The Department of Justice on Friday released a redacted version of the affidavit used to secure the search warrant authorizing the FBI’s Aug. 8 raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The affidavit reveals that the DOJ is investigating whether Trump and his team had the proper authorization to take classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. “There is probable cause to believe that the locations to be searched at the PREMISES contain evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed,” according to the filing.
The affidavit notes that the FBI identified “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET” in the trove of documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.
The affidavit also notes that some documents contained an “HCS” marking, which indicates information related to the nation’s human intelligence assets.
The affidavit confirmed, and confirmed resoundingly, that Trump was hoarding scores of sensitive, highly classified government information at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump responded to the affidavit shortly after its release. “Affidavit heavily redacted!!!” he wrote on Truth Social. “Nothing mentioned on ‘Nuclear,’ a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ, or our close working relationship regarding document turnover – WE GAVE THEM MUCH.”
“WITCH HUNT!!!” the former president added later.
The affidavit is heavily redacted, as is a DOJ memo explaining the affidavit’s redaction criteria. The department indicated they were looking to protect the identities of “a significant number of civilian witnesses” involved in the case.
Judge Bruce Reinhart ruled on Thursday that the DOJ would be required to release the redacted affidavit by noon on Friday, stating that the department had ”met its burden” in justifying the requested redactions in the affidavit while maintaining there was no reason to keep the document from the public.
Releasing the affidavit for a search warrant in an active investigation is highly unusual, but so was the fallout from the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced earlier this month that the DOJ filed for the search warrant to be made public, citing “substantial public interest in the matter.” The warrant revealed that Trump is under federal investigation for potentially violating the Espionage Act after hoarding classified documents in South Florida.
Trump has argued that under the Presidential Records Act he reserved the right to retain documents from his presidency while precluding others from viewing them. Experts disagree with this characterization. Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor previously told Rolling Stone that Trump is “basically trying to litigate the ultimate issue in the case, which is whether he had the right to possess and keep those things, even after he was asked to return them. It’s very unlikely that the court would accept that invitation to litigate that.”
Trump’s retention of documents from his presidency has been an issue for national archivists tasked with cataloging materials from the presidency, as well as for the Justice Department, which is concerned about the national security implications of classified documents being held at an insecure location.
Since January, the federal government has recovered more than 300 classified documents from Trump’s Florida residence. Some of the documents retrieved in January were identified as “special access program materials,” according to a letter sent by the Archives to Trump’s lawyers.
“Special access program” is a classification protocol specific to highly sensitive materials and information that can include everything from “black projects” to information regarding presidential communications and transportation security. Access to these types of materials is extremely limited, often to just a select group of high-level intelligence and military officials. Additionally, some of these materials may only be stored and accessed in secure facilities. After months of negotiations, federal investigators were allowed to view a portion of the documents recovered by the Archives.
On social media, former President Trump has reacted with characteristic ire. Anticipating the release of the affidavit on Friday, he wrote that “the political Hacks and Thugs had no right under the Presidential Records Act to storm Mar-a-Lago and steal everything in sight, including Passports and privileged documents. They even broke into my safe with a safecracker – Can you believe?”
Sources close to the former president have told Rolling Stone that Trump is desperate to retrieve the classified documents seized earlier this month, or at least prevent investigators from gaining full access to them. Trump has filed a lawsuit attempting to block the DOJ and FBI from reviewing the contents of the collected documents, and calling on a “special master” to be appointed to oversee the investigation.
Read the full affidavit here: