PanaTimes

Saturday, Feb 04, 2023

What we do and don't know about the FBI search of Trump's home

What we do and don't know about the FBI search of Trump's home

When Donald Trump's Florida home was searched by the FBI, it unleashed a political firestorm unlike anything in recent memory.

But this unprecedented story is complicated and many questions remain. So let's take a step back - here's what we know so far.


Why did the FBI search Mar-a-Lago?


In short, because the US Department of Justice suspects the former president may have committed a crime.

The search warrant, which has been made publicly available, shows FBI agents gathered evidence on 8 August as part of an investigation into whether Mr Trump improperly handled government records by taking them from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

It's worth noting here that US presidents must transfer all of their documents and emails to a government agency called the National Archives.

Earlier this year, that agency said it had retrieved 15 boxes of papers from Mar-a-Lago which Mr Trump should have handed over when he left the White House. It said they included classified information and asked the justice department to investigate.

To obtain the search warrant, prosecutors had to persuade a judge that they had probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed. We also know that the effort to seek a search warrant was signed off by the head of the justice department - the attorney general - who is the country's top legal official.


What did the agents find?


Twenty boxes worth of material, according to an inventory released alongside the search warrant.

The FBI took 11 sets of classified files in total, including four that were labelled "top secret". Three sets were classified as "secret documents" and three were "confidential".

The cache also included files marked "TS/SCI", a designation for the country's most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause "exceptionally grave" damage to US national security.

FBI agents searched Donald Trump's Florida estate on 8 August


Some of these files were only meant to be kept in secure government facilities, according to court documents.

But the court records do not indicate what information these documents could contain, and there is much we do not know about the items on the inventory.

For example, other materials taken include a binder of photos, a handwritten note and unspecified information about the "President of France".


What has Trump said?


Yes - the former president has been vocal about the FBI search and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

He said the documents taken by the agents were "all declassified" and had been placed in "secure storage". He said he would have turned them over if the justice department had asked.

His office later issued a statement maintaining that the documents had been declassified. "The power to classify and declassify documents rests solely with the president of the United States," it read.

While Mr Trump says he declassified the documents before he left office - and his allies have insisted the president has the authority to do this - legal analysts argue it is more complicated than that.

"Presidents can declassify information, but they have to follow a procedure," Tom Dupree, a lawyer who previously worked in the justice department," told the BBC. "They can't simply say these documents are declassified. They have to follow a process [and it is] not clear that was followed."

Mr Trump's office, however, disputes that the president needs to follow an approval process. "The idea that some paper-pushing bureaucrat... needs to approve of declassification is absurd," it said.


So how does classification work?


There are three main categories of classified material - confidential, secret and top secret. These are given depending on the extent to which officials deem the public release of the material would damage national security.

When materials are classified, they are marked as such and only certain people - those who have passed the relevant level of security vetting - should be able to view them. There are also rules dictating how classified information is transported and stored.

Some senior officials do have the power to declassify documents. The president, too, has the authority to do this, but would usually delegate the task to those who have direct responsibility for the material.

It's worth noting that documents related to nuclear weapons cannot be declassified by the president, as they fall under a different law, according to a security specialist who spoke to the Washington Post.

As the BBC's US partner CBS reports, the president cannot declassify documents by simply saying so. A written memo would usually be drafted and signed by the president, before a consultation process takes place with the relevant agencies.

Once a final decision is made, the old classification level would be crossed out and the document marked as "declassified on x date".

It is unclear whether Mr Trump followed the typical process with the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago.


Does it matter if the documents were declassified?


In a legal sense, probably not.

That's because the unsealed search warrant shows that prosecutors are investigating three potential crimes. These are:

* violations of the Espionage Act

* obstruction of justice

* the criminal handling of government records

Crucially, none of the three criminal laws in question actually depend on whether or not the files were declassified.

This means it is uncertain whether Mr Trump's argument about declassification would hold up in court or even be considered relevant by a judge.

There are also elements of this story beyond declassification that could prove relevant. There are laws designed to prevent national security documents from being mishandled, for example, while the Presidential Records Act dictates that presidents risk committing a civil offence if official records are not preserved.

The former president has not been charged with wrongdoing, and it remains unclear whether charges will be brought as a result of the investigation.

Newsletter

Related Articles

PanaTimes
Close
0:00
0:00
Tennessee Bill Would Imprison People for 3 Years If They 'Lie' About Rape to Get an Abortion.
Charlie Munger, calls for a ban on cryptocurrencies in the US, following China's lead
EU found a way to use frozen Russian funds
First generation unopened iPhone set to fetch more than $50,000 at auction.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will block Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from serving on the House Intelligence Committee
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
What is ChatGPT?
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
Germany confirms it will provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Opinion | Israel’s Supreme Court Claims a Veto on Democracy
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
Who’s Threatening Israeli Democracy?
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
China's first population drop in six decades
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
Lisa Marie Presley, singer and daughter of Elvis, dies aged 54
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
Hong Kong property brokerages slash payrolls in choppy market
U.S. Moves to Seize Robinhood Shares, Silvergate Accounts Tied to FTX
Effect of EU sanctions on Moscow is ‘less than zero’ – Belgian MEP
Coinbase to Pay $100 Million in Settlement With New York Regulator
FTX assets worth $3.5bn held by Bahamas securities regulator
A Republican congressman-elect is under investigation in New York after he admitted he lied about his education and work experience.
Brazilian football legend Pele, arguably the greatest player ever, has died at the age of 82.
Hong Kong to scrap almost all its Covid rules
EU calls screening of travellers from China unjustified
US imposes Covid testing for visitors from China
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Addresses Joint Session of Congress - FULL SPEECH
Where is Rishi? Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's excuses about the UK's economic challenges just don't make sense
Former FTX CEO Bankman-Fried finally arrested in Bahamas after U.S. files charges
Corruption works: House Financial Services Chair Waters doesn't plan to subpoena her donor, Sam Bankman-Fried, to testify at hearing on FTX collapse
Ronaldo's new contract...
Prince William's godmother resigns honorary royal role after exposing her/their racism
Tax fraud verdict again exposes illusion of Trump the master businessman
×