IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Secrets about Iran, China reportedly among Trump’s Mar-a-Lago docs

Donald Trump now stands accused of taking highly sensitive secrets about Iran and China to his club that's long been a target for suspected espionage.


After the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in early August, Donald Trump and his allies have floated a great many defenses, including the idea that the former president didn’t take anything especially sensitive. Last month, the Republican’s lawyer even made a comparison in court to overdue library books, in order to downplay the seriousness of the scandal.

These responses have long been difficult to take seriously, but in light of reports like this one from The Washington Post, they appear far worse now.

Some of the classified documents recovered by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and private club included highly sensitive intelligence regarding Iran and China, according to people familiar with the matter. If shared with others, the people said, such information could expose intelligence-gathering methods that the United States wants to keep hidden from the world.

According to the article, at least one of the retrieved documents described Iran’s missile program, while other materials “described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China.”

These don’t sound like overdue library books.

(NBC News has confirmed the FBI found documents containing classified information about China and Iran. It has not confirmed reporting that at least one of the documents described Iran’s missile program.)

In late August, Justice Department officials noted in a court filing that some of the seized materials were so sensitive that FBI personnel and DOJ attorneys “required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.” The rationale behind these measures is starting to make a lot more sense.

Similarly, some of the overarching questions surrounding the entire controversy have dealt with severity: Just how sensitive were the classified documents Trump inappropriately took to his glorified country club? How serious must they have been for FBI agents to take the extraordinary step of showing up at Mar-a-Lago’s door?

The answer is coming into focus, and it’s not doing the former president any favors. One can at least come up with a coherent explanation of why he took his love letters from North Korea's Kim Jong Un — Trump seemed to enjoy showing them off as trophies — but keeping materials related to Iranian missile programs and Chinese intelligence work is vastly more difficult to defend.

The Post’s report added, “Unauthorized disclosures of specific information in the documents would pose multiple risks, experts say. People aiding U.S. intelligence efforts could be endangered, and collection methods could be compromised. In addition, other countries or U.S. adversaries could retaliate against the United States for actions it has taken in secret.”

This is entirely consistent with earlier reporting about the seized documents falling under the category of “special-access programs.” As John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, explained last month, “These are documents that are the most highly sensitive and highly restrictive within the U.S. government.”

So let’s take stock. First, Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that he’s done nothing wrong, now stands accused of taking highly sensitive secrets about Iran and China to his private club that has an unfortunate habit of letting dubious foreign guests walk around.

Second, there’s an ongoing criminal investigation underway, and these emerging details should probably send a shiver down the spine of the former president and his defense attorneys.

David Laufman, the former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, told the Post that the highly provocative nature of the documents will likely count as an aggravating factor as prosecutors weigh whether to file charges.

“The exceptional sensitivity of these documents, and the reckless exposure of invaluable sources and methods of U.S. intelligence capabilities concerning these foreign adversaries, will certainly influence the Justice Department’s determination of whether to charge Mr. Trump or others with willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act,” Laufman said.