Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former U.S. president Donald Trump's Florida estate early this year contained classified documents, many of them top secret, mixed in with miscellaneous newspapers, magazines and personal correspondence, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday.
No space at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate was authorized for the storage of classified material, according to the court papers, which laid out the FBI's rationale for searching the property this month, including "probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found."
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 does not provide new details about the 11 sets of classified records recovered during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago, but instead concerns a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) retrieved from the home in January.
In those boxes, according to the affidavit, officials located 184 documents bearing classification markings, including 25 documents marked as top secret. Agents who inspected the boxes found markings related to information provided by confidential human sources, as well as information related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Documents previously made public show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of three federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defence information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
Trump has long insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that he fully co-operated with government officials. And he has rallied Republicans behind him by painting the search as a politically motivated witch hunt intended to damage his re-election prospects. He repeated that refrain on his social media site Friday, saying he and his representatives had had a close working relationship with the FBI and "GAVE THEM MUCH."
Trump's Republican allies in Congress were largely silent Friday as the affidavit emerged, another sign of the party's reluctance to publicly part ways with the former president, whose grip on the party remains strong during the midterm election season. Both parties have demanded more information about the search, with lawmakers seeking briefings from the Justice Department and FBI once Congress returns from summer recess.
The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain a warrant to search Trump's property.
Affidavits routinely remain sealed during pending investigations, making the judge's decision to reveal portions of it all the more striking.
In an acknowledgement 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.
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.
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 residence, 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.