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DOJ releases redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit: What does it say?

The FBI released an affidavit outlining the cause for search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Here’s what it says

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Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s estate.

Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are photographed on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to make public a redacted version of the affidavit it relied on when federal agents searched Trump’s estate to look for classified documents.

Jon Elswick, Associated Press

On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice released a partially redacted affidavit that revealed some of the FBI’s reasoning for conducting a search of Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

Trump claims that the search on his home was uncalled for, and requested that the FBI make public its reason for the search. A judge granted Trump’s request and gave the DOJ a deadline of noon EDT on Friday to release the affidavit, the Deseret News previously reported. Here’s what the affidavit says.

What’s in the affidavit?

The FBI stated the search on Mar-a-Lago would be with the purpose of accomplishing four main goals:

  1. “Determine how the documents with classification markings and records were removed from the White House (or any other authorized location(s) for the storage of classified materials) and came to be stored at (Mar-a-Lago).”
  2. “Determine whether the storage location(s) at (Mar-a-Lago) were authorized locations for the storage of classified information.”
  3. “Determine whether any additional classified documents or records may have been stored in an unauthorized location at (Mar-a-Lago) or another unknown location, and whether they remain at any such location.”
  4. “Identify any person(s) who may have removed or retained classified information without authorization and/or in an unauthorized space.”

What was in the boxes of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago?

The affidavit stated that upon review of the 15 boxes of documents taken from Trump’s home, there were “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET.”

The boxes also contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records, and ‘a lot of classified records.’”

Cause for search

The affidavit states that the search was related to a “criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of” government records.

The FBI believed that upon searching Trump’s home, it would find “highly classified documents” that were improperly moved from the White House due to the Federal Records Act.

Based on their findings in February, they also believed they would find evidence of obstruction of documents in the home.

National security concerns

The affidavit said that the documents taken from Trump’s house “appear to contain National Defense Information.” The document stated that the FBI believed that there would be more documents of this nature at the premises.

Some documents found at the premises were sensitive, including information relating to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These documents typically contain information relating to national security.

Redacted for witness and officer safety

Large portions of the 36-page document are redacted. A briefing by the DOJ states that this was done to protect the safety of FBI officers, civilians, witnesses and others involved in the search.

“‘(A)t the pre-indictment stage, the Government’s need to conceal the scope and direction of its investigation, as well as its investigative sources and methods, is at its zenith’... Counsel for the Intervenors have also acknowledged that certain portions of the affidavit must likely remain under seal to protect information such as witness identities and investigative sources and methods.”

Trump’s defense

Included in the affidavit is a letter from Trump’s legal team, stating that Trump was permitted to remove the documents because he has absolute authority to declassify the documents, though the letter does not say he went through the declassification process. However, the affidavit says that the Espionage Act has greater power than declassification.

The act “criminalizes the unlawful retention of ‘information relating to the national defense,’” according to the affidavit. Even if Trump did declassify the documents, the Espionage Act could overrule these actions and pose a greater punishment to the former president.