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Over 180 classified docs removed by National Archives from Mar-a-Lago, affidavit says

Police stand outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee
/
AP
Police stand outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla.

Updated August 26, 2022 at 3:31 PM ET

The affidavit that the FBI used to get a warrant for searching former President Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago is now public. A redacted version of the document was released by a federal court this afternoon.

Of the 32 pages in the affidavit from an FBI special agent with expertise in counterintelligence and espionage investigations, nearly half were covered in thick black lines masking information that had demonstrated to a federal judge the need to search Trump's Florida property. Eight pages of exhibits and supplementary information were also released, which were not redacted.

"Probable cause exists to believe that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed" was being improperly stored in various places at Mar-a-Lago, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, 184 classified documents, including 25 marked "Top Secret," were found among 15 boxes that the National Archives had obtained from Mar-a-Lago earlier in the year, as well as others denoted with labels indicating they contained national security information, such as "FISA." Some of those documents were intermixed with other files, loose and unlabeled, which prompted the Archives to refer the case to the Justice Department.

As the department worked with Trump and his attorneys, it became concerned about the nature of other records at the property, and that they were no adequately protected or stored. The Justice Department also grew concerned about misleading public statements from Trump and a former administration official about the materials that the Archives had recovered, the affidavit shows.

Shortly after the affidavit was released on Friday, Trump made an emotional statement on his Truth Social media account, referring to the search as "the Break-In of my home."

He also said federal law enforcement was carrying out "a total public relations subterfuge," without providing explanation, and declared "WE GAVE THEM MUCH" when he described his voluntary turning over of some of the materials improperly kept at Mar-a-Lago.

Since the search was executed on Aug. 8, threats of violence toward the FBI have increased. Anticipating the potential for violence from Trump supporters, the agent in the affidavit asked for it to be sealed. The agent also said publicly releasing it could lead to criminal activity.

"I believe that sealing this document is necessary because the items and information to be seized are relevant to an ongoing investigation and the FBI has not yet identified all potential criminal confederates nor located all evidence related to its investigation," the unidentified agent wrote in the affidavit. "Premature disclosure of the contents of this affidavit and related documents may have a significant and negative impact on the continuing investigation and may severely jeopardize its effectiveness by allowing criminal parties an opportunity to flee, destroy evidence (stored electronically and otherwise), change patterns of behavior, and notify criminal confederates."

A previous version of this story said that PACER, the country's main court filing system, was unable to handle the downloading demand for the document, which meant that scores of people and media outlets could not read it until well after the court-mandated deadline of noon.

Media organizations went to court to demand that the public be able see the affidavit laying out the reasons and research for the unprecedented search. The Justice Department then countered that it contains information that could compromise ongoing investigations as well as the safety of federal employees.

Judge Bruce Reinhart last week ordered the department to provide him with a redacted version to consider for release. On Thursday he said the government had made its case that disclosing all of the affidavit would reveal witnesses, the investigation's strategy, its scope and grand jury information and there was reason to keep much of it under wraps for now. But he said that the government's proposed redactions were tailored narrowly enough to protect the integrity of the investigation and provided "the least onerous alternative" to keeping the entire document sealed.

The affidavit also explains the work of a "Privilege Review Team" to identify and segregate documents that may be shielded by attorney-client privilege. Still, Trump has asked a different judge to halt the FBI review of the Mar-a-Lago documents and appoint a neutral special master. That judge has given him a deadline, also on Friday, to resubmit his request outlining and clarifying jurisdiction and legal points made in his first request.

At the request of Trump's lawyers, the FBI attached a letter where the lawyers stated that Trump "readily and voluntarily" agreed to give the Archives documents it had requested, and made the argument that the criminal statute on classified materials does not apply to presidents or former presidents, essentially saying that Trump could not break the law. They also restate Trump's point of view that a president has absolute authority to declassify documents.

President Biden refers questions about the affidavit to the DOJ

President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election, cracked a joke on Friday when asked about Trump's assertion that as president he had the power to declassify all of the documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

"I just want you to know I've declassified everything in the world. I'm president. I can do it," Biden said sarcastically. "Come on."

While speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden also said he would not comment on the affidavit and referred questions to the Justice Department, adding, "I don't know the details. I don't even want to know."

Before the redacted affidavit was published, the court released the Justice Department's memo arguing why information should be kept under wraps. Although it, too, had large redacted sessions, the memo shed additional light on the investigation into how the former president took potentially secret documents home.

It indicated there are "a significant number of civilian witnesses," in the investigation.

"The government has well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed," the Justice Department also said in the memo.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 25, 2022 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous version of this story said downloading demand on PACER for the affidavit caused a delay in its release. A statement by the administrative office of the U.S. Courts said an "unusually high volume of users" caused some to experience a delay in accessing the document but "the system remained up and running."
Washington Desk