DOJ releases redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit

1 min ago

Here are key takeaways from the DOJ’s Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit

From CNN’s Tierney Sneed and Marshall Cohen

Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate are photographed showing large portions redacted.
Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are photographed showing large portions redacted. (Jon Elswick/AP)

The release of a redacted affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home shed new light on the federal investigation into the handling of documents from his White House.

Here are some key takeaways from the newly released document:

FBI said there was likely “evidence of obstruction” and classified defense documents

The FBI told US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart the search would likely find “evidence of obstruction” in addition to its explanation to the court that there was “probable cause to believe” that classified national security materials were improperly taken to “unauthorized” locations at Trump’s resort.

FBI found 184 classified documents from 15 boxes earlier this year

In May, when the FBI reviewed the 15 boxes the National Archives retrieved from the Florida resort in January, it found “184 unique documents bearing classification marking,” the affidavit said.

Among the materials were “67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” according to the filing.

New details about how the DOJ got involved in the document fracas in the first place

The FBI investigation began after a criminal referral from the National Archives, dated Feb. 9, in which the Archives said that the boxes contained “a lot of classified records.”

The Archives official said there was “significant concern” over the fact that “highly classified records were … intermixed with other records” and weren’t properly identified.

Redactions keep obstruction evidence secret for now

The third potential crime — obstruction — that was cited by the warrant materials does not have a corresponding unredacted subhead in the affidavit. The FBI would have had to provide the court its explanation of why it believed that there was likely evidence of that crime at Mar-a-Lago, so the absence of any unredacted details about that evidence signals that that part of department is particularly sensitive about that aspect of its investigation being made public.

DOJ keeping details about personnel involved close to the chest

The department said in its legal brief justifying the memos that that the FBI personnel who had already been identified as involved in the investigation had received “threats of violence from members of the public.”

The FBI told the judge that “[m]inor but important” redactions in the affidavit were needed to “protect the safety of law enforcement personnel.”

CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

46 min ago

Biden mocks Trump’s claims that all classified material brought to Mar-a-Lago was declassified beforehand

From CNN’s Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on August 26.
President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on August 26. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden on Friday mocked his predecessor’s claims that all the classified material brought with him to his South Florida home had been declassified beforehand.

Asked about former President Donald Trump’s claims he’d used his presidential powers to declassify the material, Biden scoffed.

“I just want you to know I’ve declassified everything in the world. I’m President, I can do — c’mon,” Biden told reporters as he was departing the White House.

It amounted to Biden’s most expansive comments to date about handling of classified documents following the FBI search of his predecessor’s home in Florida.

His comments, coming not long after a redacted affidavit shed new light on the material Trump brought with him to his Palm Beach members’ club, stopped short of making a judgment on Trump’s actions.

But they still reflected Biden’s most extensive remarks about an issue he and his team have taken pains to keep at a distance.

“I’m not going to comment because I don’t know the details. I don’t even want to know. I’ll let the Justice Department take that,” Biden said.

In the days following the FBI search of Trump’s compound, the former President and his allies have claimed Trump had a “standing order” to declassify documents he took from the Oval Office to the White House residence.

CNN has previously reported more than a dozen senior officials from the Trump administration never heard any such order issued during their time working for Trump, saying they believe the claim to be patently false.

Biden and his top aides have worked diligently to avoid commenting on the ongoing criminal probe into Trump’s handling of classified material. They have said they only learn of developments from the news media.

Still, some Biden administration officials have privately said there is concern internally about what exactly Trump took with him, and whether it has the potential to damage US national security.

Asked Friday whether it was ever appropriate to take home classified material, Biden suggested there were scenarios when it was OK.

“It depends on the circumstance — for example, I have in my home a cabined-off space that is completely secure,” he said, describing the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility built to handle classified information.

“I’m taking home with me today today’s PDB (Presidential Daily Brief). It’s locked. I have a person with me, military with me. I read it. I lock it back up. I give it to the military,” he said.

When asked whether it was appropriate to handle classified material without a specialized area to do so, Biden said: “It depends on the documents and it depends on how secure everything is.”

36 min ago

Affidavit: Archives’ referral to DOJ said “a lot of classified records” were found at Mar-a-Lago

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen

The FBI affidavit reveals new insights into how the investigation began. It started after a criminal referral from the National Archives, which was sent to the Justice Department on Feb. 9. 

The Archives told the Justice Department that the boxes contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records, and ‘a lot of classified records.’” 

The Archives official said there was “significant concern” over the fact that “highly classified records were … intermixed with other records” and weren’t properly identified. 

After receiving this information, the DOJ and FBI launched a criminal investigation into the matter, leading to the subpoena in June for classified material, and the search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

2 hr 50 min ago

Trump reacts after Justice Department releases search warrant affidavit

From CNN’s Gabby Orr

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on August 6.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on August 6. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump has responded to the unsealed affidavit on Truth Social, calling it “a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ.”

He has also shared audio on the social media website saying, “I did nothing wrong.”

The audio appears to have been recorded prior to the affidavit being unsealed Friday afternoon as part of an interview that Trump gave to political commentator Lou Dobbs on his podcast, “The Great America Show.”  

“I did nothing wrong … We were essentially attacked. We were broken into. They opened up safes, they brought safecrackers in. They brought many, many FBI agents in – all right before the midterms and all when I have the best poll numbers I’ve ever had,” he said.

“This is a disgrace to our country… and it really never ends,” Trump added, bemoaning “leaks” about the federal probe into his handling of presidential records. 

2 hr 52 min ago

Former Trump officials describe how ex-President handled documents at White House and Mar-a-Lago

From CNN’s Kristen Holmes

A former Trump official told CNN that they were not surprised to hear that the National Archives found boxes with classified records that “were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly (sic) identified.”

According to this source, the former President was known to walk around both the White House and Mar-a-Lago and pull documents out of boxes and look at them, then put them in other boxes or to the side, often with no method or reasoning to it. One source said that Trump was constantly putting things into stacks and leaving them around his office to go through later. These stacks often included everything from newspaper clippings to the Presidential Daily Briefing. 

Sources also said Trump would write notes on the back of other presidential documents — even when aides told him not to.

Another source described how Trump would show off presidential documents to visitors including the letters between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, indicating how lax the protocol seemed to be around these documents.

2 hr 58 min ago

Affidavit raises claims about president’s “absolute authority to declassify documents”

From CNN’s Jeremy Herb

Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate are seen on Friday.
Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are seen on Friday. (Jon Elswick/AP)

The redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit released Friday shows that federal investigators addressed the question of a president’s authority to declassify documents, though much of that section is redacted.

The affidavit says that former President Trump’s counsel asked the Justice Department “to consider a few ‘principles,’ including the claims that the President has “absolute authority to declassify documents.” 

The affidavit also cites a claim from Kash Patel, a former Trump national security aide who was named as one of Trump’s designees to the National Archives in June. The investigator who wrote the affidavit cited a May article from right-wing website Breitbart, in which Patel claimed reports that the National Archives found classified material at Mar-a-Lago were “misleading” because Trump had declassified the materials. 

The rest of the section in the affidavit, however, is classified, so it’s not clear why federal investigators cited Patel’s comments. 

Since the FBI’s search, Trump has pointed to a Jan. 19, 2021, memo in which he declassified documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. There’s no evidence, however, that those materials were what the FBI was looking for when it searched Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.

3 hr 18 min ago

There are a series of acronyms in the affidavit. Here’s what they mean.

From CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis

The affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Friday.
The affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Friday. (Jon Elswick/AP)

The Justice Department released a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit and memo on Friday — and it includes a series of acronyms related to classifications.

“Further, the FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following compartments/dissemination controls: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI,” the document says.

Here’s what they mean:

  • ORCON: A classification marking meaning “Originator-controlled.” ORCON means that any further distribution of intelligence or its inclusion in another document must be approved by the originating agency. (So, for example, if the CIA “owns” the intel in question, CIA would have to release it for it be included elsewhere.) 
  • HCS: Human intelligence control system. Control system designed to protect human sources — the actual foreign spies that provide information to the United States. HUMINT, or human intelligence
  • NOFORN: A classification marking meaning “Not for release to foreign nationals.” Information marked NOFORN cannot be released to partner nations, for example. (You see this a lot on DOD docs)
  • SI: SI is designed to protect signals intelligence including communications and electronics intelligence. It was formerly named for the first product it afforded protection, which was COMINT (Communications Intelligence). Now it is called the Special Intelligence (SI) Control System. SI information is only available to holders of SI access approval and is managed by the Director of the National Security Agency. 

Read the document here.

3 hr 28 min ago

Unredacted portions of affidavit reveal some information about background of FBI agent who wrote it

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen 

The sworn affidavit released Friday was written by an FBI special agent. The agent’s identity is redacted in the documents that were made public Friday to protect them from potential violence and threats. 

However, the unredacted portions of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit reveal some information about the FBI agent’s professional background. The agent said they were trained in “counterintelligence and espionage investigations” at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. 

The agent also said they have expertise investigating people who “unlawfully collect, retain, and disseminate sensitive government information.” 

3 hr 29 min ago

FBI used separate team to search Trump’s office to protect against privilege issues

From CNN’s Jeremy Herb

The FBI used law enforcement personnel who were not part of the investigation to search former President Donald Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago, in order to protect against potential attorney-client privilege issues, according to the affidavit. 

The affidavit unsealed Friday says that the FBI used a “Privilege Review Team” to search the “45 office,” separate from the investigators who searched other areas of Trump’s residence authorized by the warrant.

“The Privilege Review Team will search the ‘45 Office’ and conduct a review of the seized materials from the ‘45 Office’ to identify and segregate documents or data containing potentially attorney-client privileged information,” the affidavit says.

The separate team to go through the materials taken from Trump’s office shows that the FBI had a plan to deal with potentially privileged material before the search. Trump’s legal team has asked for a “special master” to review the materials that were retrieved under the search warrant.  

The affidavit says that if the review team determined there were “documents are potentially attorney-client privileged or merit further consideration in that regard,” the team could take steps to seek a court determination, keep the documents from the investigative team, or “disclose the document to the potential privilege holder.”