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DOJ releases redacted affidavit used in Mar-a-Lago search

The long-awaited search warrant affidavit in the Mar-a-Lago search is now available — but not without redactions.


It was two weeks ago today when we were first able to review some of the official documents related to the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. Republicans hoping the materials would benefit Donald Trump were left disappointed: The released documents showed that federal law enforcement recovered extensive top secret and other heavily classified documents that the former president decided to keep in his glorified country club.

But as regular readers know, this was only a partial peek behind the curtain. In the days that followed, a variety of parties — including news organizations — also called for the release of the probable cause affidavit used to secure a search warrant in the first place.

Read the redacted copy of the FBI affidavit here.

In fact, Trump publicly called for the document to be entirely “unredacted“ — a move the Justice Department said would risk jeopardizing an ongoing probe, while putting people, including witnesses, in possible danger. (Whether the former president cared about these consequences wasn’t altogether clear.)

The result was an agreement of sorts: Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said a copy of the search warrant affidavit could be released once it reflected federal law enforcement’s redactions.

Yesterday, Justice Department officials were ordered in court to unseal the redacted document. This afternoon, they did exactly that. NBC News reported:

A redacted copy of the FBI affidavit used to justify the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was unsealed Friday, revealing details of the federal government’s efforts to recover classified documents, including top-secret information. The affidavit said that in mid-May, FBI agents conducted a preliminary review of 15 boxes it had recovered from Trump’s Florida property earlier this year and “identified documents with classification markings in fourteen of the fifteen boxes.”

For those reading along at home, this is the redacted affidavit, and this is the Justice Department memo used to justify the redactions.

As you’d imagine, there’s an enormous amount to — forgive the expression — unpack here, but right off the bat, the redacted affidavit noted that once the National Archives received 15 boxes from Team Trump, it found that “a lot of classified records” were alongside assorted miscellaneous print-outs and newspaper articles.

“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the document read.

Later in the redacted affidavit, it explained the FBI agents also reviewed the contents of the 15 boxes and found approximately 184 documents bearing classification markings, 92 documents marked as secret, and 25 documents marked as top secret.

In case this isn't obvious, these are not small numbers.

“Further,” it read, “the FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following compa11ments/dissemination controls: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI.... Several of the documents also contained what appears to be [the former president’s] handwritten notes.”

That’s obviously a lot of obscure acronyms, but this is important: As the document explained, “HCS” refers to intelligence information derived from clandestine human sources, while “SI” refers to special intelligence that “protects information derived from the monitoring of foreign communications signals by other than the intended recipients.”

We are, in other words, talking about highly sensitive secrets that Trump kept at his unsecured, glorified country club. And that was just what was included in the boxes Trump was willing to give back — not among the materials the FBI had to go get earlier this month.

Republicans will likely claim that the Republican secretly tried to declassify the documents — a highly dubious claim dismissed by administration insiders as "ludicrous" — but when the issue is human intelligence and foreign intercepts, the idea that the Republican had such materials at Mar-a-Lago is madness, and as a legal matter, it's irrelevant under Espionage Act investigations anyway.

In February, the former president issued a written statement about the 15 boxes, saying, "The National Archives did not ‘find’ anything.... If this was anyone but ‘Trump,’ there would be no story here." We now know, of course, that he was brazenly lying.

Also of interest, of course, is the document the Justice Department filed in order to justify the redactions in the affidavit, of which there are many. This adjacent memo notes, for example, that there are "a significant number of civilian witnesses," which is the sort of detail that's likely to drive the former president batty, wondering who at Mar-a-Lago might have cooperated, or might still be cooperating, with federal law enforcement.