The filing shows, among other things, that documents illegally mishandled at Mar-a-Lago contained some of America’s most sensitive secrets.
The FBI said there was “obstructive evidence” and classified defense documents
The FBI told U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt that the search would find “evidence of obstruction” and explain in court that there is “probable cause to believe” that classified national security material was improperly transported to an “unauthorized” location by Trump. Resort
“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that are classified (National Defense Information) or that are presidential records subject to record retention requirements are currently located at (Mar-a-Lago),” the FBI affidavit said. “(Mar-a-Lago.) There is also probable reason to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found here.”
The FBI found 184 classified documents in 15 boxes earlier this year
When the FBI reviewed 15 boxes obtained by the National Archives from a Florida resort in May, they found “184 unique documents marked classified,” the affidavit said.
The material included “67 documents marked as confidential, 92 documents marked as secret and 25 documents marked as top secret,” according to the filing.
The agent submitting the affidavit noted that the documents were marked with multiple classified departmental controls, as he told the court that “[b]In my training and experience, I know that documents classified at these levels typically contain “national defense information.
Also, the documents contained handwritten notes from the former president, the affidavit said.
New details on how the DOJ got involved in the document fracas in the first place
An FBI affidavit reveals new insights into how the investigation began. It began after a criminal referral from the National Archives, which was sent to the Department of Justice on February 9.
Archivists told the Justice Department that the boxes seized in January contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, various print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records, and many classified records.”
An archives official said there was “significant concern” over the fact that “highly classified records…were mixed in with other records” and not properly identified.
After receiving this information, the DOJ and FBI opened a criminal investigation into the matter, which led to a subpoena for classified material in June and a search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
Redactions keep the barrier evidence secret for now
An unredacted subtitle of the affidavit indicates probable cause that the FBI had to believe that Mar-a-Lago contained documents containing classified defense information and presidential records.
Much of what follows has been revised, and the uncorrected subheadings have been aligned with the two criminal statutes of the affidavit cited at the beginning.
But the third potential offense cited by the warrant material — obstruction — is not an unrelated subheading in the affidavit. The FBI would have had to convince a court why Mar-a-Lago was likely to contain evidence of that crime, so the lack of redacted details about that evidence suggests that part of the department is particularly sensitive. That aspect of his investigation is being made public.
Alphabet Soup shows the high sensitivity of Trump’s White House docs
The affidavit used a handful of acronyms to describe the sensitivity of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago earlier in the year. This alphabet soup is confusing to most Americans, but national security experts say it reveals the terrifying scope of this security breach.
Some of the classified documents Trump brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago are marked for “HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN and SI,” according to the FBI affidavit.
“HCS” indicates that the material is about human sources, or spies, who usually work with the CIA. “FISA” refers to court-ordered surveillance that collects foreign intelligence, including wiretaps. “ORCON” means that a document is so sensitive that its originator must approve any request to share it. “NOFORN” means content may not be shared with any foreign entities, even affiliates, without permission. “SI”, short for Special Intelligence, deals with signal interception, which is typically handled by the National Security Agency.
The sentences confirm what many feared — that documents illegally mishandled at Mar-a-Lago contained some of America’s most sensitive secrets.
The DOJ keeps details of the personnel involved close to the chest
The department said in its legal brief justifying the memo that FBI employees who had already been identified as involved in the investigation had “received threats of violence from members of the public.”
The FBI told the judge that “[m]”Inner but important” amendments to the affidavit were necessary to “protect the safety of law enforcement personnel.”
As with affidavits, an affidavit discloses some information about the professional background of the FBI agent who submitted the affidavit. The person said he was trained in “counterintelligence and espionage investigations” at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In court proceedings surrounding whether to release affidavits, the Justice Department has limited the number of its officers. Legal filings in that dispute bear the signatures of only two DOJ attorneys: Juan Antonio Gonzalez, US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jay Bratt, head of counterintelligence for the DOJ’s National Security Division.
Bratt argued for the DOJ at a court hearing last week on unsealing the documents — a notable choice, since there are many lower-level DOJ lawyers who would have been prepared to argue the criminal procedure questions at the center of the dispute.
The Trump team claims it can unilaterally declassify the docs it has revealed to judges
In seeking the warrant, the FBI informed the judge that Trump’s team claimed that Trump had “absolute authority to declassify the documents.”
The affidavit cited, and included as an attachment, a letter from Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran to the Justice Department in May — after the existence of the investigation became public — asserting that Trump had such authority. As noted in the affidavit, the letter instructed the DOJ to provide the letter to any court considering motions related to the investigation.
The rest of the affidavit, however, is classified, so it’s unclear why federal investigators quoted Patel’s comments.
Since the FBI discovery, Trump has pointed to a January 19, 2021 memo in which he declassified documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. However, there is no evidence that the material was what the FBI was looking for when it searched Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
The DOJ expected the documents to remain secret
It’s important to remember the process that led to the unsealing of Friday’s blockbuster affidavit.
In the immediate aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago discovery, news outlets including CNN urged a judge to unseal the entire court record to provide unprecedented transparency in the unprecedented investigation.
The Justice Department argued in court last week against releasing the affidavit, but its attorneys failed to convince the court that the entire affidavit should be kept under seal. Instead, prosecutors were asked to produce a version for the public with limited revisions that contained surprisingly strong information.
While the DOJ was arguing that the entire affidavit should be kept under seal, prosecutors contended that once the affidavit has all the necessary redactions, there is no sense that transparency would serve the public interest.
It’s unclear what comes next in the Justice Department’s investigation. However, the filing released Friday said that so far it has “included a large number of civilian witnesses.”
When the FBI sought approval for the warrant, it told the court that it planned to search “45 offices” at Mar-a-Lago as well as “all storage rooms, and all other rooms or spaces used or available on the premises. Used by the FPOTUS and his staff and Boxes or documents may be stored with all structures or buildings on the estate.”
The filing deadline is midnight Friday — less than 12 hours after the amended affidavit was made public.
This story has been updated with additional details.