On Thursday, it was reported that the Department of Justice and FBI raided Mar-a-Lago due to fears of multiple documents dealing with nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, and other classified materials being mishandled.
It’s hard to come up with comparable events in U.S. history dealing with critical state secrets at this level.
Then on Friday, the warrant for the search of Mar-A-Lago was released, and in it, three U.S. Codes were cited as probable cause for the search: 18 U.S. Code § 793 (the “espionage act”), which penalizes—among other potentially less damaging things—those who are convicted of “obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation,” 18 U.S. Code § 2071, concealment, removal, or mutilation generally of federal records, and 18 U.S. Code § 1519, obstruction of justice.
That President Trump is being investigated under the espionage act implies that we’re well past simple mishandling of classified information, and now entering the possible realm of foreign nations being given classified information to give them an advantage over the United States. This would be a direct national security threat—a service member who did the same thing with classified information would be punished with years of prison time, with the penalty 10 years of sentencing per document. The question now becomes for a DOJ deciding whether or not to prosecute Trump: Should the men and women in our armed forces be held to a different standard than a former commander-in-chief for committing similar crimes to the ones alleged here?
When I was in the military, simply failing to properly identify when one deleted materials dealing with communications security, or bringing outside wireless devices into secure intelligence facilities could lead to investigations and negative administrative or legal action—I was the investigative officer for some of these cases. If a military service member forgetting to properly sign out classified material is an issue of national security, then it follows that putting nuclear secrets at risk is serious also. And if any of this information was let into the hands of foreign nations? Potentially catastrophic.
It cannot be overstated just how damaging to our national security the mishandling of classified materials is, especially ones dealing with our nuclear and intelligence gathering capabilities. The military takes steps to maintain its secrecy while operating, using encrypted communications and computer networks. Even its public news releases are scrubbed to ensure nothing that would give the enemy critical intelligence is there.
The level of documents reportedly obtained in the Mar-a-Lago raid could be well beyond that: anything dealing with either the disposition or status of nuclear weapons is of utmost strategic importance. We’re not just talking about nuclear codes (which the former President did not have access to anymore), but possibly nuclear capabilities. That could include disposition of nuclear weapons, location of nuclear defense capabilities, nuclear countermeasures, our own intelligence on other countries nuclear capabilities, the list goes on. Nuclear deterrence relies on the concept of mutually assured destruction and the fact that opponents can’t be sure they will be able to neutralize your capability before you can.
Anything that threatens a country’s nuclear program is a matter of existential crisis—part of the reason the issue of nuclear missile shields are such a hot topic is because they remove the threat of a country’s nuclear weapons, which in turn makes it much more viable for that nation to strike before a nuclear shield is activated. Nuclear secrets are among the most guarded because of that reason: even the president can’t choose to unilaterally declassify them. The Israeli government to this day maintains a policy of nuclear opacity, never confirming or denying the existence of its nuclear weapons program. The only time the United States ever executed civilians for espionage was in 1953, sentencing Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death for selling secrets to the Soviet Union; and just this year, former Navy sailor Jonathan Toebbe was sentenced to 12 and half years in federal prison after pleading guilty to “conspiracy to communicate restricted data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person he believed was a representative of a foreign nation.”
The mishandling of Signals intelligence is no less important. Signal intelligence (SIGINT) is the electronic interception of opponent information, best illustrated by the mission of the National Security Agency. It’s a type of intelligence like Human Intelligence (HUMINT), which is intelligence gleaned from human sources, and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), intelligence gleaned from tools such as satellite imagery and geospatial information. Just as the compromising of a Human Intelligence asset (such as the revelation of spy networks) is detrimental to intelligence gathering, so is the compromising of how we obtain signal intercepts.
It’s not just the information itself that needs to be kept secure: if an adversary is tipped off on the specific intelligence we gathered, then it could cause them to change their own communications security efforts and turn the spigot off a source of information. During World War II, the project to break the German Enigma code was considered ultra top secret. Involving efforts by Polish and British mathematicians, one of whom was Alan Turing, allied scientists broke the code in the ULTRA project: the intelligence gleaned from the effort changed the course of the 2nd World War. The ULTRA project revealed the communications of German bombers over Britain, minimized the threat of the once powerful German U-Boat raids in the Atlantic, and, since the Japanese also utilized the code, helped bring victory to allied forces in the Pacific.
Imagine if Axis forces had been tipped off that the Allies had broken the code, or if current efforts by the West to assist Ukraine by providing intelligence were compromised through the intentional providing of western national security information. The strategic implications are many: not only could intelligence agencies lose their current ability to observe organizations, but the process to develop new signals intelligence assets could take years and intelligence assets on the ground in adversary countries could be put at risk.
It is likely these fears which drove the FBI to act. Tellingly, the raid was conducted with the knowledge of the FBI’s counterintelligence officer. Counterintelligence’s mission is to detect all activities that pose a threat to the security of military operations, and to prevent information from being given to foreign adversaries. The warrant confirms that the United States government had probable cause to believe that information that threatened the security of the nation might potentially have fallen into the hands of those who would use it against it.
Even leaving classified materials insecure and not directly trying to sell or pass them off to foreign agents is not an excuse; if a soldier in the military tried to use that they would still be punished. It is not known what guests have visited Trump’s resort since his removal from office, and there is little doubt that foreign intelligence agents have attempted to obtain information from the premises in the past six years since he was originally elected.
With the citation of the Espionage Act, the nation now faces the horrifying possibility that information was taken to Mar-A-Lago to be misused intentionally, by a person with access to the greatest national security secrets the country had. During the Trump administration, whistleblowers exposed an attempted plan that led Michael Flynn and government officials to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia by bypassing mandatory policy review laws. This previous behavior calls into question what the intent was of taking these highly qualified documents from the White House in the first place when Trump left office. What other countries might seek to benefit from such an arrangement? What other entities might seek to use such information to target United States servicemembers overseas or intelligence assets? If this was a servicemember performing these actions, what would the expected punishment be?
Is this the same expectation for the former president?
“They’re willing to destroy America to rule over the ashes.” #fascistGOP
In case you’re wondering just how far the extremists are willing to go, here’s @RandPaul calling for the repeal of the espionage act- which prohibits sharing information that could harm the US. They’re willing to destroy America to rule over the ashes.
That Ranking Member (GOP) of House Intelligence Committee keeps equating media reporting of classified info as proof of declassification is very disturbing.
I hope DOJ/ODNI does show Intel Oversight Committees some of the seized marked classified docs & can't wait for response.
No surprise that Trump was the first president in decades, maybe ever in modern times, not to issue his own Executive Order on classification. EO 13526, which Obama issued in 2009, is still in effect
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation, two U.S. officials said on Monday, plunging the White House into another controversy just months into Trump’s short tenure in office.
The intelligence, shared at a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials with knowledge of the situation said.
The White House declared the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, incorrect.
“The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, adding that the leaders reviewed a range of common threats including to civil aviation.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known...I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” he said.
Russia’s foreign ministry said reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information were “fake”, according to the Interfax news agency.
The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the Oval Office meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who called the Washington Post story false.
Still, the news triggered concern in Congress.
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, called Trump’s conduct “dangerous” and “reckless”.
Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling” if true.
“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening,” he said of the White House.
The latest controversy came as Trump’s administration reels from the fallout over his abrupt dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey and amid congressional calls for an independent investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
One of the officials said the intelligence discussed by Trump in his meeting with Lavrov was classified “Top Secret” and held in a secure “compartment” to which only a handful of intelligence officials have access.
After Trump’s disclosure of the information, which one of the officials described as spontaneous, officials immediately called the CIA and the National Security Agency, both of which have agreements with a number of allied intelligence services around the world, and informed them what had happened.
While the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement, the U.S. officials said.
Since taking office in January, Trump has careened from controversy to controversy, complaining on the first day about news coverage of his inauguration crowds; charging his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, with wiretapping; and just last week firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into potential ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
Trump, a Republican who has called allegations of links between his campaign team and Russia a “total scam,” sharply criticized his 2016 election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, for her handling of classified information as secretary of state, when she used a private email server.
The FBI concluded that no criminal charges against Clinton were warranted, but Comey said she and her colleagues had been “careless” with classified information.
In his conversations with the Russian officials, Trump appeared to be boasting about his knowledge of the looming threats, telling them he was briefed on “great intel every day,” an official with knowledge of the exchange said, according to the Post.
Some U.S. officials have told Reuters they have been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump.
One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: “He has no filter; it’s in one ear and out the mouth.”
One of the officials with knowledge of Trump’s meeting with the Russian called the timing of the disclosure “particularly unfortunate,” as the President prepares for a White House meeting on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, an ally in the fight against Islamic State.
Trump’s first foreign trip also begins later this week and includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, another Islamic State foe, and a May 25 NATO meeting in Brussels attended by other important U.S. allies. He also has stops planned in Israel and the Vatican.
The president’s trip and latest uproar over his meeting with Russian officials come amid rumors that he might shake-up his senior staff in a bid to refocus his administration.
Additional reporting by David Alexander, Mark Hosenball, Susan Cornwell, Ayesha Rascoe and Steve Holland; Editing by Kieran Murray and Bill Tarrant, Ralph Boulton Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Amazingly detailed article on events leading up to & after FBI search.
Leads me to continue to believe some of Trump's lawyers are either completely in the dark or potentially complicit. The professional repercussions for their actions may be significant.
"But agents had interviewed Trump’s current and former advisers, asking them how the boxes taken to Mar-a-Lago were packed, what material was in them, who was responsible for the packing and what might still be at the Florida club, according to a person who was questioned."
“Government officials worried as Trump left office that he presented the perfect profile of a security risk: He was a disgruntled former employee, with access to sensitive government secrets, dead set on tearing down what he believed was a deep state”
As FBI agents pulled up to Donald Trump’s Florida club Monday morning to conduct a search for top-secret government documents — approved by a federal judge and requested by the attorney general of the United States — the former president was by chance already huddled with his lawyers in Trump Tower in New York, a thousand miles to the north.
They were supposed to be preparing Trump to be deposed later in the week in an entirely different matter, a civil probe of Trump’s family business. But the session was interrupted by a phone call informing the former president of the extraordinary events unfolding at his Mar-a-Lago Club, said Ron Fischetti, his New York attorney.
Trump and his close allies quickly became transfixed by the events unfolding in Palm Beach, people familiar with the day said. Some monitored the agents via CCTV security cameras as they searched Trump’s office and personal quarters and a first-floor storage facility, another of his lawyers, Christina Bobb, told Fox News. Distracted, Trump kept jumping on the phone, Fischetti said, trying to figure out why the agents, casually dressed in khakis and polo shirts to cause less of a scene, were roaming the seaside facility he had tried to brand “the winter White House,” which was mostly closed for the summer.
So distressing was the search that the usually loquacious Trump team stayed mum for much of the day — until 6:51 p.m., when Trump himself confirmed the raid in a bombastic statement that declared it unjustified and politically motivated. “They even broke into my safe!” he announced.
The court-authorized search was a remarkable moment even for Trump, who has been under investigation by state and federal prosecutors nearly continuously since he swore the oath of office in 2017. What began as a low-level dispute over the Trump White House’s chaotic and haphazard record-keeping had morphed into a deeply serious probe of whether the ex-president had endangered national security by hoarding highly classified documents, some potentially related to nuclear weapons.
The past week’s events — which began with the raid and continued with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s rare move Thursday to publicly defend the FBI against partisan criticism and misinformation, take personal responsibility for the search and announce he wanted the warrant unsealed by a court — marked a turning point in the Justice Department’s posture toward Trump.
Garland had vowed to erect a sturdy wall between politics and law enforcement, and he had faced grinding criticism from Trump’s critics that he had been too cautious in holding the former president to account. Now he was the face of a law enforcement action that threatened to further cleave the nation, as some of Trump’s allies likened the FBI’s search to a political persecution more common in a “banana republic” or even under Nazi rule.
For Trump, the episode opened a new chapter in his tormented relationship with legal authorities, confirming that his vulnerabilities expanded beyond the better publicized and ongoing probes into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his personal business.
According to the search warrant, agents at Mar-a-Lago were seeking evidence of three potential violations of federal statutes: a section of the Espionage Act that makes it a crime to possess or share national defense secrets without authorization, a law against destroying or concealing documents to thwart an investigation, and a law against stealing, destroying or mutilating government records.
Government officials had worried as Trump left office that he presented what experts considered the perfect profile of a security risk: He was a disgruntled former employee, with access to sensitive government secrets, dead set on tearing down what he believed was a deep state out to get him. But Trump had spent years nurturing a growing distrust among his most fervent supporters of the agencies charged with monitoring those risks, the FBI and Justice Department.
Justice Department officials have declined to comment on the documents probe or provide details about its findings, citing general privacy protocols for ongoing investigations. Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich did not address questions for this article but shared a statement attacking “this unprecedented and unnecessary raid,” blaming the Biden administration and accusing the media of “suggestive leaks, anonymous sources and no hard facts.”
Immediately after the search, Trump seemed to believe the FBI had played into his hands. Instead of exhibiting any concern, two people who spoke to him Monday evening both reported that Trump was “upbeat,” convinced the Justice Department had overreached and would cause Republicans to rally to his cause and help him regain the presidency in 2024.
“He feels it’s a political coup for him,” said one friend, who spoke to Trump repeatedly during the week. Like many others interviewed for this article, the person spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the criminal probe.
By Friday, however, the unsealed court records showed agents had seized 11 sets of classified documents, among other things. Republicans’ howls of protest became somewhat more muted, and people around Trump said his buoyant mood at times turned dark.
A simmering investigation
The fight over documents taken from the White House when Trump left office had been brewing for well over a year. “This has been like a pot of water that very slowly simmers, and now it’s making that noise where it hits the hot burner,” said a person involved with the dispute.
In the spring of 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration, the government agency charged by law with maintaining the papers of former presidents, alerted Trump’s team to a problem. In going through materials transferred from the White House in the chaotic final days of Trump’s presidency, officials had noticed that certain high-profile documents were missing. Trump’s correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he had termed “love letters.” A National Weather Service map of Hurricane Dorian, which Trump had famously marked up with a black Sharpie pen to extend to Alabama.
Under the Presidential Records Act, the items belonged to the American people. The Archives asked for them back.
People familiar with those initial conversations said Trump was hesitant to return the documents, dragging his feet for months as officials grew peeved and eventually threatened to alert Congress or the Justice Department to his reticence.
On Jan. 17 of this year, Trump relented, allowing a contractor for the Archives to load up 15 boxes at Mar-a-Lago and truck them north to a facility in Maryland. The boxes contained some of the notable items of the Trump presidency that Archives officials had sought.
But as Archives officials sifted through the recovered documents, they began to suspect some records were still missing. They also realized some of the returned material was clearly classified, including highly sensitive signals intelligence — intercepted electronic communications such as emails and phone calls of foreign leaders.
All of this raised a distressing possibility: Might there still be classified records tucked away at Trump’s private Florida club?
Although presidents have unrestricted power to declassify America’s secrets, they lose that power as soon as they leave office.
By February, Archives officials had formally referred the matter to the Justice Department.
The agency was already deeply engaged in one of the largest criminal investigations in the nation’s history: a sprawling exploration of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, inspired by Trump’s rhetoric about his election loss.
Hundreds had been charged with storming the Capitol or helping to plan the insurrection. But Garland was under enormous pressure to also examine Trump’s role in fueling the riot, as well as the campaign by the former president and his advisers to overturn the certified results. Now the attorney general faced a new dilemma: what to do about the missing documents.
Garland — a former appeals court judge determined to avoid his predecessors’ missteps in politically fraught cases — refused to tip his hand over how the department might treat the 45th president.
“We follow the facts and the law wherever they lead. That’s all I can say,” he told reporters who asked about Trump at an April briefing about an unrelated matter. “It’s our long-standing norm to not comment on ongoing investigations. The best way to undermine investigations is to say things out of court about how they are going.”
In picking Garland, President Biden had insisted he was making a choice that would restore the department’s independence, a marked departure from the Trump administration, in which officials were largely expected to show fealty to the president — and publicly criticized when they didn’t.
“You won’t work for me,” Biden told his nominee. “You are not the President or the Vice President’s lawyers. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice.”
Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton who brought Garland on as her chief aide and considers him a personal friend, said she was confident that he was not swayed by the public criticism.
“That would not motivate him one bit,” she said. “He is by the book. He would not take into account politics. He just wouldn’t.”
At first, Archives officials believed the FBI wasn’t taking the documents issue seriously and grew frustrated, according to people familiar with the document dispute.
But agents had interviewed Trump’s current and former advisers, asking them how the boxes taken to Mar-a-Lago were packed, what material was in them, who was responsible for the packing and what might still be at the Florida club, according to a person who was questioned.
“They interviewed almost everyone who worked for him,” a Trump adviser said.
Then, the Justice Department slapped Trump with a grand jury subpoena.
Bobb, a Trump lawyer, said Trump’s legal team embarked on a thorough review of all the presidential material still at Mar-a-Lago, including what she told The Washington Post were two dozen to three dozen boxes of documents held in a storage room on the first floor of the club, below areas open to the public. She told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that the lawyers had identified all the documents they believed could be considered government property. “We turned over everything that we found,” she said.
But as discussions progressed, some law enforcement officials came to suspect Trump’s representatives were not being truthful at times — and that despite the months of conversations, Trump was still holding on to documents and other items that properly belonged with the Archives.
Guarding national secrets
A Trump adviser said the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term — photos, notes, even a model of Air Force One built to show off a new paint job he had commissioned — are now his personal property, despite a law dating to the 1970s that decreed otherwise.
“He gave them what he believed was theirs,” the adviser said.
“He gets his back up every time they asked him for something,” said another Trump adviser. “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to. He doesn’t like those people. He doesn’t trust those people.”
John F. Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, said the former president had long exhibited a lack of respect for the strict rules for document handling sacred to the intelligence community, which is in the business of guarding the country’s national security.
“His sense was that the people who are in the intel business are incompetent, and he knew better,” Kelly said. “He didn’t believe in the classification system.”
Former national security adviser John Bolton said “almost nothing would surprise me about what’s in the documents at Mar-a-Lago.” He recalled that Trump would at times ask to keep the highly classified visual aids, pictures, charts and graphs prepared to augment his presidential daily brief, a document presented to him each day about key pressing issues, which he did not typically read.
“People were nervous enough about his lack of concern for classification matters that the briefers typically said, ‘Well, we need to take it back,’ ” Bolton said. “He’d usually give it back — but sometimes he wouldn’t give it back.”
Advisers said they also regularly saw Trump destroy documents, both in the White House and at Mar-a-Lago.
Though Trump has styled the Florida facility as a presidential home, and it is secured by the Secret Service, law enforcement knew that it was hardly the kind of hardened government installation suited to house secret documents.
In addition to Trump’s private quarters, the club includes a dining room, pool, tennis courts and spa, all accessible to its several hundred members during the winter months. A ballroom can be booked for weddings, galas and other events. The perils of securing the facility were been made clear in 2019, when a Chinese national, carrying phones and other electronic devices, was arrested after getting past a reception area by saying she was headed to the pool.
In early June, a small knot of federal investigators arrived at Mar-a-Lago to discuss the document issue with Trump’s lawyers. It was clear they believed their mission was serious — the team was headed by Jay Bratt, chief of counterintelligence and export control, the division of the Justice Department that leads investigations into leaks of government secrets.
Trump greeted the officials and offered a show of cooperation, said Bobb, who attended the meeting along with another lawyer for the former president, Evan Corcoran. “He pointed to the attorneys there and said, ‘anything they need, make sure they do it,’ ” she told Fox News.
Bobb told The Post that the group toured the storage facility, opening boxes and flipping through the records inside. She said Justice Department officials indicated they did not believe the storage unit was properly secured, so Trump officials added a lock to the facility.
Federal officials also obtained security camera footage of Mar-a-Lago around that time, according to people familiar with the situation.
Trump maintained that his lawyers had established a “very good” rapport with federal investigators. “They could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it,” he said in a statement Friday.
A judge signs off
On Sunday, the day before the search, Earl Steinberg went for an hour-long walk with Garland near their homes in suburban Maryland. The two men have been friends since early childhood, rooming together at Harvard University. Steinberg said he was best man at Garland’s wedding.
As they strolled, Garland “showed absolutely no hint that something stressful was about to happen. None. Zero,” Steinberg said. He added that “there is no way” the attorney general would have sought a search warrant “without having major concern about there being something dangerous” in the documents he believed might reside at Mar-a-Lago.
“He is somebody who weighs every potentially relevant consideration,” said Steinberg, who made clear he was speaking generally about Garland’s approach and never discussed the search warrant with him. “He would have considered public reaction, and the fact that this would be viewed as an extreme action that would have required an unassailable justification. That is, if anybody knew the facts he knew, they would have thought it appropriate to do what he did.”
Two days earlier, on Friday, a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach had approved the search warrant. That meant the judge had reviewed a sealed filing describing steps taken in the investigation so far and found there was probable cause that evidence of a crime would be located at the 17-acre club property.
When agents arrived Monday morning, Trump’s team scrambled to respond.
"Who’s in Florida?” Corcoran, one of the president’s lawyers, asked others, explaining that the FBI was currently at the former president’s house, a person familiar with the matter said. The team quickly dispatched Bobb, who lives in the Sunshine State and had assisted Rudy Giuliani in questioning the results of the 2020 election, then spent time as a host on the pro-Trump media outlet One America News.
When she arrived, Bobb said, she asked to be allowed to observe the agents, but was refused. Instead, she said, she stood on a driveway in the swampy heat for more than eight hours as the search proceeded.
At 6:19 p.m., Bobb signed off on a three-page receipt describing the records that had been taken away: 11 sets of classified documents, several of them top secret; information about the president of France. At the top of the list was an executive grant of clemency for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump friend and political adviser who was convicted by a jury of seeking to impede a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
People close to Trump said the search caught them all by surprise, at a time when Trump and his lawyers had been more focused on the New York probe of Trump Organization business practices and state and federal investigations of the efforts to reverse the 2020 election.
Trump and his team quickly began speculating that the FBI had been tipped by a disloyal insider, particularly given how many of his advisers have been interviewed by authorities about the document issue. “There were two days of crazy talk in Trump world about who was the mole, who was the informant,” one adviser said. “Fingers were pointed at all sorts of people.”
Bobb became the face of Trump’s legal pushback, booking time on Fox and other conservative media outlets. But behind the scenes, Trump’s allies initiated a hunt for new attorneys who might be more experienced with the complex battle with the Justice Department they knew was about to begin.
There was a growing realization, in the words of one close adviser, that the former president could be in for a “big fight for a long time.”
It was a familiar predicament for Trump, who has changed lawyers repeatedly since 2016 and has at times had trouble finding high-powered counsel to take up his cause.
Jon Sale, a prominent Florida defense attorney who had been part of the Watergate prosecutorial team, confirmed he was asked this week to represent Trump — and declined. He called the request a “privilege” but said that because of “other professional commitments,” he did not have the time to provide the kind of lawyering he believed Trump will need.
As the week progressed, Trump grew angrier, at times screaming profanities to advisers about the FBI and how they were out to “get him,” people who were in contact with him said.
Many Republicans echoed his outrage, accusing the Justice Department — without providing evidence — of infringing on the rights of a former president and targeting a possible 2024 rival to Biden.
Pleading the Fifth
On Wednesday, Trump sat for his deposition before New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who is probing his pre-presidential business dealings. He cited the Mar-a-Lago search as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
For years, Trump had mocked others who took the Fifth, arguing it was a sign of guilt. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” he taunted his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in 2016. But now he leaned on the FBI’s actions in Florida to change his tune, insisting he was being targeted by prosecutors and therefore should keep his mouth shut.
In the face of Trump’s accusations, the Justice Department at first maintained its traditional silence.
But the temperature was rising on the right, with online message boards filled with Trump supporters pledging violence and even civil war over the FBI’s actions. On Thursday morning, a man in body armor was killed by police after trying unsuccessfully to breach an FBI field office in Cincinnati. He left behind a long trail of posts supporting Trump on the former president’s social media platform, Truth Social, including a “call to arms” issued shortly after Trump revealed the Mar-a-Lago raid.
“Be ready to kill the enemy,” he posted on Tuesday. “Kill [the FBI] on sight.”
With Trump’s lawyers already talking about the search warrant, and many Republicans attacking the FBI’s motives, Garland found a way to stick to Justice Department rules and still defend the FBI and prosecutors. Justice Department lawyers filed court papers seeking to unseal the Trump search warrant. And Garland issued a rare public statement saying he personally had approved the court-authorized search and denounced threats of violence to law enforcement.
In doing so, the often cautious former judge took a major step — staking his reputation on what will likely be the issue that defines his tenure as attorney general.
“Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor,” he said. “Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”
The White House told reporters they learned of Garland’s plan to speak not from the Justice Department, but from news reports.
When released on Friday, the search warrant underscored the seriousness of the FBI search. Agents wrote that they were seeking evidence of violations of three different statutes. A Washington Post report that the FBI was seeking documents related to nuclear weapons had also sent a ripple through Trump’s support network.
The former president kept up a steady stream of angry online statements, mixing outright denials with near-admissions that he had indeed been holding sensitive material about nuclear weapons.
“President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified,” Trump said in a statement Friday that was quickly debunked by the National Archives, which said it controls all of Obama’s papers.
Trump went on to speculate baselessly: “How many of them pertained to nuclear?” he asked. "Word is, lots!”
Nowhere in the statement did he address whether he had done the same.
Shane Harris, Spencer S. Hsu, Shayna Jacobs, Ellen Nakashima, Tyler Pager, Perry Stein and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.
The Mar-a-Lago documents case raises fears that US nuclear info was given to foreign powers. The DOJ carefully set the potential charges accordingly: violation of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. Now WaPo's new article shamefully downplays it a "records dispute". 1/
The article barely mentions actual security threats to the US, instead frames a "horse-race" narrative, Trump v others. Here's one of 3 places that "security" shows up: a "disgruntled" Trump wants to tear down forces against him. Followed by a quote from Trump's spokesman. 2/
"Security" shows up in the WaPo article again in a way that undercuts the seriousness, saying Trump has a "lack of respect for the strict rules for document handling sacred to the intelligence community". No sense that those rules are there FOR A REASON. 3/
That part of the article continues by implying that Trump was just careless, had no larger plans. Trump "did not typically read" classified documents", then forgot to return them. But other stories report the Mar-a-Lago documents were carefully selected by Trump in late Jan. 4/
There are so many things wrong with this article. It asserts "People close to Trump said the search caught them all by surprise" (then pivots to Trump vs FBI framing). Life hack: if you blow off a federal subpoena, get ready for the FBI to knock. The search was NOT A SURPRISE. 5/
Finally, the WaPo article feeds the right-wing narrative "but Trump declassified!". It harps on the classified status, never mentions DOJ's 'brilliant tactical move': 'none of the crimes cited require the documents to be classified' (@BarbMcQuade ). 6/
Brilliant tactical move by DOJ on selecting statutes for the search. None of the crimes cited require the documents to be classified. Any claim by Trump that he declassified the documents is irrelevant. I’ll discuss at 7 am ET on @MSNBC. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/12/us/trump-espionage-act-laws-fbi.html?referringSource=articleShare
Journalism matters - America can't weather this historical moment without good journalism, that is savvy about assessing bias and influence, careful with words. This article is not what we need. 7/
Adding even more ways the WaPo article is subtly biased. Why pick an uncommon photo of Mar-a-Lago at night, since the search was conducted in daytime? Comparing leader photos from 7 outlets - WaPo's choice makes the search seem more ominous, less legit. 8/
The WaPo authors incl @jdawsey1 & @DevlinBarrett who'd quoted Jonathan Turley on J6 ("no grand conspiracy"). Turley's not in this article, but gives the talking point on Fox: "This is a fairly common conflict between former Presidents and the archives" 9/
Tone matters in reporting. Framing a national security issue as a "dispute" between Trump and the FBI helps produce today's horror: armed men at the AZ FBI office talking of "the unlawful search with the FBI", "We're gonna take the fight to the FBI..." 10/
If you still doubt there's attempts to control the narrative: the same day as the WaPo piece, John Solomon, who likely handled the Mar-a-Lago documents (w/ Kash Patel), also posted an article implying that the docs were OK because declassified. 11/
The day that a subpoena was delivered to the Trump Org. for the security cam footage showing who touched the Mar-a-Lago documents, Kash Patel announced he'd been made an official National Archives rep for Trump. W/in 2 days John Solomon said the same. 12/
It was Mar-a-Lago doc handler John Solomon who also broke the story this week of an earlier subpoena & FBI meeting with Trump. Be savvy: those facing prosecution are trying to get in front of the story and minimize it. This week, WaPo helped them. 13/
You can see the whole Mar-a-Lago spin cycle in the new "Aftermath" page of the Jan 6 "Lead-up timeline", which includes attempts at coverups and evolving media reporting. Screenshot shows excerpt; whole timeline is at link. 14/
Adding objections from @emptywheel, who flags this dig by WaPo: "Garland was under enormous public pressure..." Seems to imply that FBI's search was motivated partly by politics / optics. Is @jdawsey1 accusing Garland of malfeasance? If not, omit. 15/
The WaPo article could take up a whole semester's journalism class on bias and tone - and hopefully will. If anyone wants to comb through it for more, here's an un-paywalled, archived link. 16/
As a contrast, here's @hugolowell modeling how to report on a claim and call it out as bs, in under 280 characters. With an entire article, there's no excuse to not get it right. 17/
New: Trump advisor Kash Patel pushes the claim again that the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago were not classified — except it doesn’t matter: the FBI search warrant listed three statutes that makes violations a crime regardless of whether materials are classified.
Patel: He can literally stand over a set documents and say these are now declassified
Kash Patel was installed in the department of defense after Trump lost on November 10, 2020 he was on all the phone calls with Chris Miller denying the National Guard 14 times.
They tried to make him Gina’s Deputy, with a plan to make him CIA Director. Gina refused and said she’d resign and be loud about it, so they backed off.
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The seizure of classified U.S. government documents from Donald Trump's sprawling Mar-a-Lago retreat spotlights the ongoing national security concerns presented by the former president, and the home he dubbed the Winter White House, some security experts say.
Trump is under federal investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it unlawful to spy for another country or mishandle U.S. defense information, including sharing it with people not authorized to receive it, a search warrant shows.
As president, Trump sometimes shared information, regardless of its sensitivity. Early in his presidency, he spontaneously gave highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation while he was in the Oval Office, U.S. officials said at the time.
But it was at Mar-a-Lago, where well-heeled members and guests attended weddings and fundraising dinners and frolicked on a breezy ocean patio, that U.S. intelligence seemed especially at risk.
The Secret Service said when Trump was president that it does not determine who is granted access to the club, but does do physical screenings to make sure no one brings in prohibited items, and further screening for guests in proximity to the president and other protectees.
The Justice Department’s search warrant raises concerns about national security, said former DOJ official Mary McCord.
"Clearly they thought it was very serious to get these materials back into secured space," McCord said. "Even just retention of highly classified documents in improper storage - particularly given Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there and others who might have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents - creates a significant national security threat."
Trump, in a statement on his social media platform, said the records were "all declassified" and placed in "secure storage."
McCord said, however, she saw no "plausible argument that he had made a conscious decision about each one of these to declassify them before he left." After leaving office, she said, he did not have the power to declassify information.
Monday's seizure by FBI agents of multiple sets of documents and dozens of boxes, including information about U.S. defense and a reference to the "French President," poses a frightening scenario for intelligence professionals.
"It's a nightmarish environment for a careful handling of highly classified information," said a former U.S. intelligence officer. "It's just a nightmare."
The DOJ hasn't provided specific information about how or where the documents and photos had been stored, but the club's general vulnerabilities have been well documented.
In a high profile example, Trump huddled in 2017 with Japan's then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an outdoor dinner table while guests hovered nearby, listening and taking photos that they later posted on Twitter.
The dinner was disrupted by a North Korean missile test, and guests listened as Trump and Abe figured out what to say in response. After issuing a statement, Trump dropped by a wedding party at the club.
"What we saw was Trump be so lax in security that he was having a sensitive meeting regarding a potential war topic where non-U.S. government personnel could observe and photograph," said Mark Zaid, a lawyer who specializes in national security cases. "It would have been easy for someone to also have had a device that heard and recorded what Trump was saying as well."
The White House press secretary at the time of the Abe visit, Sean Spicer, told reporters afterward that Trump had been briefed about the North Korean launch in a secure room at Mar-a-Lago. He played down the scene on the patio.
"At that time, apparently there was a photo taken, which everyone jumped to nefarious conclusions about what may or may not be discussed. There was simply a discussion about press logistics, where to host the event," he said.
It was in the secure room at Mar-a-Lago where Trump decided to launch airstrikes against Syria for the use of chemical weapons in April 2017.
The decision made, Trump repaired to dinner with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Over a dessert of chocolate cake, Trump informed Xi about the airstrikes.
In 2019, a Chinese woman who passed security checkpoints at the club carrying a thumb drive coded with “malicious” software was arrested for entering a restricted property and making false statements to officials, authorities said at the time.
Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly launched an effort to try to limit who had access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the effort fizzled when Trump refused to cooperate, aides said at the time.
(The story adds dropped word "been" in paragraph 16.)
Reporting By Steve Holland and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Heather Timmons, William Mallard and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
1. The IC is capable of employing a lot of recourses to deal with a massive theft of TS/SCI material. I think it would likely include more surveillance than just the closed circuit feeds. I once witnessed a high level secret document being handled in the AG's office area
2. that required my family and I leave the room while two of the staff members put the document in a safe. I believe the people who do that work knew the documents were missing from the start and knew that #45 didn't return them. From that moment on, with #45's known
3. assistance from Russian intelligence services in the 2016 election, the IC would stand up a sufficient team to address the threat as soon as it was clear. That's why I feel confident that Garland has intercepts that Joe Biden can declassify so the world can listen to #45
4. betray his oath and commit felonies that can put him away for the rest of his life. If his betrayal cost anyone their life, I wouldn't be surprise if Garland teed him up for a needle. There's something about prosecutors who have taken lives.