the Espionage Act as well as laws against removing government records or obstructing justice.
  • The search warrant described Mar-a-Lago as a 17-acre estate with 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms. The search applied to the "45 office" as well as storage rooms and other rooms used by the former president and his staff. It didn't cover private guest suites or other areas for third parties and not available to Trump or his staff.

What they're saying: "It doesn't matter if he was holding on to the information because he was using it as memorabilia or wanted to trade it for financial benefit" or whether his motives were "petty or corrupt," said Ryan Goodman, an NYU law school professor and former special counsel at the Department of Defense and founding co-editor of the Just Security online national security forum.

  • "That's why I think he's in very serious trouble," Goodman said. "If the Justice Department wanted to pursue a criminal case, based on the available information known to the public to date, they appear to have a very strong case."

But, but, but: The search — and the many boxes and binders seized — does not guarantee there will be an indictment, Goodman said.

  • Obtaining and securing the most sensitive documents may have been the overarching objective.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told Axios that "we should be careful" not to rush to conclusions because "there's still a whole lot we don't know."

  • Still, he said, a reference to the Espionage Act on a search warrant for the home of an ex-U.S. president "is really quite stunning."
  • "This is about more than just, ‘President Trump took some stuff home with him that he shouldn't have.’"

Details: The inventory shows the FBI removed 11 sets of classified information from the Trump property, including some marked as "top secret." Agents collected ...

  • "Various classified/TS/SCI documents" — referring to documents containing "top secret" or "sensitive compartmented information."
  • 21 boxes of "miscellaneous confidential documents," "miscellaneous secret documents" or "miscellaneous top secret documents."
  • The executive grant of clemency for Trump's associate Roger Stone, "Info re: President of France," a leatherbound box of documents, two binders of photos and a handwritten note.

What we're watching: The affidavit to support the search warrant was not included in the materials unsealed Friday. Its contents could reveal a great deal more about the circumstances and information behind the execution of the search and seizure.

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