Donald Trump is under criminal investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act and additional statutes relating to obstruction of justice and destroying federal government records, according to the search warrant executed by FBI agents at the former president’s home on Monday.
The search warrant shows the FBI was seeking evidence about whether the mishandling of classified documents by Mr Trump, including some marked top secret, amounted to a violation of three criminal statutes.
Most notably, the search warrant authorized FBI agents to seize materials to investigate potential crimes in connection with the Espionage Act, which outlaws the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a strategic adversary.
The other statutes listed on the warrant include the federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or conceal a document in order to obstruct a government investigation, and the federal law that prohibits the unlawful removal of government documents more generally.
The disclosures, which came in an attachment to the search warrant, mark a dramatic escalation in the justice department’s criminal inquiries into Trump. They represent perhaps the most treacherous legal and political moment faced to date by the former president.
A conviction for violating any of the detailed laws would be severe: the Espionage Act has a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and the statute for obstruction has a maximum penalty of 20 years, while the statute for destruction of records can also bar holding future office.
FBI agents removed classified documents marked as top secret when they searched Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday, according to a description of the search warrant receipt that lists the materials seized by federal agents.
The most sensitive set of documents removed from Mr Trump’s post-presidency home in Florida were listed generically as “Various Classified/TS/SCI” – the abbreviation that stands for top secret/sensitive compartmented information – the source said, among other records.
FBI agents retrieved a total of 11 sets of classified documents, some of which were marked top secret, the Wall Street Journal first reported. Federal agents also took away four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents, and three sets of confidential documents, the Journal reported.
The search warrant receipt did not provide any further detail about the substance of the classified documents, the newspaper reported, but said the FBI additionally collected binders of photos, materials on the “president of France”, and a grant of clemency for Trump operative Roger Stone.
FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago on Monday bearing a warrant – approved by Merrick Garland, the attorney general – that authorised a search of “the 45 Office”, as well as “all storage rooms and all other rooms or areas … in which boxes or documents could be stored”, the Journal also reported.
The disclosure of the contents of the search warrant and the receipt came hours before the deadline for Mr Trump and his legal team, led by Evan Corcoran, to oppose a motion by the justice department to make public both documents, which remain under seal.
Mr Trump said in a statement late on Thursday on his social media website that he would not oppose the release of the two documents. “Not only will I not oppose the release of the documents … I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents,” he posted.
The motion to unseal, announced by Mr Garland in prepared remarks at the justice department’s headquarters on Thursday, does not currently include the affidavit accompanying the warrant that would give greater detail on the probable cause that led to the approval of the Mar-a-Lago raid.
House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff released a statement regarding the revelations about classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
“If reports are accurate and contained among these documents are some of the most highly classified information our government holds – information classified as top secret/secure compartmented information – then it would explain a great deal about why the department and the FBI took the step of obtaining a warrant to recover the documents,” he said.
“It appears that the FBI sought to remove those documents to a safe location previously, but Trump did not fully cooperate. Every day that information of such a classification sits in an unsecure location is a risk to our national security. If any other individual had information of that nature in their possession, the FBI would work quickly to mitigate the risks of disclosure.”
The committee the California Democrat chairs oversees the FBI as well as other federal law enforcement agencies.
Mr Schiff noted he had confidence in the justice department, while adding: “The protection of classified information, and particularly the protection of sources and methods, is an issue of the highest priority for the intelligence committee, and as we learn more, we will responsibly discharge our oversight responsibilities.” - Guardian