Former President Donald Trump took highly sensitive “national defense information” to his Mar-a-Lago resort, the affidavit said. File photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump took highly sensitive “national defense information” to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a redacted affidavit released by the DOJ on Friday.
The filing says officials had reason to believe that Trump did not hand over all of the government records he took with him from the White House in early 2021, and that the files were stored in places that were not formally approved for holding classified documents.
“Based on this investigation, I believe that the STORAGE ROOM, [the former president’s] residential suite, Pine Hall, the ‘45 Office,’ and other spaces within [Mar-a-Lago] are not currently authorized locations for the storage of classified information or [National Defense Information],” the sworn affidavit by an unidentified FBI special agent states.
The heavily redacted document lays out the justification for the controversial FBI search of Trump’s property earlier this month. No criminal charges have been filed yet against Trump, but the FBI has said it’s investigating possible crimes with serious penalties, including the Espionage Act.
The FBI’s investigation began with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, in February 2021 over concerns that Trump had taken “highly classified documents intermingled with other records” from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. A heavily redacted portion of the affidavit cites a CBS Miami article titled “Moving Trucks Spotted At Mar-a-Lago,” published a month prior, under a heading about how movers could be seen handling boxes of records at Trump’s club after he left office.
From May to December 2021, the FBI says, NARA repeatedly asked Trump to hand over records he wasn’t supposed to have. Eventually, in December, Trump’s representatives reported that “twelve boxes were found and ready for retrieval.” The FBI proceeded to sift through the material, which amounted to 15 total boxes.
In May of 2022, the FBI conducted a preliminary review of the contents of the 15 boxes and found over a hundred documents marked as classified, according to the affidavit.
The boxes contained “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET.”
Some included markings indicating sensitive information derived from human intelligence sources. Other files were marked with the acronym “FISA,” which refers to surveillance intelligence gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
On June 8, according to the affidavit, the Department of Justice sent Trump a letter reiterating that classified info couldn’t be stored at Mar-a-Lago.
“It appears that since the time classified documents were removed from the secure facilities at the White House and moved to Mar-a-Lago on or around January 20, 2021, they have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location,” the letter said.
“Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and 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,” the letter said.
The DOJ also references claims by former Trump administration official Kash Patel, who has claimed the ex-president “declassified the materials at issue.” The rebuttal to that claim is redacted, but experts have questioned whether a blanket declassification order is even legal, while other former White House officials have said flatly that it did not exist.
The hotly anticipated release of the affidavit follows weeks of high legal drama in Trumpworld. In addition to the Espionage Act, the FBI has indicated that it is probing potential obstruction of an investigation, and the removal or destruction of records.
Trump and his allies have blasted the FBI and Department of Justice for conducting the Mar-a-Lago search and raised warnings of potential payback when Republicans are back in power.
The DOJ initially resisted releasing any part of the affidavit, arguing that to protect the integrity of the investigation, the document would have to be so heavily redacted as to make the contents incomprehensible.
But Judge Bruce Reinhart, the South Florida magistrate judge who approved the subpoena for the FBI search and has continued to oversee the legal wrangling over the further release of information, said a redacted version should be released. The Department of Justice proposed edits that it said would protect cooperating witnesses and the future of the probe, and the judge approved the release of the document on Thursday.
In a memo filed with the affidavit, federal prosecutors told the court that some materials “must remain sealed to protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel.”
Prosecutors also noted an “increase in specific threats of violence to identified FBI agents, overall violent threats to FBI personnel, and the armed attack on the FBI office in Cincinnati,” which led to a gunman being killed after an hourslong standoff with police. The attacker in Cincinnati was active on Trump’s social media network and had posted a “call to arms” threatening to attack the FBI following the Mar-a-Lago search.
The complete, unredacted affidavit would reveal sensitive details about the Department of Justice’s unprecedented decision to search Trump’s resort.
Trump’s allies have demanded to see the full affidavit justifying the search, arguing that the document could show the feds had no good reason to search his property.