In the immediate wake of the FBI raid on Monday of former President Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, initial media reports citing anonymous sources suggested the FBI was searching for classified documents in Trump’s possession that should have been turned over to the National Archives.
As it turns out, the court-ordered public release of the unsealed search warrant and seized property receipt do indeed reveal that the FBI discovered and confiscated classified materials that were being stored at Trump’s south Florida resort home, the New York Post reported.
However, the media uproar about Trump’s possession of classified materials may be much ado about nothing, as it is widely acknowledged and understood that presidents have the inherent and constitutional authority to declassify almost anything they see fit — as Trump himself claims to have done here — without any particular process or additional approval required.
Warrant denoted property to be searched and seized
At the order of Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday, and with the full agreement of Trump, the DOJ asked the court to release unredacted copies of the search warrant and property receipt — except for the names of the FBI agents involved — which the court did on Friday.
The search warrant itself, with respect to the property to be searched, appeared fairly unremarkable in that it specified that the raid was to occur during daylight hours and appeared to limit the FBI search of the Mar-a-Lago resort to only certain areas or rooms where Trump or his staff might store boxes of documents while excluding much of the rest of the property from the search.
Eyebrows were raised by the section about the property to be seized, however, as it appeared to cast a rather broad net that was intended to catch not just documents marked as classified but also any other documents or information found in the searchable areas as well, including “Any government and/or Presidential Records” dated during the tenure of Trump’s time in office.
Also garnering some critical attention were the statutes listed as having potentially been violated, which included 18 U.S.C. Section 793, which is part of the Espionage Act that pertains to national defense information; Section 2071, dealing with the concealment, removal, or mutilation of documents; and Section 1519, which covers the destruction, alteration, or falsification of government records.
Boxes of documents marked “classified” seized
As for the seized property receipt, the Post reported that it indicated that 27 boxes of documents were taken into custody by the FBI, including 11 boxes containing materials marked as classified.
That included four boxes marked “Top Secret,” the highest classification level, three boxes marked “Secret,” the middle classification level, and three boxes marked “Confidential,” the lowest classification level, as well as a set of assorted documents labeled as “classified/TS/SCI,” which are abbreviations for “top secret” and “sensitive compartmented information” that is reserved for sensitive information not intended to be spread broadly within the government.
The property list also noted that a “handwritten note,” “binders of photos,” a “leatherbound box of documents,” information about French President Emmanuel Macron, and a copy of the executive clemency order for Roger Stone were also seized by the FBI.
Of course, the fact that documents seized by the FBI were marked as classified may be a meaningless and moot point, as previously noted, since the president can declassify anything he wants at any time for any or no reason at all — which Trump insists he did prior to leaving office — and which even the biased “fact-checkers” at PolitiFact begrudgingly acknowledged was true in 2017 when Democrats and the media flipped out about Trump sharing purportedly classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.