Former US President Donald Trump's residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on August 9, 2022. Credit - Giorgio Viera—AFP/Getty Images
On Friday, the Justice Department unsealed a 38-page redacted version of the affidavit used to obtain a warrant for the FBI to search the former president’s home, amid pressure from the public and press.
Federal investigators previously searched Trumps’ Fla. estate on Aug. 8 for records that should have been handled by the National Archives, during which they found 11 sets of classified documents. Efforts by the Department of Justice to keep the document sealed were unsuccessful, forcing them to release a redacted affidavit that provided more clarity into what probable cause authorities had to conduct the search of Trump’s home.
Much of the document remains sealed “to protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation,” said the DOJ, in its 14-page memorandum.
Here’s what we know about the investigation thus far:
What the redacted affidavit revealed
Authorities were forced to release a redacted affidavit after a Florida judge ruled that it was in the public’s interest.
The redacted affidavit indicated that the FBI had found probable cause that there was “evidence of obstruction” at Trump’s home.
Federal officials pointed to the 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) previously obtained from Trump in February as evidence that there could be more documents to be discovered. Those records included the president’s handwritten notes, and all but one of the boxes had classified information, as over half of the 184 documents were labeled as either “top secret” or “secret,” according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also referenced reports of moving trucks spotted at Trump’s Florida residence. Because several of the documents were improperly identified and mixed in with unclassified records, newspapers, and more, federal authorities argued that this could put valuable information at risk.
There is currently no information about the content of the documents, though the DOJ did note that there were some records labeled “NOFORN,” meaning they could not be shared with another government and “SI,” indicating special intelligence derived from foreign communication.
What led up to the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago?
The Presidential Records Act mandates that all documents created by presidents be turned over to NARA when their term ends.
Trump should have handed in all his records by January 2021. But NARA announced earlier this year that it was still undergoing the recovery of some of these documents, including records that had been torn-up.
In February, NARA announced that they had arranged for the transportation of 15 boxes of presidential records from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property to the National Archives. But tensions between the agency and the former president remained high, as the Washington Post reported days later that NARA had asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Trump had violated federal law for his mishandling of these documents.
The FBI’s visit to Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla. property is part of this ongoing investigation, which Trump’s attorneys have been aware of since at least May, according to Politico.
A separate court filing that was unsealed on Friday shows that on May 25 Evan Corcoran, Trump’s lawyer, wrote a letter to the judge who issued the warrant for the search, attempting to dissuade the investigation from moving forward.
And despite Trump’s insistence that his presidential records were turned over in “an ordinary and routine process,” there’s evidence of rifts between authorities and the former president as a June 3 meeting between the DOJ, Trump and his lawyers on his Florida property had tensions high after officials found that records were not securely sealed.
What has been the response by Trump and his supporters?
Trump and his conservative supporters have argued against the search of his home, claiming it is all part of a political scheme by the Biden administration to keep him from running again in 2024. In an email statement by his Save America political committee, Trump called the moment a “dark time for our Nation.”
Political allies like Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, tweeted that the DOJ had “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” adding that “When Republicans take back the House, [they] will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned.”
And as Trump supporters call to abolish the FBI online, others have written out more serious threats against authorities. On Aug. 12, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security published a bulletin warning of a spike in violent threats against federal agents, with some people calling for a “civil war” against these agencies. Some Trump supporters had also posted agent’s personal addresses and relatives on social media, and there were reports of one armed Ohio man attempting to enter a Cincinnati FBI office.
But despite these attacks, the claim that this investigation is politically motivated has no backing. The White House maintains that it “did not have notice of the reported action” and the FBI’s current director, Christopher Wray, was appointed by Trump in 2017, having previously served under Republican leadership.