A curious development indeed, especially after yesterday’s pas de deux over whether the FBI took Donald Trump’s passports — and why. Trump claimed that FBI agents “stole my three Passports,” while the Department of Justice remained silent about it until late in the day.
Now there are two questions to ask after this NBC News report: why did FBI agents take them in the first place, and why did the inventory from the seizure not list them?
Passports belonging to Donald Trump have been returned to the former president after last week’s FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home, a Justice Department official told NBC News on Monday.
The FBI acknowledged it had had the passports the same day Trump said on his social media platform that FBI agents who conducted the search on Aug. 8 took them.
That’s not exactly a sterling level of accountability. It took Trump a week to notice that the passports were missing, or at least a week to go public with it. His social-media post announcing the “theft” appeared yesterday at 12:22 ET; the raid took place on the morning of Monday, August 8. The FBI left with a dozen or so boxes of material, which sounds like a lot but is actually rather paltry in legal cases, as Andrew McCarthy noted in an earlier column at National Review. If this search was as acutely necessary as the DoJ claims, shouldn’t the FBI have realized they had his passports almost immediately — and returned them days ago?
That’s a third question. Let’s stick with the first two. Why would the FBI have taken Trump’s passports as part of a search purportedly aimed at retrieving classified material? Passports don’t have anything to do with Trump’s retention of allegedly classified material, nor would they have any material connection to the DoJ’s investigation into January 6, which this search warrant appears to facilitate sotto voce. Law enforcement can’t just take a person’s passport without a judicial order restricting a person’s travel. Trump hasn’t even been charged with any crime, let alone be made subject to such a bail condition. He has every right to travel outside the US, and every right to retain his passports.
The FBI suggested that the removal of the passports was an accident:
“In executing search warrants, the FBI follows search and seizure procedures ordered by courts, then returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes,” the spokesperson said in a statement Monday evening that did not mention the passports.
This seems like an odd explanation. Trump almost certainly did not store his passports with the government documents that the search warrant targeted. Those are items usually stored in a secured personal space, like a safe or perhaps a locked desk drawer (or maybe a dresser drawer?). It’s not the kind of item that would have been easily swept up by accident even in a broad search, in other words. It’s possible, but appears unlikely unless this was one of the clumsiest search-and-retrieval operations conducted by the FBI.
That brings us to the second question: Why weren’t the passports listed on the inventory? FBI agents certainly know what passports look like. The inventory is a legal record of everything the FBI took out of Trump’s home in executing the search. There may be some understandable fuzziness on the identity of each and every single sheet of paper in those boxes, but passports are unique and instantly recognizable — and look nothing like the documents in question. The inventory was specific enough on August 8 to include separate entries for “handwritten note,” “Executive Grant of Clemency re: Roger Jason Stone Jr,” and two entries logging “binder of photos.”
But no one noticed three passports? Again, this either indicates that the FBI conducted this raid in an incredibly sloppy manner, or something else is afoot.
All of this raises a fourth question, too: What else did the FBI take that didn’t get inventoried and might not be germane to any legit investigation? And a fifth: Will they return anything else improperly taken and left off the inventory on their own volition — or will Trump have to make a public stink to force them to return those, too?
Update: Good times, good times. Remember this report from five hours after Trump’s complaint?
NEW: According to a DOJ official, the FBI is NOT in possession of former President Trump's passports. Trump had accused the FBI of stealing his three passports during the search of his Mar-a-Lago home.
— Norah O'Donnell 🇺🇸 (@NorahODonnell) August 15, 2022