Trump search: What may come next in inquiry with legal peril

Aug 26, 2022, 6:08 PM | Updated: Aug 29, 2022, 9:22 am
FILE - Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York, on his way to...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York, on his way to the New York attorney general's office for a deposition in civil investigation. A newly released FBI document helps flesh out the contours of an investigation into classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate. But plenty of questions remain, especially since half the document was blacked out. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A newly released FBI document helps flesh out the contours of an investigation into classified material at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. But plenty of questions remain, especially because half the affidavit, which spelled out the FBI’s rationale for searching the property, was blacked out.

That 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 of what was retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January. It shows how Justice Department officials had raised concerns months before the search that closely held government secrets were being illegally stored — and then returned in August with a court-approved warrant and located even more classified records at the property.

It all raises questions whether a crime was committed and, if so, by whom. Answers may not come quickly.

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

At a minimum, the investigation presents a political distraction for Trump as he lays the groundwork for a potential presidential run.

Then there’s the obvious legal peril.

A look at what’s next:

WHAT IS THE FBI INVESTIGATING?

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

The department is investigating potential violations of multiple laws, including an Espionage Act statute that governs gathering, transmitting or losing national defense information. The other laws deal with the mutilation and removal of records as well as the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

The inquiry began quietly with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration, which retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago in January — 14 of which were found to contain classified information. All told, the FBI affidavit said, officials found 184 documents bearing classification markings, including some suggesting they contained information from highly sensitive human sources. Several had what appeared to be Trump’s handwritten notes, the affidavit says.

The FBI has spent months investigating how the documents made their way from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and whether any other classified records might exist at the property. The bureau also has tried to identify the person or people “who may have removed or retained classified information without authorization and/or in an unauthorized space,” the affidavit states.

So far the FBI has interviewed a “significant number of civilian witnesses,” according to a Justice Department brief unsealed Friday, and is seeking “further information” from them. The FBI has not identified all “potential criminal confederates nor located all evidence related to its investigation.”

___

WILL ANYONE BE CHARGED?

It’s hard to say at this point. To get a search warrant, federal agents must persuade a judge that probable cause exists to believe there’s evidence of a crime at the location they want to search.

But search warrants aren’t automatic precursors to a criminal prosecution and they certainly don’t signal that charges are imminent.

Even so, the laws at issue are felonies that carry prison sentences.

One law, involving the mishandling of national defense information, has been used in recent years in the prosecution of a government contractor who stowed reams of sensitive records at his Maryland home (he was sentenced to nine years in prison) and a National Security Agency employee accused of transmitting classified information to someone who was not authorized to receive it (the case is pending).

Attorney General Merrick Garland hasn’t revealed his thinking. Asked last month about Trump in the context of a separate investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, he responded that “no person is above the law.”

___

WHAT HAS TRUMP ARGUED?

Trump, irate over the records investigation, issued a statement Friday saying that he and his team have cooperated with the Justice Department and that his representatives “GAVE THEM MUCH.”

That’s at odds with the portrayal of the Trump team in the affidavit and the fact that the FBI search occurred despite warnings months earlier that the documents were not being properly stored and that there was no safe location for them anywhere in Mar-a-Lago.

A letter made public as part of the affidavit forecasts the arguments the Trump legal team intends to advance as the investigation proceeds. The May 25 letter from lawyer M. Evan Corcoran to Jay Bratt, the head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence section, articulates a robust, expansive view of executive power.

Corcoran asserted that it was a “bedrock principle” that a president has absolute authority to declassify documents — though he doesn’t actually say that Trump did so. He also said the primary law governing the mishandling of classified information doesn’t apply to the president.

The statute that he cited in the letter was not among the ones the affidavit suggests the Justice Department is basing its investigation on. 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 told the Justice Department on Saturday to provide her with more specific information about the classified records removed from his Florida estate and said it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master in the case. Trump’s lawyers are seeking an independent review of the records to identify any that may be protected by executive privilege.

___

WHAT HAS THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION SAID?

The White House has for weeks been notably circumspect about the investigation, with officials repeatedly saying they’ll let the Justice Department do its job. But there are signs the administration is taking note.

The director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, did notify Congress on Friday that her office would lead a classification review of the documents recovered during the search.

Intelligence officials will also conduct an assessment of any potential risk to national security, Haines wrote the leaders of two House committees who had requested it.

In the letter, Haines said any intelligence assessment will be “conducted in a manner that does not unduly interfere with” the criminal investigation.

____

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

____

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

____

Find more on Donald Trump-related investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The Amazon logo is pictured on Sept. 6, 2012, in Santa Monica, Calif. Amazon filed a lawsuit on Mon...
Haleluya Hadero, Associated Press

Amazon sues Washington’s labor agency over alleged hazards

Amazon has sued Washington state’s labor agency following disputes with regulators over citations and fines imposed on the company for worker safety issues.
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Colorado baker fighting ruling over gender transition cake

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado baker who won a partial Supreme Court victory after refusing on religious grounds to make a gay couple’s wedding cake a decade ago is challenging a separate ruling he violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a cake celebrating a gender transition. A lawyer for Jack Phillips on […]
19 hours ago
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, at podium stands by a photo on display of TV producer ...
Associated Press

‘Scrubs’ producer Eric Weinberg charged with sex assaults

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Eric Weinberg, an executive producer and writer for the hit TV show “Scrubs” and many others, has been charged with sexually assaulting five women that he lured to photo shoots and there could be many more victims, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Wednesday. Weinberg, 62, was arrested Tuesday, nearly a week […]
19 hours ago
The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss a ballistic missile test by North Korea, Wedne...
Associated Press

UN Security Council splits, again, over North Korea missiles

Debate over how to handle a North Korean ballistic missile launch over Japanese territory split an already deeply fractured U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, with Russia and China insisting that U.S.-led military exercises in the region had provoked North Korea into acting. Wednesday’s session ended with no agreement on next steps, despite warnings from the […]
19 hours ago
Foreign Minister of Mexico Marcelo Ebrard addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General ...
Associated Press

Mexico pledges to bring 2nd lawsuit against gun dealers

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government plans to bring another lawsuit against U.S. companies it claims are responsible for the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico, Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday. Ebrard suggested the new lawsuit could target gun shops or dealers in U.S. border states like Arizona who sell guns to […]
19 hours ago
Foreign Minister of Mexico Marcelo Ebrard addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General ...
Associated Press

Mexico pledges to bring 2nd lawsuit against gun dealers

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government plans to bring another lawsuit against U.S. companies it claims are responsible for the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico, Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday. Ebrard suggested the new lawsuit could target gun shops or dealers in U.S. border states like Arizona who sell guns to […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Trump search: What may come next in inquiry with legal peril