On Monday, FBI agents executed a search warrant at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Here's everything you need to know:
The search warrant was unsealed on Friday, showing that the federal government is investigating Trump for potential violation of the Espionage Act and two other criminal statutes. The inventory of material seized by the FBI shows that 11 sets of classified documents were removed from Mar-a-Lago, including four sets that were classified as "top secret/sensitive compartmented information," meaning they can only be viewed at a secure facility.
Trump and some of his allies initially, with no proof, suggested that the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago, and on Friday, Trump released a statement saying the documents were all "declassified." A Trump associate later went on Fox News and read a statement, which declared that when Trump was president, he had a "standing order" that "documents removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, said during an appearance Sunday on Face the Nation that he has not seen any evidence showing that Trump declassified the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, and called the notion that Trump could retroactively declassify material "absurd." Jason Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives, told The New York Times that what Trump "doesn't have the right to do is possess the documents; they are not his. There should be no presidential records at Mar-a-Lago, whether they are classified or unclassified or subject to executive privilege or subject to attorney-client privilege."
John Kelly, Trump's former chief of staff, told The Washington Post that during his time in the White House, the then-president "didn't believe in the classification system," because his "sense was that the people who are in the intel business are incompetent, and he knew better." John Bolton, Trump's onetime national security adviser, said he remembered Trump asking to keep highly classified materials he received with his presidential daily brief, and "he'd usually give it back — but sometimes he wouldn't give it back." That's why, Bolton told the Post, "almost nothing would surprise me about what's in the documents at Mar-a-Lago."
On Thursday night, the Post reported that the FBI agents who searched Mar-a-Lago were looking for classified documents related to nuclear weapons, among other materials. The newspaper spoke with several people familiar with the matter, who did not divulge if the material involved U.S. or foreign weapons or whether the documents were recovered. The Post also reported that government officials were concerned about having this highly classified material in an unsecured location; Mar-a-Lago isn't just Trump's residence in Florida — it's also a private club.
In the days following the search, Trump and several of his GOP allies accused the Department of Justice of a "political persecution," with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declaring "every Republican believes that the FBI and other organizations have lost their mind when it comes to Trump." Up until Thursday, the DOJ and FBI remained mum, not even confirming that the search had taken place. That changed during an afternoon press conference, when Attorney General Merrick Garland announced he had authorized the decision to seek the search warrant. He went on to praise the "men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department" for being "dedicated, patriotic public servants" and declared that "upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing."
How did this all get started?
In the hours after the search was carried out at Mar-a-Lago, several people familiar with the matter told multiple news outlets the agents were there as part of a probe into possible mishandling of classified information. Earlier this year, the National Archives received 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago, which included classified records containing national security information. These documents — some of them torn up and taped back together — should have been turned over to the National Archives at the end of the Trump administration, the agency said. At this point, the National Archives believed Trump was still holding onto additional documents and material, and asked the Department of Justice to start an investigation into the matter.
Trump himself broke the news about the search, releasing a statement on Monday evening saying that Mar-a-Lago was "currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents." He went on to claim that "such an assault could only take place in broken, Third World countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those countries, corrupt at a level not seen before. They even broke into my safe!"
What happened during the search?
First, a search warrant was signed by a federal judge after establishing FBI agents had shown probable cause. A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that the FBI notified the Secret Service just before serving the warrant; in turn, the Secret Service contacted the Justice Department, and after the warrant was validated, let FBI agents into Mar-a-Lago.
Mar-a-Lago is closed during the summer, and Trump was in New York City when agents arrived. People with knowledge of the situation told the Times that the search was conducted in "a relatively low-key manner," with agents looking in a storage unit in the basement and Trump's office.
Why did this search happen now?
The Times wrote on Tuesday that it isn't clear "whether the search was carried out simply to ensure that the documents and other material were properly turned over to the [National Archives] or it was a possible precursor to a prosecution of Mr. Trump for mishandling classified material or obstructing efforts to get it back." It also isn't known why Trump moved these classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago in the first place.
As part of the Justice Department's probe, investigators have spoken with Trump aides about the records, and people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post that after conducting several interviews, some officials started to suspect that "Trump's representatives were not truthful at times" and there were still documents at Mar-a-Lago.
What are the federal laws regarding classified government records?
The Presidential Records Act was enacted in 1978, and makes it so presidential records are the property of the U.S. government. The material — including emails, text messages, and phone records — must be preserved and turned over to the National Archives at the end of an administration. As part of the law, the National Archives has to make those documents available to the public "as rapidly and as completely as possible."
There are also two laws connected to the destruction of White House records, CBS News reports. The first states that anyone found to have "willfully and unlawfully" concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, or destroyed a record faces a fine and up to three years in prison. The second law states that any person convicted of willfully injuring or committing "any depredation against any property" of the United States faces a fine or up to one year in prison.
How did Trump initially respond to the FBI search?
Trump used it as a fundraising opportunity, with his Save America political action committee sending out texts and emails on Tuesday. In one email, Trump claimed to be the victim of "political persecution" and a "witch hunt," which needed to be "exposed and stopped."
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