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Affidavit used in Trump Mar-a-Lago search warrant made public

Lengthy but heavily redacted, the affidavit explains why the FBI believed Trump was improperly holding onto classified documents at his South Florida resort home.

(CN) — The FBI raided Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal investigation opened by the FBI after former President Donald Trump produced 15 boxes of missing presidential records earlier this year, the U.S. government revealed Friday, complying with a court order to publish its basis for the search.

Black redaction marks obscure huge swaths of the 38-page search warrant affidavit, including the name of the FBI agent who authored it.

Among its justifications for conducting the search at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's South Florida resort home, the agent said that investigators hoped to identify any person who “may have removed or retained classified information without authorization and/or in an unauthorized space."

The disclosure Friday follows the leak earlier this week of a May 10 letter from the National Archives to Trump’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, which discussed "ongoing communications” between the agency and Trump’s representatives that occurred throughout 2021 “about what appeared to be missing Presidential records, which resulted in the transfer of 15 boxes of records to NARA in January 2022.” 

The archives said it alerted the Department of Justice, spurring the criminal investigation at issue, after it found more than 100 classified documents in the 15 boxes. With permission from President Joe Biden, the FBI in turn took custody of the boxes so that it and others "in the Intelligence Community could examine them.”  

As revealed Friday in a public portion of the FBI's affidavit, those 15 boxes yielded a total of 184 classified documents, including 67 marked as “CONFIDENTIAL,” 92 marked as “SECRET,” and 25 marked as “TOP SECRET.” Several also contained “what appears to be [Trump’s] handwritten notes.” 

The agent goes on to describe the discovery “documents bearing classification markings, which appear to contain National Defense Information (NDI), were among the materials … stored at the [premises] in an unauthorized location.” 

“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified NDI or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain,” the affidavit states. “There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.” 

The bureau said it specifically hoped to find out whether the 45th president’s 17-acre estate contained “authorized locations for the storage of classified information,” and whether “any additional classified documents or records may have been stored in an unauthorized location ... and whether they remain.” 

"Among other things," the affidavit states, the FBI is trying to "determine how the documents with classification markings and records … came to be stored at Mar-a-Lago."

Back on June 8, according to the affidavit, Department of Justice attorneys told Trump’s counsel in a letter that Mar-a-Lago “does not include a secure location authorized for storage of classified information.”  

The letter described the removal of classified documents from secure facilities at the White House to Mar-a-Lago on or around Jan. 20, 2021, the last day of Trump’s term. Department of Justice attorneys asked Trump’s counsel to secure the room where the documents had been stored and to make sure “that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.” 

In a footnote, the FBI pointed out that Section 793 of the Espionage Act, “does not use the term ‘classified information' but rather criminalizes the unlawful retention of ‘information relating to the national defense.’ The statute does not define ‘information related to the national defense,’ but courts have construed it broadly.” 

After the mention of the June 8 letter in the affidavit, the next several pages are redacted. It is not clear whether Trump’s counsel secured the room as instructed. 

The document resumes with the FBI stating that “based upon this investigation,” the unnamed agent who penned the affidavit believes the storage room, Trump’s residential suite, Pine Hall, the "45 Office" and other spaces at Trump’s estate “are not currently authorized” to store classified or national defense information. Nor does the agent believe “any spaces” have been authorized for such storage — at least since the end of Trump’s term on Jan. 20, 2021. 

There is probable cause to believe that locations to be searched at the former president’s home “contain evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed,” the affidavit states. 

In defense of keeping the affidavit sealed, the agent called such protection necessary to avoid jeopardizing the bureau’s ongoing investigation. The affidavit notes that the FBI “has not yet identified all potential criminal confederates nor located all evidence related to its investigation.” 

Trump, for his part, did not contest the effort to unseal the affidavit and has criticized the raid as a “political witch hunt,” insisting he verbally “declassified” the sensitive documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago.  

In a statement on Friday, Trump emphasized that the “heavily redacted” affidavit did not mention “our close working relationship regarding document turnover — WE GAVE THEM MUCH.”

As for the judge who signed the affidavit, Trump says U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart “should NEVER have allowed the Break-In of my home.” 

Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, attended arguments before Judge Reinhart last week in the Southern District of Florida, but she did so as a spectator, telling ABC News she had no plans to file or argue anything.  

Although Trump did not oppose unsealing the search warrant materials, his counsel filed a motion earlier this week to block the FBI from reviewing classified documents seized during the August raid until a third-party special master is appointed to independently oversee the FBI review. Trump says this is necessary “to protect the integrity of privileged documents.”  

The 27-page motion for judicial oversight claims that the FBI’s August raid on Trump’s resort home violated the Fourth Amendment and that government officials refuse to give the former president any reasoning for the “unprecedented” search.  

Because the seized documents were “created during his term as President,” Trump’s counsel argues they are “’presumptively privileged’ until proven otherwise.’”  

While the Archives resisted Trump’s privilege claims over the January materials, the August materials are not necessarily considered equal.  

Ruling from the bench last week, Judge Reinhart gave the government until Thursday afternoon to submit proposed redactions and to outline justification for what the department wants to keep hidden from the public.

After reviewing the redactions, Reinhart issued a 2-page order finding 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.”

The redactions, Reinhart wrote, are “the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit.”

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