Trump search: Unsealed search warrant suggests ex-president being investigated under Espionage Act

A copy of the warrant obtained by The Independent shows the former president is under investigation for violations of three US laws, including the Espionage Act

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Friday 12 August 2022 21:43 EDT
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FBI agents who searched President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home on Monday found documents classified above top secret as well as the paperwork for Trump ally Roger Stone’s pardon and information about Emmanuel Macron.

According to a copy of the warrant and inventory of documents recovered from Mr Trump’s property which was obtained by The Independent, agents recovered from the ex-president a set of papers bearing markings identifying them as Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information – a level of classification above the top secret level which is often applied to intelligence sources as well as the US nuclear arsenal.

The search warrant, which federal agents obtained on 5 August, directed agents to seize “physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation” of three criminal laws: the Espionage Act, a US law which makes it a crime to remove information related to national defence “from its proper place of custody “ as well as sections of US criminal law covering obstruction of justice and removing government records.

Specifically, it commanded them to take possession of “any physical documents with classification markings, along with any containers/boxes (including any other contents) in which such documents are located, as well as any other containers/boxes that are collectively stored or found together with the aforementioned documents and containers/boxes”, plus “information, including communications in any form, regarding the retrieval, storage, or transmission of national defense information or classified material”, any “government and/or Presidential Records” created during Mr Trump’s term and “evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or Presidential Records, or of any documents with classification markings”.

The warrant authorised agents to search “the 45 Office”, as well as “all storage rooms and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by [the former president] and his staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored, including all structures or buildings on the estate”.

According to the inventory, the agents who searched Mr Trump’s property removed roughly 20 boxes, binders containing photos, one handwritten note and the official paperwork granting a presidential pardon to Roger Stone, the GOP operative and provocateur who has been a longtime ally of and advisor to the ex-president.

The boxes contained 11 separate sets of classified documents, including documents marked as top secret and the set of “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information” documents, the latter of which would have ordinarily required to be viewed in a secure facility known as a SCIF.

Four of the documents sets were listed as classified top secret, three were marked as secret, and another three were marked as confidential, the lowest level of classification in the US system.

Another item listed referred to information about the “President of France”.

According to Newsweek, the agents who executed the search warrant on Mr Trump’s property were specifically seeking documents pertaining to intelligence “sources and methods”, including documents “with the potential to reveal ... including human sources on the American government payroll”.

Although US presidents have broad authority to view and disseminate classified information, Mr Trump’s ability to legally possess any such documents ended when his term as president expired on 20 January 2021.

Some of the ex-president’s allies have argued that he declassified any information recovered from his home prior to leaving the White House, but for information to be legally declassified there must be written documentation that the declassification process was followed.

Mr Trump himself made the same argument in a statement on Friday, claiming that “it was all declassified”. He added that federal authorities “didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything” and “could have had it anytime they wanted”.

But Mr Trump would not have had the ability to declassify documents pertaining to intelligence sources or nuclear weapons because documents on those matters are classified under US statutes, not the executive order that governs most classified information in the US. Moreover, he would have had to notify agencies that he was declassifying information and added markings to each document noting that it was declassified.

The news that Mr Trump is under investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act comes just four days after Mr Trump himself announced that the FBI had searched his home, touching off a spate of threats against FBI agents by his supporters and leading one of them to attempt to enter an Ohio FBI field office with a semiautomatic rifle and a nail gun.

Some of Mr Trump’s allies have speculated that the FBI search of his property was an attempt to find him in violation of the Presidential Records Act, which has no criminal penalties. But the laws cited on the warrant to search Mr Trump’s property could result in the ex-president serving many years in prison should he be charged and convicted of violating any of them.

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