Friday’s search warrant was made public. It reveals the following: FBI is investigating former President Donald Trump for three federal crimes, including violating the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and criminal handling of government records, after removing top-secret documents when they raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week. Trump calls the investigation a hoax and Republican threats against the investigation are growing. FBI. We speak with Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, who calls Trump’s reaction to the FBI search a “call to violence,” setting the stage for a “replay” of January 6. “We really need to try to understand what former President Trump intended to do with this material” despite the backlash, says Greenberg.
This is a hurry transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
A search warrant made public Friday confirms federal agents removed top-secret documents when they searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee jointly requested that lawmakers be permitted to review classified documents seized by NSA. FBI. Democrat Mark Warner, Republican Marco Rubio, made the request Sunday at the Justice Department’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Friday’s U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida released the warrant signed and sealed by the federal magistrate judge, who approved the raid. The warrant showed that Trump is being investigated for violating the Espionage Act as well as obstruction of justice and criminal handling government records. The FBI reportedly seized 11 sets of classified documents during its search, including documents marked as “top secret/SCI” — which stands for “sensitive compartmented information” — one of the highest levels of classification. Last week The Washington Post reportedPart of the FBIThe search was restricted to classified documents that were related to nuclear weapons. The raid was addressed by Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker.
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:These materials are not to be handled in an improper manner. These laws are against it. We must recognize that. This information, as it is coming across — and we don’t, we’ll know more later — is highly classified, well above top secret. It is also more secret than top secret. It’s top secret/SCI. It’s about our national security, as we are told, and we’ll see.
AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump’s response to the FBIAs more information is discovered, the search for Mar-a-Lago has been changing. He called the probe a hoax. He claimed to have declassified all documents at Mar-a-Lago. He also demanded that the documents be declassified at Mar-a-Lago. FBI return some documents, claiming they’re protected by attorney-client and executive privileges.
In the meantime, backlash against FBIThe search has led to a rise in online sales, especially in the rural areas. CNN reportsThe FBI is investigating an “unprecedented” number of threats against FBIProperty and agents over the last week The FBIThe Department of Homeland Security also issued a joint intelligence bulletin, warning of violent threats to federal agents, court officials, and government facilities. Last week, the Cincinnati FBIThe attack on the office was devastating.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted, quote, “The espionage act was abused from the beginning to jail dissidents of WWI. It is long past time to repeal this egregious affront to the 1st Amendment.” Again, those the words of Rand Paul.
For more, we’re joined by Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, author of the book Subtle Tools: The Destruction of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald TrumpAnd Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State.
Welcome back Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Karen. You could begin by talking about the investigation into espionage of former President Trump and its significance.
KAREN GREENBERG: Well, I think it’s very significant, I think, symbolically, as well as legally. Now, the Espionage Act actually raises the specter of crimes against the country’s national defense. This part of the Espionage Act that’s referred to in the warrant is not the part that’s about spying, but about the handling of national defense information — in their words, gathering, transmitting or losing defense information. It’s illegal to remove documents related to national security from their proper place, which, as we know, is the National Archives, if they could pose a threat to national security. So that’s the big charge that gets all the headlines that was leveled against president. But there are also — that is suspected against the president.
But then, there are also two other issues here, and they carry higher charges, and they’re very important. The criminal handling government records refers to the destruction, alteration or falsification, or both, of documents or records in investigations. And it’s a prison sentence that could be up to 20 years. This is the obstruction-of-justice charge. And finally, there’s the potential charge of making illegal the destruction of, theft of any government document. And we’ve seen in the recent past use of this, for example, with Petraeus and sort of allegations of this with others, but Petraeus is the name that comes to mind by this. And this is punishable for three years.
These are serious charges. Not only in the espionage case, but also in other possible charges. Now, he hasn’t been charged. This is what’s just said in the warrant could be what they are looking for. It justifies legal search. And we’ll see what happens. So, again, he hasn’t been charged, but this is what they’re looking for in the documents that they took away. Remember that some of the documents they took with them were classified. So, we’ll see what happens.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the Espionage Act. We’ve seen it evoked against Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Thomas Drake, Reality Winner. The Obama administration seemed to use the Espionage Act to suppress dissent by whistleblowers. These issues are now being raised by those on the right.
KAREN GREENBERG: Right. This is one of — this is sort of history turning itself on its head. Obama used the Espionage Act to fight whistleblowers. This was more than any other president of the United States. The Espionage Act was created in World War I. It was used to prosecute and enlist in World War I those who were opposed to the war. And it’s been used during the McCarthy era. It’s been used — was tried to be used against Daniel Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers. It has a long history of not really being about what it’s being used for now, which is the abuse of power — this is the suspicion — the abuse of power at the absolute highest level of government to harm the country, as opposed to these prior instances we’ve referred to, which were people who were trying to leak information in order to bring to light some things that they thought, and others thought, were things that the government shouldn’t be doing.
So, the difference between dissent and the use of espionage in prosecution of dissent and the abuse of power that potentially harms national safety, I would argue, is very distinct. And again, I think the country needs to have a discussion about this, but right now we need to handle what happened, what those documents were about — if we can find out — and what the president was intending, the former president was intending, by holding onto these documents.
AMY GOODMAN:The issue is that they could be linked to nuclear secrets. What does that mean?
KAREN GREENBERG:That could mean a lot of things. One, it obviously is the sort of — one of the scarier things that you could be worried about in terms of holding onto classified information. It also means, though, going to the guilt of the president and what — former president and what he did, is that the president has claimed he can declassify information — and we think this is going to be part of what is said by his defense team — and that he could sort of take a magic wand and just declassify things.
When it comes to nuclear issues and nuclear weapons, that is not — first of all, it’s not necessarily the case anyway, without going through a series of procedures and conversations and document-by-document removal of these from a large cache that you’re going to turn over to the National Archives. But when it comes to nuclear issues, it’s actually a different standard, and the president does not have the right to do this just the way he’s claiming, and this is regulated by the Atomic Energy Act. So, I think it’s rather significant that they mentioned — that it’s been mentioned and reported that this may pertain to some nuclear issues.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to what Trump and his supporters are claiming, that Trump used his presidential authority to declassify all the documents in question before leaving office. This is Republican Senator Mike Rounds, South Dakota speaking. Meet the Press.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:I believe, constitutionally, it was 1988 when there was a Supreme Court ruling. U.S. Navy v. Egan, in which they actually talked about whether or not a former president — a president could classify and declassify. And it’s never really been litigated, but it appears that a president can classify or perhaps declassify information. And if that’s the case, then the question would be — and I think it will be litigated as this moves forward — whether or not that was completed while the president was in the White House at that time.
AMY GOODMAN:This is very fascinating. John Bolton, the national safety adviser, stated that he was never informed that certain items were being declassified blanketedly when he was national defense adviser. The president simply had them, which means they were declassified.
KAREN GREENBERG: Well, you can sort of understand, from the former president’s point of view, why he would want to say that, because it gets him out of the more serious charges about mishandling classified documents, which brings — you know, which brings very high charges. From the defense perspective, I think that I understand it. But it’s not accurate. If you want to declassify documents and you are president, there will be procedures, rules, and conversations. This should be recorded, so that we can get to the point about willful misuse of records in this presidency.
And we don’t know whether there will be something in what they took from Mar-a-Lago last week, whether there will be something that shows documents that he went through procedures to declassify. But it’s not just a carte blancheon the declassification of a whole set information. This is a scrutinized, articulable distinction about what should be classified and what wasn’t. And so, we’d have to see what those conversations were, if they took place, whether there’s a record. And to this point, we haven’t seen that.
AMY GOODMAN:Can you talk about verbal attacks on the FBITrump and his associates, and the Justice Department The attorney, who represents whistleblowers, Mark Zaid, tweeted, quote, “Trump, via Breitbart, released unredacted copy of property receipt containing names of FBI agents. Based on his history, this can only be interpreted as intentional to cause these Special Agents (one of whom I know) & their families grief & subject them to possible threats,” Mark Zaid said. Your response, Karen Greenberg?
KAREN GREENBERG:You know, I reply that this is just a replay on a different level in a different arena of January 6th. This is the call to violence for the former president, and his treatment this week under the law. And it’s a convergence of many things that have been going on in this country for a long time. Now we know the story. Now we can see how it plays. It is very serious, and very dangerous.
This is a crucial time. Either, as a country, we know how to handle such threats, or we don’t. This includes how we apply the Espionage Act and how we use our courts. It also covers how we protect our law enforcement. This is a crucial moment and it is important how it is resolved. It just can’t keep going on that the use of the courts, the use of the law, the reliance on the rule of law is countered by violence that refuses to accept it.
AMY GOODMAN:What about? The New York Times reporting this weekend that a Trump lawyer had written to the Justice Department saying that all classified documents had been handed over, when in fact it’s clear they hadn’t?
KAREN GREENBERG: Right. So, again, this goes to something that we’ve been seeing throughout the January 6th investigation and elsewhere, which is sort of a willful use of, you want to call it, disinformation, of lying, of distorting the record. And it’s going to take a long time to put together this story of what actually went on with these documents that were kept at Mar-a-Lago. It’s all part of a larger story, which is what went on inside the Trump administration, what’s fact and what’s fiction, and what that means.
And this is one of the most important things about these records, that we sort of minimize because we’re thinking about the guilt or innocence of the former president, which is that we preserve records for a reason. We keep them for understanding guilt or innocence. However, we also keep them so we can know what happened in this country. This allows us to make informed decisions about how to proceed if we want to move forward with legislation that will prevent such things from happening again. So, it’s not a minor point, and we’re going to need to pay attention to this.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about many commentators noting that the laws in the warrant, like the Espionage Act, don’t deal with classification? This would be — would sort of undercut Trump’s arguments around classification or whether they were declassified.
KAREN GREENBERG:Yes and no. The classification issue is going be raised in any investigation that goes forward. So, yes, you could try to separate it out, but when you’re talking about national defense information, whether or not it was classified is going to make a difference. And the fact that they’re classified documents, whether or not they go after it on that specific point — which I think they will — is what is involved with the issue of: Did he do things that could have potentially harmed national security? The classification issue shines a light on this fundamental issue, the fundamental issue in this case.
AMY GOODMAN:Karen Greenberg: What are you most interested to find out as we wrap up? Do you worry about a backlash overall?
KAREN GREENBERG: I’m always concerned about an overall backlash. I don’t think we can worry about it. I believe we must move forward and find out what happened.
When you ask about what’s the most concern, we need to know what these documents were — and we aren’t going to know all of it; some of it’s going to have to be classified — but, essentially, what these documents were, what countries, if any other countries were involved or named in these documents, what these documents addressed.
And we really need to understand what — try to understand what former President Trump intended to do with this material. Why did he keep it in his possession? Was it to cover up crimes from the past or worries about being — allegations that address the past, or was it information that could have been weaponized for other purposes? We don’t know. This is what we should know in the coming days.
AMY GOODMAN:Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, I want you to know how much I appreciate your presence. Her most recent book is Subtle Tools: The Destruction of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump.
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