WASHINGTON – The stunning FBI raid on Donald Trump’s palatial Florida home was triggered by a review of 15 boxes of records previously surrendered by the former US president that contained top secret information — including about human intelligence sources.
The FBI, in the affidavit used to justify the August 8 raid of Mar-a-Lago, said it was conducting a criminal investigation into “improper removal and storage of classified information” and “unlawful concealment of government records.”
The heavily-redacted FBI affidavit released on Friday laid out the grounds for the authorization by a Florida judge of an unprecedented raid on the home of a former president, a move which ignited a political firestorm in a bitterly divided nation.
The Republican Trump, who is weighing another White House run in 2024, accused the Justice Department under Democratic President Joe Biden of conducting a “witch hunt” and said the judge “should never have allowed the Break-in of my home.”
According to the affidavit, the FBI opened the investigation after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received 15 boxes of records in January 2022 that had been improperly removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago.
It said sensitive National Defense Information was among the records recovered including 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 as secret and 25 as top secret.
Among the documents was intelligence information received from “clandestine human sources” a classification which can include spies and informants and is among the most tightly-held of government secrets.
“Highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records and otherwise unproperly identified,” according to the affidavit. “Several of the documents also contained what appears to be (Trump’s) handwritten notes.”
In June, according to the affidavit, the Justice Department informed a Trump lawyer that Mar-a-Lago was “not authorized to store classified information.”
When they raided Trump’s estate in Palm Beach two months later, FBI agents seized a further stash of documents marked “Top Secret,” “Secret” and “Confidential.”
In a May 25, 2022 letter to the Justice Department released along with the affidavit, a lawyer for Trump said classified information may have been “unknowingly included among the boxes brought to Mar-a-Lago by the movers.”
The lawyer, Evan Corcoran, said Trump had “readily and voluntarily” cooperated with NARA’s request that records be returned and that said any investigation should not “involve politics.”
Corcoran asserted that a president has the “absolute authority to declassify documents” and the “criminal statute that governs the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material does not apply to the president.”
Government lawyers had opposed the release of the affidavit but the judge ordered it unsealed with redactions the Justice Department said were necessary to protect an ongoing investigation involving national security.
The redactions in the 38-page affidavit included, for example, the removal of the names of what the Justice Department said were a “significant number of civilian witnesses.”
“If witnesses’ identities are exposed, they could be subjected to harms including retaliation, intimidation, or harassment, and even threats to their physical safety,” the Justice Department said.
The search warrant, which was personally approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, authorized the FBI to search the “45 office” — a reference to the 45th US president’s private office at Mar-a-Lago — and storage rooms
It said the probe was related to “willful retention of national defense information,” an offense that falls under the Espionage Act, and potential “obstruction of a federal investigation.”
In addition to investigations in New York into his business practices, Trump faces legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election, and for the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump was impeached for a historic second time by the House of Representatives after the Capitol riot — he was charged with inciting an insurrection — but was acquitted by the Senate. –AFP