(The hill) – A heavily redacted version of the affidavit that convinced a federal judge to approve a search warrant for former President Trump’s Florida home was released Friday.
Despite numerous redactions necessary to protect “a wide range of civilian witnesses,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the document sheds some light on the search.
In particular, it shows that Trump had a much larger collection of classified documents than previously known, including some of the most sensitive secrets that careful record keeping is designed to protect.
Here’s what we learned — and still don’t know — from the affidavit.
Agents believe Mar-a-Lago is holding more classified documents, evidence of ‘obstruction’
The Mar-a-Lago search earlier this month — and the affidavit justifying it — show that investigators believed Trump’s residence held more classified documents, even after the government had previously seized more than 180 classified documents.
The unredacted portions of the affidavit make that conclusion clear: “There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified (national defense information) or that are presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain on the PREMISES ” the agent states in the affidavit.
The most egregious law cited in the order, the Espionage Act, deals with the mishandling of national defense information.
The agent goes on to say there is probable cause to believe “evidence of obstruction” will be found at Mar-a-Lago.
A recently declassified court record shows that the DOJ repeatedly informed Trump’s lawyers that Mar-a-Lago was “not authorized to store classified information.” According to the affidavit, DOJ lawyers, as recently as June, reiterated that view to Trump’s lawyer, as well as a request to secure all other records on the premises.
“[W]e request that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents were kept be secured and that all boxes moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with all other items in that room) be kept in that room in their current state until further notice,” the DOJ’s June 8 letter to Trump’s lawyers said.
The sweeping redactions leave the basis of the DOJ’s “probable cause” largely unknown
One of the most heavily redacted sections of the affidavit concerns evidence that leads investigators to believe additional classified material was at Mar-a-Lago.
Towards the end of the document is a subtitle: “There is probable cause to believe that documents containing classified NDI and presidential records remain on the premises.”
What follows are seven fully redacted paragraphs, totaling approximately three pages, followed by the agent’s stated belief that at least four rooms at Mar-a-Lago were not authorized to store classified information or material that fell under “ national defense information’.
In an apparent reference to the redacted material, the agent then stated, “As described above, the SUBJECT CRIMES evidence was stored in multiple locations on the PREMISES.”
In accordance with department policy, officials said the redactions helped hide key details of the investigation and information from the grand jury.
While the unsealed portions of the affidavit shed new light on aspects of the investigation, the extensive redactions that were applied to that section of the document mean that much of the underlying facts supporting the DOJ’s grounds for conducting the search of Trump’s residence remain largely unknown to the public.
Trump has mischaracterized the level of cooperation with federal officials
Trump sought to characterize the search of his home as an unnecessary “break-in” after his team was in lengthy negotiations with both the National Archives and the DOJ.
In previous statements, Trump noted that he had installed a larger lock on his storage facility at Mar-a-Lago at the government’s request — “We agreed. They were shown the guarded area and the boxes themselves.
But the interaction does not appear to be as friendly as Trump suggests.
“They were not properly processed or stored in an appropriate location,” the DOJ wrote in the letter requesting the locking and preservation of those records.
The affidavit states that the National Archives was first contacted to retrieve the records as early as May 6, 2021 — just months after Trump left office. But it wasn’t until December that Trump’s team indicated it had boxes of documents ready for pickup.
And while Trump conveyed surprise at the execution of the search warrant, his legal team appeared to understand there could be pending charges in a May letter that followed the receipt of a subpoena earlier that month.
His lawyer tried to dismiss the idea that Trump could even face charges as a former president.
“Any attempt to hold a president or former president criminally liable that includes his actions with respect to documents marked as classified would raise serious constitutional separation of powers problems,” writes Evan Corcoran.
But he cited only one law to support his claim that “the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or materials does not apply to the president.”
However, that particular statute was not cited in the order because the government relied on other laws, including the Espionage Act, which only requires the mishandling of national defense information that could be used to harm the United States.
The affidavit offers new details about classified records previously recovered by Trump
The affidavit points to a review of documents discovered by Mar-a-Lago in January as the basis for the search earlier this month.
It reveals that Trump had far more classified documents than previously known.
The affidavit states that among 15 boxes turned over to the National Archives were 184 classified documents, including 25 considered particularly sensitive. They contained top secret information such as that obtained from “secret human sources,” information prohibited from sharing with foreign governments, and information obtained by monitoring “foreign communications signals.”
When the January recovery became public in February, Trump released a statement saying the National Archives had “found” nothing.
However, the archives actually referred the matter to the Department of Justice given the wide range of classified material found in those initial boxes.
“It appears, based on the affidavit unsealed this morning, that among the mishandled documents at Mar-a-Lago are some of our most sensitive intelligence,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (R-Va.) said in a statement .).
Why Trump holds on to classified material is a mystery
Trump’s reasons for keeping dozens of classified and top secret documents more than a year after leaving office are still unclear, but the affidavit underscores the messy nature of the former president’s filing.
The affidavit states that documents discovered during an initial search in January found classified and top secret documents mixed with other materials in boxes.
Former administration officials have spoken publicly about the chaotic nature of document organization in the final days of Trump’s White House, and he was known to throw away or tear up documents throughout his time in the White House despite strict storage rules.
Multiple former Trump administration officials, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said they did not take any classified material with them when they left office, although they criticized the FBI for the Mar-a-Lago search .
Trump has argued that he can unilaterally declassify documents upon leaving office, allowing him to take them with him to Florida. But former administration officials and President Biden dismissed that theory as nonsense.
“Come on,” Biden said dismissively on Friday when asked about Trump’s claim.