An image released by the US Department of Justice shows classified documents marked 'SECRET' and 'TOP SECRET' that authorities say were recovered from former president Donald Trump's Florida home
Top secret documents found at Donald Trump’s Florida home were “likely concealed” to obstruct an FBI probe into the former president’s potential mishandling of classified materials, the Department of Justice said in an explosive new court filing.
The filing released late Tuesday provides the most detailed account yet of the motivation for the raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate — which was triggered by a review of highly classified records that he had previously surrendered to authorities.
It appeared to clarify that prosecutors are seeking to determine whether Trump or anyone in his immediate orbit took criminal action to prevent federal agents from retrieving classified documents from the former president’s possession.
Before the raid, the FBI uncovered “multiple sources of evidence” showing that “classified documents” remained at Mar-a-Lago, the filing says.
“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed… and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the filing adds.
When agents conducted their court-ordered search on August 8, they found material so sensitive that “even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents,” the filing says.
In a striking image sure to reverberate around Washington, the filing included a photograph of color-coded documents spread out over a carpet, marked “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET.”
Trump fired back at the photo’s release in a post on his Truth Social network.
“Terrible the way the FBI, during the Raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see,” he wrote.
“Thought they wanted them kept Secret? Lucky I Declassified.”
– ‘Delayed access’ –
Trump, who is weighing another White House run in 2024, has accused the Justice Department under Democratic President Joe Biden of conducting a “witch hunt” and said the judge “should never have allowed the break-in of my home.”
Trump has taken legal action to seek the appointment of an independent party, or special master,” to screen files seized in the raid for materials protected by personal privilege.
The government’s filing argues that such an appointment, which would potentially block investigators’ access to the documents, is “unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests.”
The Justice Department said it provided the detailed background on the build-up to the raid “to correct the incomplete and inaccurate narrative set forth in (Trump’s) filings.”
The department opened its investigation after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received 15 boxes of records in January 2022 that had been improperly removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago.
According to the affidavit used to justify the raid, sensitive National Defense Information was among the “highly classified” records recovered including 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 as secret and 25 as top secret.
According to the Department of Justice’s new filing, “the former president delayed the FBI’s access to the fifteen boxes” once they had been surrendered to NARA.
The subsequent search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, personally approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, authorized the FBI to search the “45 office” — a reference to the 45th US president’s private office at Mar-a-Lago — and storage rooms.
It said the probe was related to “willful retention of national defense information,” an offense that falls under the Espionage Act, and potential “obstruction of a federal investigation.”
In addition to investigations in New York into his business practices, Trump faces legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election, and for the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump was impeached for a historic second time by the House of Representatives after the Capitol riot — he was charged with inciting an insurrection — but was acquitted by the Senate.