The FBI has recovered more than 300 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago this year, according to government court filings, after months of negotiations with advisers to former president Donald Trump, a subpoena and a court-approved search.
Trump’s attorney Ron Fischetti said the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 440 times during his deposition in New York, answering only a question about what his name is.
Trump in 2018 railed against pleading the Fifth, saying only “the mob” did that.
“If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment,” Trump said as a candidate in 2016, complaining about aides to Hillary Clinton, who faced inquiries over her use of a private email service when she was secretary of state.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. One included details of a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities.
“It’s telling when news about you pleading the Fifth over 400 times during a deposition about financial fraud is overshadowed by the FBI raiding your home during an unrelated investigation into violations of the Espionage Act,” said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
The documents were found mixed with thousands of unclassified items at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida residence and private club, more than a year after he left the White House.
They could be used as evidence in the government’s ongoing investigation into possible mishandling of classified information, as well as possible hiding, tampering or destruction of government records.
A federal judge agreed to appoint an outside expert to examine the documents and determine whether any should be shielded from investigators because of right to keep communications between an attorney and their client confidential but President Joe Biden waived executive privilege in response to a request for White House records sought by Congress so it is unlikely he will let Trump to shield White House records.
Trump repeatedly asserted the privilege as president in attempts to block records and testimony from Democrats’ congressional investigations, including in the first impeachment inquiry of his presidency.
No court ruled on the merits of Trump’s executive privilege claims while he was in office, but President Joe Biden waived the privilege in response to a request for White House records sought by the congressional committee investigating the failed Jan. 6, 2021, coup d’etat after a mob of rioting Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them.
Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs.
Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance.
Some special-access programs can have fewer than three dozen government personnel authorized to know about an operation’s existence.
Records that deal with such programs are kept in a secure compartmented information facility, with a designated control officer to keep careful tabs on their location.
Geoffrey Berman, a Trump appointee who was later fired as the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, says top Justice Department officials pressured his office to “aid them politically.”
“Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney,” Berman writes in his forthcoming book, “Trump’s Justice Department kept demanding that I use my office to aid them politically, and I kept declining — in ways just tactful enough to keep me from being fired.”