Trump’s Florida Secrets: A Counterintelligence Assessment
This week the FBI reclaimed classified documents from President Trump at Mar-A-Lago, setting off a political firestorm – but what does it all mean?
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” Lenin is supposed to have said. This week may not have been a decade, exactly, yet the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s serving of a search warrant at Mar-A-Lago unquestionably upended American politics. Whether you think what the FBI did is an unprecedented outrage or long overdue, nothing will quite ever be the same again.
First, the facts: at 0900 on Monday, the FBI arrived at Mar-A-Lago, President Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida. After some nine hours of searching the property while the former president was not present, FBI agents seized 26 boxes of documents from the club, including 11 sets of classified materials, at varying levels of classification (more on that later). No matter what happens next, this was an unprecedented act. Before this week, never has the FBI, at the behest of the Department of Justice, served such a search warrant against a former president.
Monday’s “raid” (as Trump’s fans term it) was the culmination of a somewhat obscure, year-long dispute between the former president and the National Archives and Records Administration over the retention and disposition of paperwork pursuant to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which NARA oversees. Simply put, when Trump and his entourage left Washington on January 20, 2021, they took with them records which NARA believed were classified and therefore demanded back – which Trump refused to do.
Thus began a complex interplay between NARA and Trump’s lawyers, over several months, which culminated in Monday’s search and seizure. Frustrated by the ex-president’s stonewalling, NARA referred the matter to DoJ, which opened a criminal investigation and initiated a grand jury process in April of this year. On June 3, DoJ and FBI officials visited Mar-A-Lago and discussed this issue with Trump’s lawyers. The FBI left the premises with some of what they wanted, but not all of it. Trump’s team promised to put a better lock on the storage room where the remaining boxes resided. It’s evident that DoJ and the FBI felt Team Trump was being deceptive. Then the Feds got access to surveillance footage from Mar-A-Lago, which apparently bolstered their belief that Trump was lying to them about the classified materials remaining at his residence.
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