WASHINGTON– A newly released FBI document is helping flesh out the contours of an investigation into classified material at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. But many questions remain, largely because half of the affidavit detailing the FBI’s reasons for searching the property was redacted.
This document, filed by the FBI to obtain a search warrant for Trump’s winter quarters, provides new details about the scope and top-secret nature of what was found from Mar-a-Lago in January. It shows how Justice Department officials had raised concerns months before the search that closely guarded government secrets were being illegally stored, and before returning in August with a court-approved warrant and finding even more classified records at the property.
All of this raises the question of whether a crime was committed and, if so, by whom. Answers may not come as quickly.
A department official this month described the investigation as in its early stages and indicated more work is ahead as investigators review the documents they removed and continue to interview witnesses. At the very least, the probe provides a political distraction for Trump as he lays the groundwork for a possible presidential bid.
Then there is the obvious legal hazard.
A look at what’s coming next:
WHAT IS THE FBI INVESTING?
None of the government legal filings released to date name Trump — or anyone else — as a potential target of the investigation. But the arrest warrant and accompanying affidavit make it clear that the investigation is active and criminal in nature.
The department is investigating possible violations of several laws, including an espionage law governing the collection, transmission or loss of national defense information. The other statutes deal with the mutilation and removal of records, and the destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations.
The investigation began quietly with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which in January collected 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago – 14 of which contained classified information. In all, according to the FBI affidavit, officials found 184 documents with classification marks, including some that suggested they contained information from highly sensitive human sources. Several appeared to have had handwritten notes from Trump, the affidavit said.
The FBI has spent months investigating how the White House documents got to Mar-a-Lago and whether there may be other classified records on the property. The bureau has also attempted to identify the person or persons “who may have removed or kept classified information without authorization and/or in an unauthorized location,” the affidavit said.
So far, the FBI has interviewed a “significant number of civilian witnesses” and is asking them for “further information,” according to a Justice Department letter released Friday. The FBI has not identified all “potential Confederate criminals, nor found all evidence related to its investigations.”
WILL ANYONE BE CHARGED?
It’s hard to say at this point. To obtain a search warrant, federal agents must convince a judge that there is evidence of crime at the location they want to search.
However, search warrants are not an automatic harbinger of criminal prosecution and certainly not a signal of imminent indictment.
The laws in question are crimes punishable by imprisonment.
A law involving the misuse of national defense information has been used in recent years in the prosecution of a government contractor who stashed reams of sensitive records at his Maryland home (he was sentenced to nine years in prison) and a National Security agent Agency who transmitted classified information to someone who was not authorized to receive it (case pending).
Attorney General Merrick Garland has not disclosed his position on the matter. When asked about Trump last month in connection with a separate investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots, he replied that “no one is above the law.”
WHAT DID TRUMP ARGUMENT?
Trump, enraged by the investigation into the records, issued a statement Friday saying that he and his team had worked with the Justice Department and that its representatives “GAVE THEM A LOT.”
That contradicts what the Trump team said in the affidavit, and the fact that the FBI search went ahead despite warnings months ago that the documents were not being properly kept and that there was no safe place for them anywhere in Mar-a-Lago give.
A letter released as part of the affidavit predicts the arguments the Trump legal team plans to make as the investigation unfolds. The May 25 letter from Attorney M. Evan Corcoran to Jay Bratt, the Justice Department’s director of counterintelligence, articulates a solid, expansive view of executive power.
Corcoran claimed it is a “fundamental principle” that a president has absolute authority to declassify documents — although he doesn’t actually say Trump has done so. He also said the primary law governing misuse of classified information does not apply to the president.
The law he cited in the letter was not among those the affidavit suggests the Justice Department is basing its investigation on. And in a footnote to the affidavit, an FBI agent noted that the Defense Information Act does not use the term classified information.
WHAT DID THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION SAY?
The White House has been particularly cautious about the investigation, and officials have repeatedly said they would let the Justice Department do its job.
Responding to a question this week about whether the government would conduct a damage assessment on the sensitive secrets at Mar-a-Lago, national security spokesman John Kirby replied that he didn’t want to get ahead of the FBI.
President Joe Biden appeared Friday to poke fun at the idea that Trump could have just declassified all the documents in his possession, telling reporters, “I just want you to know that I’ve declassified everything in the world.” I’m president, I can – c’mon!”
He then said he would “let the Justice Department take care of it.”
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://6abc.com/donald-trump-fbi-documents-mar-a-lago-whats-next/12172147/ Trump search: What may come next in inquiry with legal peril