FBI collected secret and top secret documents during Monday search at Mar-a-Lago (Update)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News have seen the search warrant and the list of items the bureau seized from Mar-a-Lago. Both news sites are reporting that some secret and top secret documents were included in the boxes of material the FBI removed.

FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home Monday removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked as top secret and meant to be only available in special government facilities, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation agents took around 20 boxes of items, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Mr. Trump’s ally Roger Stone, a list of items removed from the property shows. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France,” according to the three-page list…

The list includes references to one set of documents marked as “Various classified/TS/SCI documents,” an abbreviation that refers to top-secret/sensitive compartmented information. It also says agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents, and three sets of confidential documents. The list didn’t provide any more details about the substance of the documents.

Fox News backs up those reports about TS/SCI materials in its report but notes that Trump’s team is claiming those documents were all declassified:

Trump posted on his TRUTH Social account Friday that the documents were “all declassified.”

“Number one, it was all declassified. Number two, they didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything,” Trump posted. “They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago.”

Trump added: “It was in secured storage, with an additional lock put on as per their request.”

“The Biden administration is in obvious damage control after their botched raid where they seized the President’s picture books, a ‘hand-written note,’ and declassified documents,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told Fox News. “This raid of President Trump’s home was not just unprecedented, but unnecessary–and they are leaking lies and innuendos to try to explain away the weaponization of government against their dominant political opponent. This is outrageous.”

Of course there’s no detail about what any those documents were about. The FBI maintains they are classified so they can’t say. If they were declassified by Trump then he would be able to tell us more specifically what they are about. Obviously if there were nuclear secrets, as reported earlier, contained in some of those documents, it’s unlikely those would have ever been declassified.

Basically, we’re still in the same situation we were in yesterday, which is that both sides are making claims about the documents that Americans aren’t in a position to verify or form an opinion about on their own. If this material is marked Top Secret then the onus is on President Trump to explain why he has these documents or at least when and why they were declassified. Again, if they were declassified, shouldn’t he be able to tell us?

On the other hand, it’s not clear yet why the FBI didn’t seize the material when they visited Mar-a-Lago with a subpoena in June. They apparently took some documents at that time and looked at more documents that were in the basement storage area. They then called a few days later to request a larger padlock on that area, suggesting they believed there was some classified material there. And, according to all reports, that storage area was then one of the places they returned and searched with the warrant. Is that where they found the TS/SCI material? Trump’s statement suggests that’s the case.

If so, why didn’t the FBI just take the classified material in June? Was it not present in the basement storage in June but turned up there on Monday? Did the FBI’s confidential source claim someone was moving material in and out? I’m not saying there’s no way to make sense of this only that it doesn’t really make sense based on what I’ve heard so far.

Finally, the NY Times is reporting on the legal authority for the search as contained in the warrant:

Federal agents who executed the warrant did so to investigate potential crimes associated with violations of the Espionage Act, which outlaws the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary; a federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or conceal a document to obstruct a government investigation; and another statute associated with unlawful removal of government materials.

One thing is certain. This has become way too big a story for anyone to just drop it now. There are going to be more leaks from both sides until it does make sense.

Update: The Associated Press has published the warrant and the receipt for property taken. You can view the entire thing here.

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