The FBI recovered documents labeled “top secret” from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to court papers released after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorised the unprecedented search this week.
A property receipt unsealed by the court on Friday shows FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from the former president’s estate during a search on Monday.
The property receipt is a document prepared by federal agents to specify what was taken during a search.
The seized records include some that were marked as classified and top secret. The court records did not provide specific details about the documents or what information they might contain.
In a statement Friday (local time), Mr Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents at his Florida club were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned over the documents to the Justice Department if asked.
While incumbent presidents have the power to declassify information, that authority lapses as soon as they leave office and it was not clear if the documents in question have ever been declassified.
Mr Trump also kept possession of the documents despite multiple requests from agencies, including the National Archives, to turn over presidential records in accordance with federal law.
US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant unsealed the warrant and property receipt on Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Mr Trump backed the warrant’s “immediate” release.
The Justice Department told the judge on Friday afternoon that Mr Trump’s lawyers did not object to the proposal to make it public.
In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Mr Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents … I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
Mr Trump himself has been given at least some of the records the government was seeking to unseal, but he and his lawyers have declined, so far, to make them public.
The Justice Department’s request is striking because such documents traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation.
But the department appeared to recognise that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Mr Trump and his allies, and that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home.
“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favour of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday.
Releasing the warrant could disclose unflattering information about Mr Trump and about FBI scrutiny of his handling of sensitive government documents right as he prepares for another run for the White House.
During his successful 2016 campaign, he pointed frequently to an FBI investigation into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information.
Neither Mr Trump nor the FBI has said anything about what documents the FBI might have recovered, or what precisely agents were looking for.
The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served on Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Mr Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year.
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