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Why the redacted affidavit for the search of Trump’s home is so concerning

The newly released affidavit sheds light on the classified documents at the center of Trump’s growing legal problems.

Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Department of Justice released an affidavit Friday that is central to the FBI’s search of President Donald J. Trump’s Florida home in Mar-a-Lago.

As expected, the document is heavily redacted. Or, rather, almost entirely redacted, after the DOJ asked the judge to conceal any parts of it that would hinder its investigation or compromise participants in it.

Still, the affidavit does shed new light on federal investigators’ fight to retrieve classified documents from Trump’s home in Florida, and includes several new bits of information:

  • It notes that, among the 15 boxes that Trump returned to the National Archives earlier this year, there were “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET.”
  • The FBI believed there were additional documents at Mar-a-Lago, but that they’d also find evidence of obstruction of justice there as well: “Further, there is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified NDI [National Defense Information] or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at the PREMISES [Mar-a-Lago]. There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the PREMISES.”
  • Politico’s Andrew Desiderio noted on Twitter that some of the documents allegedly contained human intelligence source information and foreign intelligence intercepts. That is, information that could reveal the actual identities of intelligence sources or closely guarded intel on US adversaries allies. This kind of intelligence is obviously extremely closely guarded and its exposure could put lives or sources at risk.
  • Classified and sensitive documents were allegedly stored at multiple unsecure locations at Mar-a-Lago.

The affidavit itself is the result of months of back-and-forth between federal investigators and Trump and his legal team, which spurred the FBI to ask a judge for permission to conduct its August search of Mar-a-Lago. During that search, the bureau found a cache of classified and sensitive documents.

In total, according to the New York Times, Trump “took more than 700 pages of classified documents, including some related to the nation’s most covert intelligence operations, to his private club and residence in Florida when he left the White House in January 2021.” The documents authorities searched for in Trump’s home included classified nuclear secrets and information that is “among the most sensitive secrets we hold,” the Washington Post reported.

Earlier this year, the National Archives recovered at least 15 boxes of presidential documents from Mar-a-Lago. But investigators began to believe that there was more, and that Trump’s team was not being totally forthcoming with them.

The potential legal exposure for Trump and his team is serious. A search warrant released earlier this month revealed that the FBI searched Trump’s home because of potential violations of three federal laws, including the Espionage Act, the willful destruction or concealment of federal records, and obstructing an investigation.

Read the affidavit here or below:

Presidential documents, no matter how small or obscure, are required by federal law to be turned over to the National Archives when a president leaves office. Trump and his aides have claimed that he had a “standing order” to declassify all documents in his possession. (Other former Trump officials have denied that there was any such order.)

But a president does not have unilateral authority to broadly declassify the nation’s most sensitive secrets — doing so involves several formal steps and consultation with other government agencies.

Classification may be irrelevant to Trump’s potential legal troubles. None of the federal laws cited by investigators require documents to be classified.

Update, August 26, 1:15 pm ET: This story has been updated with details from the affidavit.