Former President Trump could face mounting legal troubles as new details emerge about the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that sparked an FBI raid at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump has called for the release of more research-related information, an effort that matches the agency’s disparagement for what he claims is a politically motivated attack.
Meanwhile, the DOJ has fought to limit the amount of information that will be released about an ongoing investigation with Trump as a target.
Here’s what we learned this week.
Trump stalks ‘deliberate’ Espionage Act violations
Although the most sensitive documents underlying the Mar-a-Lago search warrant remained sealed this week, the judge presiding over the case made a court filing newly available to the public. This document, known as a criminal cover sheet, provided additional insight into the nature of the crime being investigated, some legal experts say.
It was already known that investigators believed the documents kept at Trump’s residence were linked to a likely violation of the Espionage Act, a World War I law designed to help protect vital national security secrets from the government. country. What the criminal cover sheet revealed, after it was unsealed on Thursday, was that law enforcement had probable reason to believe a ‘deliberate withholding of national defense information’ had occurred. .
This new detail appears to lend further support to the – already widely held – theory that Trump himself is the target of the investigation.
“This aligns with what we know so far from public media reports, as well as minimal insights we have gleaned from unsealed court documents,” said national security attorney and firm partner Bradley Moss. lawyers of Mark S. Zaid. The Hill in an email.
“Everything indicates that the government’s argument will come down to three things: (1) Trump took the properly marked classified documents with him to Florida; (2) he left them in boxes in the basement; (3) when confronted about it, he deliberately kept records despite requests from NARA and later the FBI to return them,” he added, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration, which takes custody of White House records when a president leaves office. .
DOJ appears to be investigating Trump claims of ‘standing order’
In a sign that the Justice Department isn’t content with simply getting classified documents back, its investigators appear to be reaching out to former Trump-era officials over his allegations that he declassified content removed from his residence in Florida.
According to information from Rolling Stone, the FBI has so far conducted voluntary interviews with those who may have knowledge of such an order, including former members of the National Security Council.
Shortly after the warrant was executed, Trump claimed that the documents removed from his home were “all declassified.” He later explained in a statement to Fox News that he had “a standing order” to declassify all documents.
“If the DOJ were really focused on recovering the classified documents and not criminally investigating the former president, they wouldn’t be calling former NSC officials to question them about Trump’s supposed ‘standing order’ declassifying the documents,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, wrote on Twitter.
National security law experts who previously spoke with The Hill noted that while Trump would have broad powers as president to declassify documents, such a practice is usually done on a case-by-case basis and also triggers notification to other authorities. other agencies that hold classified information. , so that they can reclassify them appropriately in their own system.
“In reality, no one actually believes that Trump had such an order. It hasn’t been written anywhere, doesn’t make much sense (as some of his own appointees have pointed out) and was never brought up by Trump’s attorneys in their communications with the DOJ,” Mariotti continued.
Even if Trump declassified documents, that’s no defense for the Espionage Act, one of the three laws cited in the warrant. This law only requires mishandling of national defense information to trigger a breach.
Trump wants everything published
Former President Trump and his allies responded to the government’s desire for redactions by calling for the full document to be released.
” Close. Trump has made it clear that the American people should be allowed to see the unredacted affidavit relating to the raid and burglary of his home. Today, Magistrate Judge Reinhard dismissed the DOJ’s cynical attempt to hide the entire affidavit from Americans,” Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for the former president, said Thursday.
Trump posted separately on Truth Social, his social media platform, calling for the “immediate release” of the unredacted affidavit, citing the need for transparency. He also called on Reinhart to recuse himself from the case without giving a clear reason.
The former president and his allies have attacked the credibility of the FBI and DOJ since the raid was carried out earlier this month, pointing to the handling of the Russia investigation to allege it is the latest attack politically biased against Trump.
By calling for the release of the unredacted affidavit when the government opposes such a move, Trump will likely further fuel mistrust of the Justice Department among his supporters.
The DOJ is working on redactions
The Justice Department, however, does not want its warrant affidavit fully released.
The department argued that the affidavit should remain sealed in its entirety, saying the information it contained laid out a “roadmap” to its ongoing investigation, “highly sensitive witness information” and specific investigative techniques”.
But a federal justice of the peace on Thursday rejected DOJ efforts to keep the affidavit fully sealed.
“I conclude that in the current case, the government has failed in its obligation to show that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” Judge Bruce Reinhart said in a brief order.
According to The New York Times, Reinhart said there were portions of the affidavit that “might be presumed unsealed.”
The DOJ has until noon Thursday to submit its drafting proposals, after which Reinhart, who approved the original terms of reference, will review them, meaning a redacted version of the affidavit could be released as early as next week.
What this means for Trump and 2024
Casting a cloud over the whole process is the fact that Trump is likely to announce a 2024 White House bid in the coming months, though he could wait until after the midterm elections.
Trump denied in an interview last month with New York Magazine that any presidential race would be a way to protect himself from criminal consequences as he faces investigations into election interference in Georgia, business dealings in New York , January 6, 2021, the Capitol Riots and now its handling of classified information.
And although some experts believe it is unlikely that Trump will ultimately be indicted over the documents he kept at Mar-a-Lago, the political consequences could still weigh heavily on his desire to return to the White House.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll this week found 54% of Republicans believe the FBI behaved irresponsibly after the Mar-a-Lago raid, compared with 23% who said the agencies behaved irresponsibly. responsible manner.
By comparison, 71% of Democrats felt law enforcement acted responsibly, as did 50% of independent voters. It’s the latter category that bears watching to determine how the research could tip Trump’s political fortunes.