Commentators Say Affidavit Shows Clear DOJ Justifications for Mar-a-Lago Search

A redacted version of an affidavit from an FBI search warrant justifying why the Department of Justice (DOJ) felt compelled to search for and remove government documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was made public on Friday, revealing that there was “probable cause to believe that additional documents” were at the property pertaining to National Defense Information (NDI) and other presidential records.

The affidavit’s release was previously ordered by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who had originally signed off on the warrant. The document states that there was “cause to believe that evidence of obstruction” of the investigation into how classified White House documents wound up at Mar-a-Lago would also be found at the estate.

Trump or others could be charged with obstruction if they interfere with the investigation.

Although the affidavit had been heavily redacted, legal experts and commentators reacted to its release.

“The redacted affidavit makes it seem that DOJ has President Trump dead-to-rights on the wrongful retention of national defense information,” said legal commentator and University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck.

The affidavit’s release was preceded by the DOJ’s explanation of why portions of the document would be redacted. “[T]he 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 involved,” the department wrote.

Many people interpreted this message to be a direct reference towards Trump.

“This is quite something: DOJ is saying publicly they can’t trust former President Trump not to interfere w/the investigation if the roadmap is disclosed,” former U.S. acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said.

The language used in the non-redacted portions of the DOJ explainer “strongly suggests that their criminal investigation is ongoing,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal procuror.

Mariotti added that department officials made clear to Reinhart that there were several attempts to “[give] Trump every opportunity to return the classified material voluntarily and that they were going out of their way to be fair to him.”

Within the affidavit, the DOJ stated that it is “conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records.”

The investigation began after a referral from the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) told FBI officials that an initial retrieval of documents from the property in January netted, “among other things, highly classified documents intermingled with other records.”

Several items were returned by officials during that retrieval, including National Defense Information (NDI). Some of the items that were taken back by officials during that retrieval contained National Defense Information (NDI). more than 180 documents that were retrieved by NARA in January, 92 had a classified designation of “secret,” while 25 were labeled “top secret,” the affidavit revealed.

The affidavit also noted that the DOJ had sent a letter to Trump’s legal counsel in June, telling them that Mar-a-Lago is “not authorized to store classified information.” The letter asked that the documents currently secured there “be preserved” in a storage room “in their current condition until further notice.”

The letter contradicts Trump’s claimHe was told by the DOJ that he would get a better lock on the documents.

Much is still unknown about the affidavit’s contents and the Mar-a-Lago search. One heavily redacted section of the document, in which no words from the DOJ are shown, is simply titled, “There is Probable Cause to Believe That Documents Containing Classified NDI and Presidential Records Remain at the Premises.”

Reinhart’s original order to release portions of the affidavit came as many across the country called for more transparency into the search warrant that was executed by FBI agents at the Palm Beach, Florida, estate earlier this month. But Reinhart also stated in his order that while the affidavit should be made public, the document may be so extensively redacted by the DOJ that it would “result in a meaningless disclosure.”

Reinhart maintained that the DOJ had good reason to keep some parts of the investigation hidden, saying that certain disclosures “would reveal the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties, the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods, and grand jury information.”

The DOJ had previously made portions of the search warrant public. Is investigating the possibility that Trump may have violated parts of the Espionage ActA law that is used to prosecute individuals who misuse information from the government to harm U.S. interests abroad. The law is used most often to prosecute whistleblowers or antiwar activists.

Although the redacted affidavit leaves many questions unanswered, much of the investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents has been revealed through various media reports, which have relied on sources that are familiar with the inquiry.

Mar-a-Lago has seen more than 300 classified documents removed in the last year, in three different searches — one in January, when 15 boxes were retrieved from the Trump property, one in June, when 26 boxes were subpoenaed by DOJ to be returned, and the FBI search in August, where 20 additional boxes were taken back by government officials.

Trump has described the search at Mar-a-Lago this month as being unfair and illegal — though in his own arguments in a court filing earlier this week demanding the documents’ return, he appeared to acknowledge, perhaps unintentionally, that The federal government was legally seized with the material.

The former president’s other defenses of his actions have also fallen apart. Trump and his allies have made many claims about Trump’s actions, including the claim that an FBI search warrant was a remarkable action. Trump claimed that he cooperated with investigators before and that a simple request for the documents would have been honored.

NARA has actually been trying to get Trump government records back Since before he left office. Through most 2021, NARA continued to press Trump to return the documents. When he finally agreed to return some of the documents — resulting in the retrieval of materials in January 2022 — it was only because NARA had threatened to get Congress involved in the matter.

This is the subpoena ordering in June of this years Trump also had to attest to having returned all classified documents in he possession to the feds. An unknown informant told the DOJ that Trump had hidden more documents and surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago, prompting the FBI to search the property.