Judge unseals more of affidavit behind Mar-a-Lago search

·5 min read
Former U.S. president Donald Trump gestures while playing golf at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., on Tuesday, the same day a congressional committee said the National Archives is unsure whether it has all of Trump's presidential records in its possession.  (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press - image credit)
Former U.S. president Donald Trump gestures while playing golf at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., on Tuesday, the same day a congressional committee said the National Archives is unsure whether it has all of Trump's presidential records in its possession. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press - image credit)

A U.S. federal judge Tuesday unsealed additional portions of an FBI affidavit laying out the basis for a search of former president Donald Trump's Florida home, showing that agents earlier obtained a hard drive after issuing a subpoena for surveillance footage recorded inside Mar-a-Lago.

A heavily redacted version of the affidavit was made public last month, but the Justice Department requested permission to show more of it after lawyers for Trump revealed the existence of a June grand jury subpoena that sought video footage from cameras in the vicinity of the Mar-a-Lago storage room.

"Because those aspects of the grand jury's investigation have now been publicly revealed, there is no longer any reason to keep them sealed (i.e. redacted) in the filings in this matter," department lawyers wrote.

The newly visible portions of the FBI agent's affidavit show that the FBI on June 24 subpoenaed for the records in June after a visit weeks earlier to Mar-a-Lago in which agents observed between 50 to 55 boxes of records in the storage room at the property. The Trump Organization provided a hard drive on July 6 in response to the subpoena, the affidavit says.

Jon Elswick/The Associated Press
Jon Elswick/The Associated Press

The footage could be an important piece of the investigation, including whether anyone has sought to obstruct the probe. The Justice Department has said in a separate filing that it has "developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation."

The Justice Department has been investigating the holding of top-secret information and other classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. FBI agents during their Aug. 8 search of the home and club said they recovered more than 11,000 documents, including over 100 with classification markings.

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Separately Tuesday, the Justice Department again urged Judge Aileen Cannon to lift her hold on core aspects of the investigation. Cannon last week granted the Trump team's request for an independent arbiter to review the seized documents and weed out from the investigation any records that may be covered by claims of executive or attorney-client privilege.

She also ordered the department to halt its review of the records pending any further court order or the completion of a report by the yet-to-be-named special master. The department urged Cannon last week to put her order on hold and told the judge Tuesday that its investigation would be harmed by a continued delay of its ability to scrutinize the classified documents.

"The government and the public unquestionably have an interest in the timely enforcement of criminal laws, particularly those involving the protection of highly sensitive information, and especially where, as here, there may have been efforts to obstruct its investigation," the lawyers wrote.

The Trump team on Monday urged the judge to leave her order in place. His lawyers raised questions about the documents' current classification status and noted that a president has absolute authority to declassify information, though it pointedly did not say that Trump had actually declassified anything.

WATCH | Documents hidden at Mar-a-Lago, DOJ says:

The National Archives is still not certain that it has custody of all of Trump's presidential records even after the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago club, a U.S. congressional committee said in a letter Tuesday.

The House committee on oversight and reform revealed that staff at the Archives on an Aug. 24 call could not provide assurances that they have all of Trump's presidential records. In the letter, the committee asked the Archives to conduct an assessment of whether any Trump records remain unaccounted for and potentially in his possession.

"In light of revelations that Mr. Trump's representatives misled investigators about his continued possession of government property and that material found at his club included dozens of 'empty folders' for classified material, I am deeply concerned that sensitive presidential records may remain out of the control and custody of the U.S. Government," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the oversight committee, wrote in the letter.

WATCH | Trump's request for special master granted: 

The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a months-long back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump's handling of records.

The request also comes weeks after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The search came after lawyers for Trump provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.

Maloney and other Democratic lawmakers on the panel have been seeking a briefing from the National Archives but haven't received one due to the Justice Department's ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.

But the letter notes a call between Archives staff and the committee on Aug. 24, where lawmakers were informed that documents could still be missing.

As a result, Maloney wrote, the committee is asking the agency to conduct an "urgent review" of all of the government records that have been recorded from the Trump White House to determine whether any additional records remain unaccounted for and potentially in the possession of the former president.

In addition, the committee also asked for the Archives to get a personal certification from Trump "that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office."

The committee is asking the Archives to provide an initial assessment of this review by Sept. 27.