Trump Search: What might happen next in the investigation into the legal crisis?

WASHINGTON (AP) — A NEW RELEASE FBI Document helps outline investigation of classified material on former president Donald TrumpFlorida property. But a lot of questions remain, especially because half the affidavit, which explained the FBI’s justification for the property search, was blacked out.

The document, which the FBI submitted so it could get a warrant to search Trump’s winter home, provides new details about the volume and top-secret nature it obtained from Mar-a-Lago in January. It shows how Justice Department officials raised concerns months before the discovery that government secrets were being stored illegally — and then returned in August with a court-approved warrant and located even more classified records on the property. Were.

All this raises the question whether the offense was committed and if so, by whom. Answers can’t come quickly.

A department official this month described the investigation as being in its early stages, suggesting more work is ahead as investigators review documents they have removed and continue to interview witnesses. Intelligence officers will simultaneously assess any risk to national security potentially created by the documents being disclosed.

At the very least, the investigation presents a political distraction for Trump as he lays the groundwork for a potential presidency.

Then there is the obvious legal danger.

What is an FBI investigation?

None of the government’s legal filings released so far exclude Trump — or anyone else — as a potential target of the investigation. But it is clear from the warrant and the accompanying affidavit that the investigation is active and criminal in nature.

The department is investigating possible violations of several laws, including an Espionage Act statute that governs the gathering, transmission or loss of national defense information. Other laws deal with the defacement and deletion of records in federal investigations, as well as the destruction, alteration or falsification of records.

The investigation quietly began with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which in January received 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago – 14 of which contained classified information. All told, officers found 184 documents bearing classification marks, some of which suggested they contained information from highly sensitive human sources, the FBI affidavit said. The affidavit said many contained Trump’s handwritten notes.

The FBI has spent months investigating how the documents got from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and whether any other classified records may exist on the property. The bureau has also tried to identify the person or persons who may have removed or retained classified information without authorization and/or at an unauthorized location, the affidavit said.

The FBI has so far interviewed “a significant number of civilian witnesses,” according to a Justice Department brief on Friday, and is seeking “further information” from them. The FBI has not identified all “possible criminal associations nor explored all evidence related to its investigation.”

It’s hard to say at the moment. To obtain a search warrant, federal agents must convince a judge that probable cause exists, evidence of a crime at the location they wish to search.

But search warrants are not automatically a precursor to criminal prosecution and they certainly do not indicate that charges are imminent.

Nevertheless, the laws on this issue are offenses that carry a prison sentence.

A law relating to the mishandling of national defense information has been used in recent years in the prosecution of a government contractor who lost his Maryland home (he was sentenced to nine years in prison) and a national security officer. Sensitive records were kept on the employee of the agency. Has been accused of transmitting classified information to someone who was not authorized to receive it (the case is pending).

Attorney General Merrick Garland has not disclosed his views. When asked last month about Trump in the context of a separate investigation into the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots, he replied that “no man is above the law.”

Annoyed by the record’s investigation, Trump issued a statement Friday, saying he and his team had cooperated with the Justice Department and that their representatives had “given a lot to them.”

The affidavit included the portrayal of the Trump team and the fact that the FBI search took place months earlier despite warnings that the documents were not being stored properly and that there was no safe place for them anywhere in Mar-a-Lago.

A letter made public as part of the affidavit predates the arguments the Trump legal team intends to pursue as the investigation progresses. Attorney M. Evan Corcoran’s May 25 letter to Jay Bratt, the head of the Justice Department’s counter-intelligence, articulates a strong, detailed view of executive power.

Corcoran insisted it was a “fundamental principle” that a president has absolute authority to declassify documents – though he doesn’t exactly say that Trump did. He also said that the primary law governing the mishandling of classified information does not apply to the President.

The statute he cited in the letter was not among those on which the affidavit shows the Justice Department is basing its investigation. And in a footnote in the affidavit, an FBI agent observed that the law criminalizing the mishandling of national defense information does not use the term classified information.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Florida on Saturday asked the Justice Department to provide more specific information about classified records removed from his Florida property, saying it was his “initial intention” to appoint a special master in the case. was. Trump’s lawyers are calling for an independent review of the records to identify any records protected by executive privilege.

What has the Biden administration said?

The White House has been particularly circumspect about the investigation for weeks, with officials repeatedly saying they would let the Justice Department do its job. But there are signs the administration is paying attention.

The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, informed Congress on Friday that his office would lead a classification review of documents recovered during the search.

Intelligence officials would also assess any potential risks to national security, Haynes wrote to the leaders of the two House committees that requested it.

In the letter, Haines said that any intelligence assessment would be done “in a manner that does not unreasonably interfere with a criminal investigation”.

Associated Press writer Noman Merchant in Washington contributed to this report.

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