Twenty-seven documents marked either classified or top secret were recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to a detailed inventory of what the FBI removed during a search there last month.
The government’s months-long effort to recover stolen documents from Trump’s Florida residence after he left the White House has raised new questions about why the former president held on to nuclear secrets and classified military defense information.
The photo above was released by the government and it appears to answer the question of whether Trump had classified material at his Mar-a-Lago resort that was kept after he left federal employment.
There’s a strong chance that the Justice Department will ultimately pursue charges against the former president or his associates as a result of the search, which turned up evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of federal law.
In a court filing Tuesday night, government lawyers recounted numerous instances in which Trump’s lawyers allegedly misled government officials during the investigation, and in which Trump or his team appear to have haphazardly handled materials that contained national security secrets.
FBI agents who searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate recovered records with highly classified marking mixed in boxes with other personal items like books and clothing, according to a government inventory unsealed in a court filing Friday.
The filing comes a day after a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, heard arguments from the Justice Department and Trump’s legal team about potential restraints on the department’s access to the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.
The disclosure that several empty folders with classified markings were seized raises questions about whether the government was able to recover all of the most sensitive documents from Mar-a-Lago that may have been in Trump’s possession.
It is not clear whether the documents held in the empty folders were removed but Justice Department attorneys opposed any limits on prosecutors and investigators in the politically explosive inquiry, warning that such restraints could disrupt the ongoing criminal investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents.
Senior Justice Department attorney Jay Bratt pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, not to interrupt the ongoing criminal probe, emphasizing that the search warrant executed Aug. 8 was clearly valid and lawfully authorized to obtain “evidence of three significant federal crimes.”
“He is no longer the president and because he is no longer the president he did not have the right to take those documents,” said Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “He was unlawfully in possession of them…This plaintiff does not have an interest in the classified and other presidential records.”
Former attorney general William P. Barr said there is no reason classified documents should have been inside his former boss’ personal residence in Florida after Trump was no longer president.
“No, I can’t think of a legitimate reason why they could be taken out of government, away from the government, if they are classified,” said Barr, who was asked about it after federal agents executed a court-issued warrant to retrieve classified documents, and the former president claimed the raid was improper and politically motivated.
“People say this was unprecedented,” said Barr, “but it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?”
Some of Trump’s allies blamed the rushed and haphazard packing process during Trump’s final days in office for the presence of documents the FBI found at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.
Other key events led to the FBI search after Trump ignored multiple opportunities to quietly resolve concerns by handing over all classified material in his possession — including a grand jury subpoena that Trump’s team accepted May 11, after months of slow-rolling conflict between the former president and law enforcement agencies.
In a May 10 letter to Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran that was released Tuesday, acting archivist Debra Steidel Wall outlined weeks of resistance that followed the April 12 email.
Trump tried to delay and thwart the FBI’s review of the records he had turned over to the Archives in January, Steidel Wall wrote, despite a finding by the Justice Department that he was in possession of at least 100 classified documents comprising 700 pages of material, some of it extraordinarily sensitive information related to secret operations and programs with very limited access, on a need-to-know basis.
“It has now been four weeks since we first informed you of our intent to provide the FBI access to the boxes so that it and others in the Intelligence Community can conduct their reviews,” Steidel Wall wrote, adding that Trump’s lawyers had asked for more time to determine if the records included documents they considered protected by executive privilege.