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Warrant sheds light on seriousness of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago scandal

If Donald Trump's Republican allies thought the release of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant would benefit the former president, they clearly thought wrong.


In the wake of the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, many of Donald Trump’s Republican allies insisted on the release of the court-approved warrant. The implication seemed to be that the materials might somehow benefit the former president, by showing that the underlying controversy wasn’t especially serious.

If that is what GOP officials were thinking, they assumed wrong. NBC News reported this afternoon that the materials show FBI agents recovering "a trove of top secret and other heavily classified documents."

Federal agents removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some that were labeled top secret, according to documents obtained by NBC News. Among the items the FBI took was a handwritten note, information about the “President of France,” an executive grant of clemency for former Trump ally Roger Stone and binders of photos.

There’s long been some question about the seriousness of the classified materials that Trump allegedly took. After all, while those of us who work outside of national security circles may use words like “classified” and “confidential” interchangeably, for professionals, these labels have detailed meanings.

With this in mind, it’s worth emphasizing that the newly disclosed materials reference a set of documents marked as “TS/SCI documents,” which refers to “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.” That’s a designation reserved for highly sensitive materials that are vital to U.S. national security.

Agents also seized multiple sets of top secret, secret, and confidential documents.

That’s important in bringing clarity to the significance of the materials the FBI was looking for — and apparently found — but the same materials also note that federal law enforcement was looking for “any evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or Presidential Records, or of any documents with classification markings.”

I’m not an attorney and won’t pretend to be an expert, but that reads like the FBI was concerned about what Trump might’ve done to/with these documents were it not for officials’ intervention.

Just as important are the references to specific crimes. As Rachel explained on the show earlier this week, in order to get a search warrant, Justice Department officials needed to explain to a court which crime (or crimes) they believe may have been committed. To that end, The New York Times flagged an important detail:

The search warrant for Trump’s residence cited three criminal laws, all from Title 18 of the United States Code. Section 793, better known as the Espionage Act, which covers the unlawful retention of defense-related information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary; Section 1519, which covers destroying or concealing documents to obstruct government investigations or administrative proceedings; and Section 2071, which covers the unlawful removal of government records.

By any fair measure, those are serious crimes, and as of this week, they were used as the legal basis to search the former president's home/business.