A heavily redacted affidavit supporting the FBI’s search this month of Mar-a-Lago was just released by a Florida federal judge.
The document confirms that federal law enforcement is investigating former President Trump’s possession of highly classified documents, and of presidential records, and of possible obstruction. Under the Presidential Records Act, all documents need to remain in federal custody regardless of classification level.
“There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the PREMISES,” the filing reads.
The filing — written by an unidentified FBI agent trained in “counterintelligence and espionage” — says that agents suspected Trump of hiding intelligence information relating to signals collection, human sources, and other top secret information.
That suspicion came out of the 15 boxes that Trump returned to the archives in January, the affidavit said. Agents discovered 184 “unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” per the affidavit.
That included markings referencing human sources, FISA, records to be kept away from foreign nationals, and signal intelligence.
“Several of the documents also contained what appears to be FPOTUS ‘s handwritten notes,” the filing reads. FPOTUS refers to the “Former President of the United States.”
The DOJ laid out a few important points about the investigation in the affidavit and a memo supporting the redactions. They are:
- Redactions needed to be made “to protect the safety of multiple civilian witnesses whose information was included throughout the affidavit”
- Agents are investigating potential obstruction of justice, violations of the Presidential Records Act, unlawful possession of national defense information, and damaging of government records
- Suggestions that agents have evidence of obstruction permeate the documents, with prosecutors saying that they have “well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed.”
Trump’s decision to take reams of records from the White House at the end of his administration — bringing on yet another criminal investigation of himself and those around him — is unprecedented in American history.
Public records and statements show that the National Archives spent more than one year from Trump’s departure in January 2021 trying fruitlessly to regain control of the records, all of which, under federal law, should have remained in government custody, regardless of classification. Trump refused, only handing over the 15 boxes — not a complete set of the records he had stashed away — in January 2022.
After NARA officials discovered classified information in those boxes, they referred the matter to the FBI. The affidavit cited a June 8 letter from federal prosecutors to Trump’s attorneys, demanding that they preserve records that were still held at Mar-a-Lago.
“As I previously indicated to you, Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information. As such, 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,” reads an excerpt of the letter included in the affidavit. “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 until further notice.”
Released portions of the affidavit specify both where in Mar-a-Lago the search was to be conducted and what agents were meant to seek.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart approved a search of Mar-a-Lago’s storage room, Trump’s “residential suite,” an area called Pine Hall, and another location only referred to as “45 Office,” along with anywhere else in the beachside club and home that “are not currently authorized locations for the storage of classified information or NDI.”
There, agents were to search for four categories of records: any documents or boxes with classification markings showing, any information or communications about moving classified or national defense information, any presidential records from Trump’s term, and any evidence of altering or destroying presidential records.
It’s a stunning example of both intransigence from Trump and the lengths to which the government was forced to go to investigate and retrieve the records. The raid on Mar-a-Lago was the first-ever search of a former president’s residence in a criminal matter.
And after years of investigations into Trump and his inner circle, this probe may have already come the closest to brushing up against the Donald.
The affidavit, though heavily redacted, offers snippets of the government’s timeline of the case.
One remaining mystery in the matter has been how, exactly, Trump transmitted the records from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. One paragraph in the affidavit, under a subhed titled “Boxes Containing Documents Were Transported from the White House to Mar-a-Lago,” cites a January 2021 CBS Miami article.
That story was titled “Moving Trucks Spotted at Mar-a-Lago,” and purportedly described two moving trucks at the club on Jan. 18, 2021.
NARA asked for the presidential records back on May 6, 2021, but didn’t get any until much, much later.
Fast forward to February 2022, when the National Archives — after one year of trying — had finally received one tranche of records from Trump, in the form of the 15 boxes of documents and other items.
On Feb. 9, the affidavit reads, a NARA official emailed the DOJ saying that it had found “a lot of classified records” in the boxes, remarking that “highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified.”
The FBI opened an investigation in February based on the referral.
As things heated up, Trump attorney Evan Corcoran sent a letter to DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt on May 25, which he demanded be included in any government motion before a judge regarding the case.
The letter, included by the DOJ as an attachment to the affidavit, observes that “public trust in government is low.”
“President Donald J. Trump is a leader of the Republican Party,” the letter reads. “The Department of Justice (DOJ), as part of the Executive Branch, is under the control of a President from the opposite party. It is critical, given that dynamic, that every effort is made to ensure that actions by DOJ that may touch upon the former President, or his close associates, do not involve politics.”
Corcoran makes the same point several other ways in the letter, all but saying explicitly that Trump will treat any overt move in the investigation as political.
But for Trump, who spent four years effectively immune from federal prosecution, who argued that he was also immune from criminal and congressional investigation, and who wielded the country’s federal law enforcement apparatus for his own ends, it’s as much a reflection of the power that’s ebbed away from him as it is an example of the kind of threat he’s willing to make.
Bratt, the counterintelligence official, complied with Corcoran’s request and included the letter in the search warrant application. It didn’t sway Judge Reinhart, who has spent the weeks after the search was conducted being harassed by Trump supporters.
Read the filing here: