No matter where you stand on this topic, seeing the actual warrant is important to see to understand what is happening.
The release of a redacted affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home shed new light on the federal investigation into the handling of documents from his White House.
The previously sealed court filing – which was disclosed Friday in redacted form after a court fight launched by media companies, including CNN and other entities – went into previously unknown detail about the classified information found in boxes retrieved from Trump’s Florida resort in January. It also firmed up aspects of the timeline about how the investigation unfolded.
FBI said there was likely “evidence of obstruction” and classified defense documents
The FBI told US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart the search would likely find “evidence of obstruction” in addition to its explanation to the court that there was “probable cause to believe” that classified national security materials were improperly taken to “unauthorized” locations at Trump’s resort.
“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified (National Defense Information) or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at (Mar-a-Lago),” the FBI affidavit said. “There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at (Mar-a-Lago.)”
FBI found 184 classified documents from 15 boxes earlier this year
When the FBI reviewed in May the 15 boxes the National Archives retrieved from the Florida resort in January, it found “184 unique documents bearing classification marking,” the affidavit said.
Among the materials were “67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” according to the filing.
The agent who submitted the affidavit noted that there were markings on the documents with multiple classified compartmentalized controls, as he told the court that “[b]ased on my training and experience, I know that documents classified at these levels typically contain” national defense information.
Also, among the documents were what appeared to be handwritten notes by the former president, the affidavit said.
New details about how the DOJ got involved in the document fracas in the first place
The FBI affidavit reveals new insights into how the investigation began. It started after a criminal referral from the National Archives, which was sent to the Justice Department on February 9.
The Archives told the Justice Department that the boxes contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records, and “a lot of classified records.”
The Archives official said there was “significant concern” over the fact that “highly classified records were … intermixed with other records” and weren’t properly identified.
After receiving this information, the DOJ and FBI launched a criminal investigation into the matter, leading to the subpoena in June for classified material, and the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
Redactions keep obstruction evidence secret for now
One unredacted subhead in the affidavit cues up the probable cause the FBI had to believe that there were documents containing classified defense information and presidential records at Mar-a-Lago.
Most of the section that follows is redacted, and the unredacted subhead aligns with two of the criminal statutes the affidavit cited at the beginning.
But the third potential crime – obstruction – that was cited by the warrant materials does not have a corresponding unredacted subhead in the affidavit. The FBI would have had to provide the court its explanation of why it believed that there was likely evidence of that crime at Mar-a-Lago, so the absence of any unredacted details about that evidence signals that that part of department is particularly sensitive about that aspect of its investigation being made public.