The FBI justified its unprecedented raid of former President Donald Trump’s home based on agents’ previous recovery of 184 classified documents Mr. Trump had removed from the White House, according to the affidavit for the search.
The heavily-redacted affidavit, which was made public Friday, revealed that FBI agents in May reviewed 15 boxes Mr. Trump returned to the National Archives and discovered the classified documents in 14 of those boxes.
Of the 184 documents that had classified markings, 25 were marked “top secret” — the government’s highest security level, according to the affidavit.
Those boxes were returned to the National Archives in January 2022.
Some of the documents, according to the affidavit, were marked “HCS,” which indicates information related to the nation’s human intelligence assets, possibly putting members of the intelligence community at risk if it was leaked.
The affidavit does not say if the documents named U.S. spies overseas.
DOCUMENT: Justice Department affidavit Mar-a-Lago search
Other documents had markings related Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which monitors threats from foreign agents. Some of the material could be used “to the injury of the United States,” according to the affidavit.
Several documents also appeared to include Mr. Trump’s handwriting.
The surprising discovery of classified materials prompted FBI officials to ask a federal judge for a warrant to search the former president’s residence and office at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The court filings underscored that the Justice Department viewed the former president as a criminal.
In a separate filing Friday, the Justice Department reiterated its case for redacting parts of the affidavit, warning that by making it public Mr. Trump could notify “potential criminal confederates.”
“Premature disclosure of the contents of this affidavit and related documents may have a significant and negative impact on the continuing investigation and may severely jeopardize its effectiveness by allowing criminal parties an opportunity to flee, destroy evidence (stored electronically and otherwise), change patterns of behavior, and notify criminal confederates,” the government wrote.
Mr. Trump has claimed that as president he had a standing order to declassify all documents moved from the White House to his residences. Last week, he wrote on Truth Social that all of the documents seized by the FBI were ‘all declassified.”
Some Trump allies backed up his claim, though other former administration officials said it was untrue. Mr. Trump has not made public documentation of his standing order or produced documentation that materials seized by the FBI were declassified.
In a statement moments after the affidavit’s release, Mr. Trump insisted that he did nothing wrong. He accused U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, of personal bias against him.
Mr. Trump also scoffed at a Washington Post report that some of the materials stored at the former president’s residence involved nuclear weapons information. Nothing has indicated FBI agents found nuclear information at Mar-a-Lago.
“Affidavit heavily redacted!!! Nothing mentioned on “Nuclear,” a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ, or our close working relationship regarding document turnover - WE GAVE THEM MUCH,” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Judge Bruce Reinhart should NEVER have allowed the Break-In of my home. He recused himself two months ago from one of my cases based on his animosity and hatred of your favorite President, me. What changed? Why hasn’t he recused himself on this case? Obama must be very proud of him right now!”
In the affidavit, the FBI told the judge there was “probable cause” to believe Mr. Trump had improperly taken more classified materials to “unauthorized locations” at Mar-a-Lago. The agents also told the judge they would likely find “evidence of obstruction.”
“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified [National Defense Information] or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at [Mar-a-Lago],” the affidavit states.
Investigators wrote in the affidavit that none of the spaces at Mr. Trump’s residence had been authorized for storing classified information. They said Mr. Trump was potentially keeping the materials in his residential suite, his “45 office” and other locations at Mar-a-Lago that had put them at risk of falling into the wrong hands.
The affidavit also lays bare the frustration of investigators and officials at the National Archives and Records Administration who spent more than a year pushing Mr. Trump’s legal team to return the materials.
Roughly 30 armed FBI agents raided Mr. Trump’s residence on Aug. 8 and removed dozens of boxes of documents and other materials, including 11 sets of classified documents. Some documents were marked “top secret” and “sensitive compartmented information,” the federal government’s two highest security classifications.
So far, no details have been released about what the documents may have contained.
The redacted affidavit was released after the Justice Department on Thursday submitted its proposed redactions to the document, prompting the judge to order the unsealing on Friday.
It is highly unusual for an affidavit to be unsealed in a criminal investigation. Typically, such documents remain under seal until criminal charges are filed or an investigation is closed to protect cooperating witnesses and shield documents that could compromise the investigation.
Judge Reinhart said after reviewing the Justice Department’s proposed redactions he believes the government showed compelling reasons to keep portions of the affidavit redacted because disclosure could reveal the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, uncharged parties as well as the investigation’s strategy, direction and sources.
But Judge Reinhart had said he was not inclined to keep the full affidavit under seal, saying that national interest in the case was too great to keep it shielded from the public.
The Justice Department has fought to keep it the affidavit under seal, arguing that its Trump investigation is still in “the early stages” and making it public could jeopardize the probe.
Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for the former president, called the Justice Department’s efforts to shield the affidavit from the public a “cynical attempt” to cover up its political bias.
“The whole affidavit should be released, given the Democrats’ penchant for using redactions to hide government corruption, just like they did with the Russia hoax,” Mr. Budowich said last week.
Several news organizations and the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch have mounted a legal challenge to unseal the affidavit. Mr. Trump has not joined the lawsuit, despite his repeated insistence that the affidavit goes public.
Justice Department lawyers argued that releasing the affidavit could set a precedent in other high-profile cases, thus jeopardizing those investigations.
However, Judge Reinhart said in his court filing that those cases are not his immediate concern.
“I do not need to reach the question of whether, in some other case, these concerns could justify denying public access; they very well might. Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former President’s residence, the Government has not yet shown that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify sealing,” he wrote