U.S. Justice Department releases redacted affidavit on details of Trump search


The United States Justice Department on Friday released a partially blacked-out document explaining the justification for an FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida estate earlier this month, when agents removed top secret government records and other classified documents.

The 32-page affidavit, even in its redacted form, contains additional details about an ongoing criminal investigation that has brought fresh legal peril for Trump as he remains a dominant figure in the Republican Party and considers another run for president. It underscores the volume of sensitive government documents located at Mar-a-Lago.

“The government is conducting 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 affidavit reads.

The affidavit confirms previous reporting that federal officials communicated to Trump and his legal team that “Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information.”

The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain a warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular property and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there. But affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations, making the judge’s decision to reveal portions of it all the more striking.

In an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart last week ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit. The directive came hours after federal law enforcement officials submitted under seal the portions of the affidavit that they want to keep secret as their investigation moves forward.

Ongoing probe cited for redactions

In explaining the need for redactions in a separate filing, the Justice Department said “the affidavit is replete with further details that would provide a roadmap for anyone intent on obstructing the investigation.” The department also expressed concern about compromising the identities of potential witnesses or FBI agents who were involved in executing the search.

Earlier this week, it was learned that the National Archives and Records Administration recovered more than 100 documents bearing classified markings, totalling more than 700 pages, from an initial batch of 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this year, according to newly public government correspondence with the Trump legal team.

An aerial view of former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home is shown on Aug. 15 in Palm Beach, Fla. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The letter was made public Tuesday on the website of the National Archives. It was released Monday night on a website launched by John Solomon, who was appointed by Trump in June to be one of his designated representatives to the National Archives and who is a Trump ally and conservative journalist.

In the letter, a National Archives official wrote that in the boxes, items marked as classified at the top secret level as well as information about special access programs had been identified.

The affidavit released Friday indicated that the process of getting the documents back has been ongoing since at least May 2021.

Separately, lawyers for Trump asked a federal judge to halt the FBI’s review of documents recovered from his estate until a neutral special master can be appointed to inspect the records. The judge overseeing the case has asked for clarifications from the Trump team after that initial filing.

Unlike Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s ranches, George H.W. Bush’s seaside vacation home in Maine, or Barack Obama’s Hawaii residences, Trump’s residence has proven a special challenge. Mar-a-Lago is open to members who pay annual dues after a six-figure initiation fee. 

During his presidency, a 33-year-old woman was sentenced to prison and subsequently deported after being found on the premises while carrying four cellphones, a computer and an external hard drive. Prosecutors rejected her defence that she was just looking for photos with famous people.

U.S. President Joe Biden, when asked by a reporter on Friday, said it was up to the Justice Department to determine if national security was compromised at Trump’s Florida home.

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