WASHINGTON — Fourteen of the 15 boxes found at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate earlier this year contained documents with classification labels, including top secret, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday explaining the basis for the search of the property this month.
The 32-page affidavit, even in heavily redacted form, offers the most detailed description to date of government documents that are kept at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property long after he left the White House and reveals the seriousness of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally.
“The government is conducting a criminal investigation into the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, and the illegal concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit, seeking a judge’s authorization. for a warrant to search the property.
The affidavit provided no new details about the 11 sets of classified records discovered during the Aug. 8 search in Mar-a-Lago but instead refers to a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration removed from the home in January.
In those boxes, according to the affidavit, officials found 184 documents bearing classification labels, including 25 documents designated top secret. Agents who inspected the boxes found markings related to information provided by confidential human sources as well as information related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Taken together, the affidavit reveals additional details about an ongoing criminal investigation that resulted new legal danger for Trump just as he lays the groundwork for another presidential campaign. It also shows in full detail the volume of sensitive government documents that were stored at Mar-a-Lago instead of being turned over to the National Archives.
The FBI turned the affidavit, or affidavit, over to a judge so it could obtain a warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits usually contain vital investigative information, with agents setting out the rationale for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they are likely to find evidence of a potential crime there.
In a separate document released Friday, Justice Department officials explained that it was necessary to redact some of the information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation.”
Affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations, making Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s decision to release portions of them all the more striking.
Recognizing the extreme public interest in the investigation, Rinehart on Thursday ordered the department to make public a redacted version of the affidavit by Friday. The directive came hours after federal law enforcement officials released under seal the portions of the affidavit they wanted to keep secret while their investigation progressed.
Papers previously published show that the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified documents from the property, including information marked as Top Secret. They also show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of three federal laws, including one that governs the collection, transfer or loss of defense information under the Espionage Act. The other laws deal with the concealment, mutilation, or removal of records and the destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations.
It’s possible that the affidavit, especially in its unredacted form, could shed light on key unanswered questions, including why sensitive presidential documents — classified documents among them — were transported to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House and why Trump and his representatives have not released the entire tranche of materials to the National Archives and Records Administration despite repeated requests.
It may also offer additional details about negotiations between Trump and the FBI, including a subpoena issued last spring and a visit in June by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how materials are being stored.
The Justice Department previously disputed arguments by media organizations to make the affidavit public, saying any disclosure could contain private information about witnesses and investigative tactics. But Reinhart, acknowledging the extreme public interest in the investigation, said last week that he was reluctant to keep the entire document sealed and told federal officials to privately present him with the redactions he wanted to make.
In his order Thursday, Rinehart said the department had made a compelling case to keep sealed broad portions of the document that, if released, would reveal information to the grand jury; the identity of witnesses and “non-accused parties”; and details of the “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods” of the investigation.
But he also said he was satisfied “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 and are the least burdensome alternative to sealing the entire affidavit.’
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