Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

From the start of the reporting on Trump’s theft of classified documents, commentators have suggested that Trump was only under investigation for violations of the Presidential Records Act or 18 USC 2071.

Reports that in June, one of the four people who met with Trump’s lawyers on this issue was Jay Bratt, head of Counterintelligence & Export Control Section at DOJ, which investigates Espionage, makes it highly unlikely that those are the only things under investigation.

In early June, a handful of investigators made a rare visit to the property seeking more information about potentially classified material from Trump’s time in the White House that had been taken to Florida. The four investigators, including Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, sat down with two of Trump’s attorneys, Bobb and Evan Corcoran, according to a source present for the meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Trump stopped by and greeted the investigators near a dining room. After he left, without answering any questions, the investigators asked the attorneys if they could see where Trump was storing the documents. The attorneys took the investigators to the basement room where the boxes of materials were being stored, and the investigators looked around the room before eventually leaving, according to the source.

Even 18 USC 1924, which prohibits unlawfully taking classified information, would involve complications if the person who stole the materials were the former President. Admittedly, the fact that DOJ had an in-person meeting with Trump before conducting a search might mitigate those complications; Trump may be refusing to return documents rather than just not turning them over.

Still, it’s possible — likely even — that there are exacerbating factors that led DOJ to search Mar-a-Lago rather than just (as they did with Peter Navarro) suing to get the documents back.

Remember, this process started when the Archives came looking for things they knew must exist. Since then, they’ve had cause to look for known or expected Trump records in (at least) the January 6 investigation, the Tom Barrack prosecution, and the Peter Strzok lawsuit. The investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s influence peddling is another that might obviously lead to a search of Trump’s presidential records, not least because the Archives would know to look for things pertaining to Trump’s impeachments.

With that as background, Trump would be apt to take classified documents pertaining to the following topics:

  • The transcript of the “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other documents pertaining to his first impeachment
  • Notes on his meetings with other foreign leaders, especially Vladimir Putin and Saudi royals, including Trump’s July 16, 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki
  • Information surrounding the Jamal Khashoggi execution (and other materials that make Jared Kushner’s current ties to Mohammed bin Salman suspect)
  • Policy discussions surrounding Qatar, which tie to other influence peddling investigations (for which Barrack asked specifically)
  • Intelligence reports on Russian influence operations
  • Details pertaining to security efforts in the lead-up to and during January 6
  • Intelligence reports adjacent to Trump’s false claims of election fraud (for example, pertaining to Venezuelan spying)
  • Highly sensitive NSA documents pertaining to a specific foreign country that Mike Ellis was trying to hoard as boxes were being packed in January 2021

For many if not most of these documents, if Trump were refusing to turn them over, it might amount to obstruction of known investigations or prosecutions — Barrack’s, Rudy’s, or Trump’s own, among others. Thus, refusing to turn them over, by itself, might constitute an additional crime, particularly if the stolen documents were particularly damning.

One more point about timing: An early CNN report on these stolen documents describes that a Deputy White House Counsel who had represented Trump in his first impeachment was liaising with the Archives on this point.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

By description, this is likely either John Eisenberg (who hid the full transcript of the perfect phone call but who was not obviously involved in Trump’s first impeachment defense) or Pat Philbin (who was the titular Deputy White House Counsel and was overtly involved in that defense). If it’s the latter, then Philbin recently got a DOJ subpoena, albeit reportedly in conjunction with January 6. If so, DOJ might have recent testimony about documents that Trump was knowingly withholding from the Archives.

205 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    Yeah, as I said in the other thread, have hard time believing it is solely a PRA issue. No clue what is under the surface, but there almost has to be something else there.

    • Rayne says:

      It’s not solely 18 USC 2071 based on the description of documents’ sensitivity from February 2022. But 2071 is the gimme, an obvious charge. Are these presidential records not under control of NARA? Boom.

      With the added fillip of disqualification for office if convicted.

      I suspect there’s one more possible set of documents being sought which Marcy hasn’t mentioned, and their ‘mishandling’ would be more than a violation of 2071.

      • BobCon says:

        The sarcasm quotes around mishandling seem right.

        It’s possible this is just about what had been sitting in the safe since transition. Keeping top level classified information without authorization is illegal in general, although there are wrinkles.

        But this may come down to what information left that safe. It may come down to Trump letting unauthorized people get access to those records, and what’s happening now is establishing that Trump maintained posession of documents that were illegally accessed.

        • Bardi says:

          “It’s possible this is just about what had been sitting in the safe since transition. ”

          That presumes there are no other “safes”, hiding places.

        • BobCon says:

          For other crimes and other cases, who knows?

          But this was something special, and there’s a decent chance that they did this despite knowing that this search could trigger a lot of defensive moves by Trump and anyone holding documents on his behalf — shredding, hiding, encryption — in the same way Trump Co. went on a shredding spree during the Panama City Trump Tower eviction in 2018.

          Just as they made a risk-reward calculation in terms of what it meant to go after a former president with enormous legal and political resources, they probably also made a calculation on what this might mean in terms of digging up other hidden info and whether losing those trails was worth getting this material.

        • Rayne says:

          LOL Betting this is going to be going to SCOTUS if the documents in question pose an egregious risk to national security, since it is SCOTUS which placed a limit on Congress by its interpretation of Powell v. McCormack and U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton.

          If the ‘mishandling’ of documents posed a clear and present danger to the nation’s security, can SCOTUS realistically say that Congress can NEVER place a limit on qualifications for president? Would SCOTUS then be undermining the nation’s security in direct opposition to their sworn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”? Is the Constitution supposed to be followed so blindly that the country it’s supposed to protect should be risked to protect inked words on slowly decaying parchment?

        • Ravenclaw says:

          My guess, as a non-lawyer, is that no statute can overrule the Constitution. Congress has the power to prevent anyone from again holding office, but only through impeachment and conviction. Ready & willing (maybe even eager) to be disabused of that notion!

        • Rayne says:

          We have amendments because the original Constitution was incomplete or excessively narrow. This may be a point a future amendment needs to address — that no citizen who betrays the country may be eligible to hold office. The Constitution also fails to address what happens when an entire political party has been corrupted and incapable of convicting and removing an elected federal officer who has betrayed their oath of office.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          Agreed. As far as I know, though, the Constitution says nothing about political parties, and at least some of the founding fathers were suspicious of them. How could one be banned/broken up? (I dasn’t say anything rhyming with Nico here.)

        • Rayne says:

          Remove consideration, then, for political party.

          The founding fathers simply didn’t foresee nearly half of Congress being corrupt and under the control of an organized crime syndicate, nor did they foresee the third branch of government composed of equally compromised jurists in unelected lifetime appointments installed by that syndicate ruling from the bench for the benefit of that syndicate.

        • grennan says:

          “…only through impeachment and conviction…”

          Not exactly. Even conviction after impeachment doesn’t do it automatically — it takes a second Senate vote (but simple majority) after conviction.

          But. Either the House or Senate may eject or refuse to seat any of its own members. (This came up regarding the possibility of a tainted Illinois Senate seat and Blogo’s appointment of Obama’s replacement). The majority required is only a matter of the rules members of that house have voted on for that Congress.

          Then there’s the last part of the 14th Amendment, to prohibit those who’ve sworn oaths of office to the US at any level from serving anew at any level after violation. This would probably, but not necessarily, proceed via regulation provided by the Insurrection Act passed after the Civil War.

          Some of the creative lawyers on the right have tried to argue that the latter refers to only the specific insurrection involved then and not any insurrection afterwards.

          (The ghosts of the Republican presidents between Lincoln and T. Roosevelt would be appalled. All Union officers: four generals, one quartermaster general and one heroic drummer boy to captain.)

    • JohnJ says:

      Possible timing to do with access to Alex Jones phone records?

      Could something there have been the last piece to get the warrant?

      Just a shot in the dark.

  2. jeco says:

    The records must be damning for trump to take the chance of FBI dropping in to do a deep dive into his records and tripping across other incriminating evidence. Brazenly stupid to refuse to return sensitive documents belonging to US. trump is “negotiating” complying with the law? WTF?

    • Peterr says:

      I think these records are very damning, for NARA to bring in the FBI to go after them.

      I also think that Trump didn’t view keeping them as taking any kind of a chance at all. “I’ll keep them tied up in court for years if they want them back.” The notion that the DOJ might go to a judge and get a search warrant likely never crossed his mind. Never.

      • Rugger9 says:

        They may be part of the reason, but ‘negotiating’ for 18+ months after Individual-1 left office seems to me like a really long time. I think there was something that happened a couple of weeks ago that kicked this raid into motion. While I have no doubt there were still missing archives and classified items, that alone doesn’t explain the timing of the raid to me. I suspect we will find that a revelation from the minions or something similar made the Feebs realize they needed to move right then.

        As for the other properties, this post sort of makes me wonder why M-a-L was used as a storage location given how unsecure it has proven to be. Even though it’s allegedly closed for the summer the lack of security wouldn’t be improved. I’m also pretty certain that the most sensitive WH crown jewels go wherever Individual-1 goes knowing that as TFG his bags would never be searched.

        • bmaz says:

          Search warrants are not supposed to be supported by “stale” information, so presumably there is something new.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Could this have anything to do with Cipollone and Philbin testifying before the grand jury? Presumably either or both would have insight into Trump’s packing habits before departing WH.

        • bmaz says:

          To my knowledge, there was only one warrant. It would have been sealed until executed. It may be public now, I don’t know.

        • Badger Robert says:

          The reporting thus far is that the list of documents being sought is also in part classified information.

        • Bev54 says:

          Trump could release his copy of the search warrant and the list of what was retrieved, if he wanted transparency.

          [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your fourth user name across five comments to date; you’ve commented previously as “Bev,” “Bevvy,” “Bev Henderson.” Please stick to one of them here forward. Thanks. /~Rayne]

        • grennan says:

          Given the careless handling it could be as simple as the beginning of the annual hurricane and storm surge season.

          Saltwater floods are ubiquitous around either coast, several days after storms go through.

          If the Archive team that visited in June saw one water line on a wall, it would be smart to be concerned.

          (in the 90s when I closed on a house a short block from the Gulf one of the pieces of paper to initial was a warning to keep my copies on the second floor or elsewhere. The next three first weeks in October saw 15″, 37″, and 14″ flowing in.)

      • KM Williams says:

        Trump could claim he declassified the documents while he was still President, on the morning of Jan 20, 2021.

        • grennan says:

          The declassification has to be in writing, even if it’s as simple as manually crossing out the classification stamp.

  3. jeco says:

    I wonder how many times trumps lawyers have told him you better return these documents, you don’t want the FBI coming in here. But too many warnings like that lead to new lawyers, YES MEN.

    • gmoke says:

      I heard at least one report that Trmp was warned about keeping documents and the Presidential Records Acts probably numerous times but we’ve seen how he takes such advice from knowledgable people in the testimony about the “bullshit” idea about 2020 being a stolen election.

  4. rattlemullet says:

    As much as I have wanted trump to be held accountable sense of dread has now rolled over me. Surely a raid of such historical implications the leaders of the FBI and DOJ and the judge or judges who signed off on this action must be iron clad sure of their facts. Certainly it cannot be just for failing to return document s as surmised by EW. Bmaz asked me once if I was prepared for trump being held accountable, well, we sure will find out now. Do we know who the judge was that sign off on the raid? I read it was conducted out of the Miami field office. Is this know to be true? Bmaz you know the judicial system better than most. What is your prognosis? The political landscape has now been altered forever in the eyes of republicans and MAGA people to seek maximum revenge.

    • bmaz says:

      My understanding is that the warrant was issued by a Magistrate Judge in the local federal district court.

      • Troutwaxer says:

        I read elsewhere that the judge was appointed by Bush II back in 2003, but I don’t remember where, so perhaps this should be classified as rumor… that said, interesting if the judge was a Republican appointee.

    • skua says:

      Not rhetorical question.
      “The political landscape has now been altered forever in the eyes of republicans and MAGA people to seek maximum revenge.”

      To those who believe that Trump won the 2021 election, the Constitution has already been shredded and Biden is not President.
      I get the concern/fear that the MAL raid could trigger RW terrorist attacks.
      But why does “the political landscape has now been altered forever” only kick in now rather than back when “the election was stolen”?

      • skua says:

        One understanding for why “the political landscape has now been altered forever” only kicks in with the FBI raiding MAL:
        Trump’s supporters say “the election was stolen” to use it as a tool to progress their agenda, to mind-fuck their opponents, to make a us-them barrier, to play with reality, to posture.

        Whereas the FBI raid on MAL is understood by them to be a fact, real, with real-world legal and social consequences.

        (2021 instead of 2020 – there is a crack in everything. Damn it.)

        • Krisy Gosney says:

          The MAGA cult believe the election was stolen, absolutely and completely. No wink-wink, nudge-nudge with the Trump supporters. (The higher ups in the official election conspiracy machine used the myth of the stolen election to further THEIR agenda sure.) Thus the violent coup on J6 being done by true believers. They are now saying this serving of a search warrant has ‘altered the landscape forever’ because, my guess, is they are victims and drama queens and they always move the goal posts to further their fantasy of violent potency and constant outrage. Like J6, the true believers will act out likely only when Trump gives them a hard target (ie Mike Pence on J6.).

        • skua says:

          Thank you Krisy Grosney.
          I’m now seeing ‘altered the landscape forever’ as hyperbole that is better understood as a measure of their current emotional arousal.
          (Others have noted the flood of social media bots directing and amplifying the ‘altered forever’ response by Trumpers.)

    • Doctor My Eyes says:

      You can find out a lot about the judge online, such as his address and other identifying personal information, thanks to right wing doxxing.

  5. Tom-1812 says:

    This may be a dumb question, but assuming the documents are so incriminating why didn’t Trump destroy them over the past 18 months they’ve been in his possession? He clearly has no interest in preserving the historical record of his administration. It’s difficult to think of Trump deciding that destroying the records would be a worse offense than simply hoarding them, but perhaps that’s the case. Or perhaps he thought the documents could be valuable to him in some respect. Or again, maybe the documents weren’t the main focus of the search.

    • DFBaum says:

      I was thinking the same thing; especially in light of all the wiped phones and electronic records. Is it possible that some of it contains kompromat he could use as leverage to keep folks in line?

      • Spocko says:

        This is a highly probable reason. Noel Castler, who worked with TFG on the Apprentice, has talked about Trump’s history of getting and having dirt on people.

        • Rugger9 says:

          That would make sense, since Biden cut Individual-1 off from the PDBs when Joe was inaugurated. I’ve observed elsewhere about the possibilities and this is a newer one. If this were an exercise in ‘leverage’ as in pre-blackmail, would the Feebs being doing the search unless one of the minions said this was there?

          As I mull it over, the timeline would support your theory better than a sale of docs plan to Vlad, because there is no way Individual-1 would have waited this long to cash in on them. However, leverage kept in a safe far away from the ones in thrall don’t have a shelf life.

    • Gibby says:

      I don’t think that’s a dumb question at all, especially since we know he destroyed other documents. The only answer I can think of is arrogance: he is (or was) convinced he was above the law.

      • notjonathon says:

        Well, I can imagine him bragging to some random visitor, “Oh I’ve got a whole roomful of secret documents–wanta see some?”

    • Ravenclaw says:

      FWIW: My hypothesis is that those he preserved have value as information/evidence implicating others. Useful in negotiations (or blackmail). Maybe Congressional Republicans, maybe corrupt tycoons, maybe foreign leaders. In short, thinking like a Russian oligarch. Compromat. But it’s just a hypothesis.

      • Tom-1812 says:

        That’s where my thinking takes me, too. I also wonder if the documents contain information with implications for the international scene. What if Trump has intel about the state of Putin’s health or political opponents that could precipitate an even greater crisis or crackdown in Russia if it were known. We must wait upon events but at least we can stop wondering when Merrick Garland is going to do something.

        • Deep_Thought says:

          If it is compromat, then would have to involve someone that Trump believed and continues to believe will be able to do something of value to him post-presidency. Of the people on that list, the most obvious would be congressional republicans, who can and have been running interference for him since he left office.

        • Eliascalles says:

          Endless possibilities
          Re kompromat but my mind goes to the corrupt SCOTUS as the highest value target for trump.

        • bmaz says:

          “Kompromat” is not necessarily the classified material that would trigger this. People, as usual, are letting their minds run wild with their fever dreams. It will be revealed in time, endless speculation adds nothing.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          An alternative to my first idea would be if the documents contained critical national security related information that someone thought might be saleable. That would explain the presence of a counterintelligence official. For now, though, it’s just speculation, so I’m going to wait for something of substance to be reported somewhere (and Marcy et al. to find & analyze it closely!).

        • Fran of the North says:

          My impression is that FBI has jurisdiction on domestic espionage, so that supports your view.

      • skua says:

        Another hypothesis: A list of senior US military personel who have demonstrated an openess to joining an attempted coup. Though military/intelligence espionage seems a better fit with the “documents at MAL” narrative. And kompromat a better fit with the slimeball.

    • Dustbowler says:

      I have a theory. Pure speculation.
      Trump took some documents out of the boxes in his basement and put them in his safe. These documents identify intelligence sources near Putin. Trump people put out feelers to Russians that they have these documents and asking what they might get for them. American intelligence got wind of these feeler discussions and alerted the FBI. That case would be made if documents in Trump’s safe were found to be of intelligence value to the Kremlin.

      • Rugger9 says:

        It’s on my bingo card, but I think the Russians would have acquired them long ago if the safe documents had that kind of value because of the time horizon here of 18+ months.

        • Dustbowler says:

          I am afraid that’s a good point, Rugger9. Makes this theory a bit more of a stretch. It could still hold if these detailed documents were recently discovered by Trump people as they rummaged through the boxes and then let the Russians know that they have them. But that is not all that likely. Again, all speculative, of course. I like Tom-1812’s post because he is more generic, indicating that these documents are somehow of some value to Trump (perhaps compromat on some Republicans). In any case, however, Trump made some kind of move on them and it prompted the warrant.

    • fishmanxxx says:

      As reported above, there were some boxes in a basement room, which TFG likely thought was inconsequential. But the there’s the safe and I’m sure, like any good mafioso, that’s where he kept the really good stuff!
      Garland said no one is above the law and he was serious!

    • BobCon says:

      One piece of speculation is that this is at least in part information which is potentially useful for allies in the press, who presumably need the ability to view and review evidence over time.

      If that’s true, this makes this search even more loaded, since DOJ rules about investigations involving the press can be even more complicated than investigations of, say, a corrupt businessman buying intel from Trump.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Bobcon, you have me wondering, what if that corrupt businessman were Jared Kushner? Would he need to buy the intel–that is, promise father-in-law a kickback on the cool 2B he just scored–or would it be all in the family?

  6. DrDoom says:

    I have an IANAL question to which many here will know the answer. What are the rules of evidence regarding other incriminating evidence uncovered in the course of executing a search warrant? As much as I want to see TFG get nailed by the rule of law, it is frightening to think about items beyond the scope of a warrant being admissible.

      • Dr.C. says:

        Does “plain sight” mean before or after the boxes are opened and contents neatly arranged on the table top?

        • Rayne says:

          Does it have to be a theoretical box? What if when the FBI opens the door to the room where the safe is located, they see a rape or murder or transfer of illegal drugs in progress. That’s in plain sight and obviously evidence of a crime.

        • Silly but True says:

          The warrantless seizure of evidence in plain sight has become a valid exception to the fourth amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure for purpose of police convenience through case law “plain view” doctrine.

          Where 4th Amdt is implicated, courts have generally required three elements: prior valid entry, inadvertence, and probable cause.

          Police must already have right to be there; this was fulfilled by the warrant. They can’t seize under pretext, it must exist “in sight” within terms of the right to be there. And of course, there must be probable cause; the warrantless seizure must be evidence of crime.

          If these three elements are present then it’s likely it’s fair game.

  7. ExpatR&RDino-sour says:

    So many falsetto alarms re: Trump have left me wanting before that I hesitate to get too excited, but this is either a huge misjudgement by DOJ (doubtful) or a huge straw on camel Trump’s back (more likely I hope). I’ve never actively wanted bad things to happen to anyone, but making a special case for Trump and Co.

    I was up early 7 hours ago living here in Scotlandland late of West Sussex for 40 years.

    • Patience says:

      Put aside concern of DOJ making mistakes here. In order to get that search warrant they needed to have a clear, concise case and a direction that the judge reviewed and okayed. Rest assured that the application for that warrant was probably the one of, if not the best EVER compiled. Every I dotted, every T crossed. A never before done thing needed to be exceptional in every way.

      • ExpatR&RDino-sour says:

        I’ve thought for years the fact that Trump “sold a lot of condos” to Russians was dodgy from the start and in my opinion could have been a very hefty money laundering operation. I came to the conclusion after Russia Russia Russia that I must have been wrong because surely someone would have caught it. Maybe I’m stupid.

        • Rayne says:

          What do you think would trigger an investigation into one or more condo sales?

          It’s not just Trump who might use real estate for money laundering. What triggers investigations related to real estate sales, based on past history?

          And sometimes parts of the system are built by the corrupt to protect the corrupt; it may take a while for all the stars to align to reveal the corruption.

          Maybe you just need to think about this a little more.

        • Fran of the North says:

          Ivana’s final resting place has made at least one of the puzzles more difficult to solve.

        • ExpatR&RDino-sour says:

          Sorry. I’m familiar with the posters and the site because I’ve been monitoring for ages and very impressed with the discourse, but not an online forum person. I just thought I’d stick my toe in the water and didn’t know about the snark tag. Maybe I should just keep reading only. I’ve noticed a few posters are into music and I spent my entire working life at the high end.

        • ExpatR&RDino-sour says:

          When I first arrived in England in 1975 people were always enthusiastic about my accent, “Oh, I love America… I want to go there!” Somewhere in Bush the Second’s time it became “Oh, you’re American. I don’t like George Bush.” Post Iraq it has been on a downward trend and Trump made it spiral.” I told my daughter 5 years ago that guys like Trump always crash and burn… it’s just a matter of time. That time may be nigh, I surely hope so, but it would have happened a long time ago if Republicans in congress had stayed republican. America has a lot of work to do to recover. I am shamed that it is my generation that has allowed a lot of bad things to happen.

        • bmaz says:

          Two of the three Congress people that went to tell Nixon it was over were Republicans from AZ. Goldwater and Rhodes (the other being Hugh Scott). Both were family friends back then (hey, it was a different time then). But those kind of people no longer exist in the GOP.

        • Rayne says:

          LOL The snark tag isn’t required. Comment threads like this are challenging when commenters haven’t yet developed a history with the community. The more you participate, the more likely it is community members will be able to tell when you’re being facetious or sarcastic, and when you’re being serious. Don’t give up yet. :-)

        • grennan says:

          According to some reporting, Ivana Trump was cremated, which sounds too conspiracy-minded…her ashes in the golf course?

      • ExpatR&RDino-sour says:

        Thank you, Patience, for that. I hope to God you are right. One would think that the decision on the raid (was it really a raid??) would not have been taken without your exceptional points adhered to. I, personally, think Democrats have never been able to fight Trump effectively enough in the media. Every single lie needs to be hammered for what it is. I reference John Stewarts remarks after the recent GOP Senate high five farce. No mincing words, no patient response, just pure guts and emotion. I’d like to see that kind of reaction with other issues like abortion.

  8. ApacheTrout says:

    My unsubstantiated WAG is it all begins with Trump’s exposure to Russian loans. Helsinki is about Ukraine & NATO withdrawal, with some of the same heavyweight players then involved in Jan 6.

    [FYI, I’ve revised your username from “Apache” to “ApacheTrout” to match that you’ve used in your last 17 comments. Please be sure to use the same name each time you comment, thanks. /~Rayne]

  9. Pete T says:

    A bit OT, but on Twitter Jim White posted a cut from a CNN article about the FBI being taken down into the basement (at Mar-a-Lago) to see the document boxes earlier this year. Marcy quotes a similar piece above. You might be thinking, among other things, Mar-a-Lago, basement, ocean. Turns out…

    “Fall-out shelters have been added in the basement of the main structure.”

      • Rugger9 says:

        Well below the water table too. It’s basically a big swamp down there. Lots of opportunity for mildew…

      • grennan says:

        Early storm surge and coastal flood mitigation efforts there (at least around Tampa Bay) raised some structures by only 5-8 ft. and lots of folks refer to the area underneath as “basement”.

  10. BROUX says:

    Technical questions for EW or Bmaz here. Once DOJ/FBI have prepared and submitted the document(s) to request this type of search warrant, what is the chronology of event before it is green lighted by a judge? Is is a matter of hours? Of days? Does it require an in-person audience with the judge or is it all done through the paperwork? Any additional technical aspects you care to explain please? Thanks!

    • bmaz says:

      Usually an AUSA walks it in and waits while the judge reviews the application. Once signed by the judge they can execute at will. But it is usually executed promptly after that.

  11. Mister Sterling says:

    This is damn serious. The National Archives could have just sued Trump and waited in line while he runs out the clock (and dies). This is super serious. In their search of the Mar-a-Lago compound, the FBI had to have grabbed every box. They got a lot more than just classified documents. They found new (yes, new to us) crimes committed by Trump.

    Now I am not naïve. I know this is not the end of Donald J. Trump. But this is something that just about every legal expert didn’t think would ever happen. And it would not have happened unless everyone at the DOJ agreed that they had an airtight investigation and justification.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      And absolutely *nothing* about it leaked from DOJ. Further confirmation of what Dr. Wheeler keeps reminding us about: their investigations are proceeding apace, but under wraps.

  12. CG says:

    Neither of those statutes (the PRA at 44 U.S. Code § 2209 or 18 USC 2071 mention “classified” documents specifically.

    But 18 U.S. Code § 1924 (“Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material”) does explicitly deal with classified documents. (

    Maybe the more knowledgeable on this site might chime in as to what statute best fits here? I’m puzzled as to why those two statutes are the only ones people are talking about…

    • Rayne says:

      They’re the obvious, easy statutes. Reminds me of an old B. Kliban cartoon:

      It’s as obvious as the bugs missing in the second frame — the presidential records, classified and unclassified, aren’t in the archives or appropriate classified setting where they’re supposed to be.

      Other potentially applicable statutes will require knowing more about the type and content of the documents in question. Until this is known, it’s difficult to speculate there’s more than the possibility a spying-related charge or other charge is in play.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Rayne, thank you for using the s-word (spying). The apparent urgency behind this search suggested something counter-intelligence-related, to me at least, from the start. Trump’s record of doing actual damage to our national security started well before he took office (with that Ukraine plank change in the GOP platform in 2016) and continued throughout. He is the opposite of a patriot. He doesn’t care.

        • Rayne says:


          DOJ’s Counterintelligence & Export Control Section Jay Bratt was at Mar-a-Lago as Marcy noted in the post but we’re not going to discuss espionage, or s-word spying?

        • Rugger9 says:

          Without new material for sale since Biden cut him off from the PDBs, etc., I think Individual-1 would have ‘monetized’ this stuff long ago if it were NatSec in some way. Spocko’s idea above makes more sense, where the kompromat is on the GQP leadership (who also played footsie with the Russians) who had curious changes of heart about Individual-1’s qualifications. Looking at you, Lindsey.

      • CG says:

        You are probably right. The reports indicate about 15 boxes of “classified” documents were taken out of Maralago. I think the pundits like the word “classified” because it sounds like a more serious crime.

        But we don’t know if there was unclassified material recovered as well.

        Weirdly the max penalty (3 yrs/250K fine; and for subsection (b), the forfeiture of office) for the generic 18 USC § 2071 statute that applies to unclassified and classified material is arguably stiffer than the penalties in 18 USC § 1924 (5 yrs/100K fine).

        I suppose the pundits find it sexy to speculate on whether TFG could be barred from holding office again under § 2071(b). But the key difference to me (and IANAL) is that (b) would only apply to those who “have custody of” the records, meaning record-keepers.

        But in reality, (and @bmaz) how do cases filed on these charges actually play out? I think I have read more about past § 1924 case outcomes than § 2071 case outcomes…

        Some sources (courtesy of Google):

        Federal Public Defender training guidelines – – note that this suggests max penalty for 1924 should be 1 yr but law clearly states 5 years…

        Discussion –

    • Silly but True says:

      The “classified” angle is effectively a dead-end; POTUS is a walking, breathing stand-alone widely unlimited classification authority unto itself (while still POTUS). POTUS can declassify classified documents at its whim, and needn’t necessarily be bound by the government’s classification system to do so; POTUS can declassify with a word or pen (or probably even Tweet). If Trump were smart, he would’ve declassified (and documented his declassification for record), before he lost his declassification authority and/or before taking documents out of the WH.

      There is no authority that can counteract POTUS if he says “hey, while I was still POTUS, I waved my declassification wand over these boxes and I magically declassified them.” There is no entity that can tell a POTUS, no, your declassification authority doesn’t work in this case. This devolves any “classified” document issues to just simple PRA issues.

      Admittedly, there are other espionage statutes that do not use “classified” terminology as part of its statute, and are more specific to “national defense information,” for example that still might implicate a particular document, but all the hay about “classified” documents is likely a non-issue.

      Although leave it to Trump to actually forget to declassify them before Jan.20.

      • CG says:

        sort of agree. I think it doesn’t matter if he did or not. Most likely, he was too incompetent–and too isolated–to actually do it between Jan 6 and Jan 20.

        From what I have read, he’d have to sign an order directing the declassification of x, y and z documents; just ranting about declassifying whole categories of stuff while waving his tiny wand is not enough. It’s a government of paper trails, and he was notoriously adverse to paper.

        And once Biden became POTUS, he could reclassify anything tRump did or claimed to declassify. I don’t know if Biden did that, but I do know that there’s a long history of reclassification orders in the nuclear energy/weapons industry.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Kash Patel was on TV arguing that Trump could not have done anything wrong because of his limitless ability to declassify. That had me wondering when that privilege stopped (January 20, 2021?) if at all, and whether he could simply claim he had declassified whatever the agents found at Mar-a-Lago on Monday–that is, retroactively make it so.

          I had not thought about Biden’s reclassification claim on the material, but since you brought it up I’m guessing that it is not retroactive–that is, he cannot render illegal that which Trump and Kash Patel have declared innocent and pure. I’m further guessing these issues might have to be resolved in court(s).

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t believe Trump could declassify everything; there are materials which can only be classified/declassified by the original classification authority.

          If Patel is involved, whatever he says is suspect.

  13. Callender says:

    The mind boggles over the ramifications of this step. Trump is a one man crime wave mobster/fraudster. Having watched this guy as close as any layman observer over the years, I never had “violation of the Presidential Records Act” on my bingo card as the possible cause of his downfall.

    Not being a lawyer I never knew a conviction on violating 18 USC 2071 included disqualification from office. I wonder what was in that safe.

  14. billv says:

    I think there’s another possibility why Trump might make off with certain documents, resist efforts to give them back yet not be inclined to fold, spindle, flush or mutilate them: he may have been collecting “get out of jail” free cards, just in case the feds or even the state courts got around to indicting him. Endangering national security to save his own skin — how very Trumpy!

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; you’ve posted 44 previous comments as “Coyle.” Let us know which one you’ll be using here forward. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  15. Anne says:

    What’s to stop TFG from making photocopies so he can turn over the originals? Every use you guys are guessing about works just as well with an illegal copy.

    • The Old Redneck says:

      Trump obviously isn’t going to make copies himself. Whoever he has make those copies may talk. And I’m pretty sure making unauthorized copies of classified material is a crime too – perhaps as big of one as grabbing and holding the material in the first place.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Not to mention that copiers these days have considerable memory storage. Copies themselves are usually micro-printed with info that identifies the specific copier that made them.

  16. BruceF says:

    How much should we read into the fact that Jay Bratt was involved in the June meeting?

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; you commented as “Bruce Fuentes” in your previous 11 comments. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  17. punaise says:

    This may already have been noted. Josh Marshall at TPM:

    We now have confirmation from CNN that the raid was about the 15 boxes of classified documents that Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago. This is a critical point. This is not tied to the January 6th investigation or the conspiracy that preceded. This is a separate investigation.

  18. FiestyBlueBird says:

    I am wondering how long we might reasonably expect to learn whether the FBI did or did not take any materials found there yesterday.

  19. Savage Librarian says:

    Here’s a crazy conjecture. Maybe Trump has been drooling over Kushner’s lucrative haul from MBS. Maybe he has been angling to get some for himself by providing some national security documents as a quid pro quo.

    Maybe he and Roger Stone and Guccifer 2.0 have been working out the details. Maybe even Kushner is giving a helping hand.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Where would he get updated ones? Biden cut Individual-1 off. Given the 18+ months since TFG slunk out of the WH and the various fiscal grifts he’s needed since then, I would be surprised any classified stuff hasn’t been sold yet.

    • Anne says:

      Good question. I was looking at readers’ hypotheses about possible uses. The Russians? They’ll take a copy and check out the info. The Saudis? Some GQP politician being blackmailed? They know the info. I can’t think of an example where it matters — especially given that these documents were all created on government computers, so it’s not like the government doesn’t have copies (except for his Sharpie notes in the margins). If a document is foreign, the process of classification created copies.

      • bmaz says:

        Nope, none of that is known nor supported. JFC, people are going out of their minds yet again. Do0n’t do that.

  20. Richieboy says:

    Someone may have already suggested this, but I have a feeling that the Rs expressing outrage over the search are going way out on a limb that is going to be decisively sawed off before the weekend.

    • JohnForde says:

      I’ve been thinking the same. If the urgency of the search was due to DJT potentially transacting classified info for dollars or other benefit, wouldn’t that be espionage? If so, arrest could be imminent and bond extremely unlikely. A very awkward position for R congress critters who supported him until the moment of arrest.

  21. vicks says:

    I’m stuck at Mar-a Lago having a basement?
    To the best of my knowledge between water tables in most of Florida being so close to the surface and Mar-a Lago so close to the ocean that seems impossible?
    I know there has been mention of “bunkers” on the property, but I can’t imagine the paranoid Trump allowing them to be used for casual storage…

      • Parker Dooley says:

        Marjorie Merriweather Post (original owner of Mar a Lago) had a thing for bomb shelters. Her Hillwood estate in DC* had them also. I’m sure anyone with infinite amounts of cash can strike a deal with the water table if they think they can survive the Big One.

        *Well worth a tour. Full of Faberge eggs & great gardens.

      • vicks says:

        My point is storing documents with unknown content in a bunker/bomb shelter creates different optics than the storing documents in a “basement room” as is being reported.

        • Rayne says:

          The optics are likely unintended and based on half-assed reporting. Kind of like none of the media asking to see the warrant yesterday and instead running Trump’s bullshit statement.

  22. Willis Warren says:

    what are the possibilities that this actionable intel source came from 1) foreign gov’t or 2) republicans wanting to take him out?

  23. Nick Caraway says:

    @Rayne re Cushman & Wakefield, the realty company that did Trump’s appraisals. Their slogan used to be “Business America’s Real Estate Firm.” Whose infelicitous acronym would be, “BARF.”

    Mpre seriously, C&W it is actually an old-line, corporate real estate leasing agent, so having their name on an appraisal wouldn’t hurt — assuming they actually did diligent and independent work.

  24. Badger Robert says:

    Documents that relate to 01/06 that implicate others cannot be ruled out. They would be typical documents for Trump to retain, and very valuable to the DofJ. No possibilities can be ruled out. And the framing of this as a records violation is most likely a diversion as noted above.
    Excellent additional reporting by Ms. Wheeler.

  25. Thomas Paine says:

    It has to be espionage related. The stakes for such an unprecedented search are too high for any other explanation. The man is a traitor and only thinks in terms of transactions. He would never voluntarily give up something he thought he could make a $$$ on. He has no loyalty to anyone or anything, including the rest of us or the United States itself.

    Trump was absolutely the worst choice for a POTUS the Electorate could make. He remains the worst choice.

    • bmaz says:

      It may be, but not necessarily. The search of private citizens, whether they are targets or not, happens multiple times every day across the US to private citizens. It is NOT “unprecedented”, and saying it is plays right into the Trumpian hands. Trump is a private citizen. Don’t make assumptions you have no clue about.

      • Thomas Paine says:

        Trump is a private citizen, BUT one with 75 million followers, 25 million of whom are ready to do battle for him. He has also held classified material illegally for at least 18 months and is still walking around ! That is not an ordinary circumstance for a private citizen.

        Having had a security clearance for 45 years, I can tell you taking ONE classified document home for one day would have gotten me fired and put in jeopardy of serving time in confinement. Security briefings for the stuff Trump had access to are deadly serious. Grave Damage to the National Security of the United States is a real consideration for the DoJ.

        • Hug h says:

          Given all of that, whatever they went after had to be very BIG. If it is NatSec related there’s a real possibility we’ll never know. There may be a cover story with drumpfs Political Wings somehow permanently “clipped” in private negotiations, but we may never know.

        • Ddub says:

          I agree with you that it was probably something big, but there is a chance that the DoJ planned this as a first move. They had to, one assumes balance how this raid would effect other elements of the investigation.
          There’s a possibility they are shaking the tree, and/or messaging anyone in the conspiracy that the game has changed.

        • cmarlowe says:

          >> 25 million of whom are ready to do battle for him

          I don’t think so. Get a grip. We are not risk-free, but if it was even 2.5 million, what have they been waiting for? How would anything larger than 250 even get organized without leaking? MAGAs as well as MSM have been ginning this up (or should I say Ginni-ing this up). If you want to worry, worry about 1 guy, or 20 guys with ARs.

          You are on the money with respect to classified docs handling.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          There are a lot more than 20 “guys” with ARs out there, and quite a few of them appear to be seeking out marching orders online.

  26. Ddub says:

    Many have a little extra pep in their step today! Glorious.
    My comment is that I don’t see the kompromat angle makes sense. The Feds were searching (if we accept the theme thus far) for government docs. Kompromat isn’t produced by the US Government, except by our spy agencies on foreigners I assume.
    No doubt the turd grabbed anything he could for blackmail or grift, or protection. A huge miscalculation to think the Feds wouldn’t come back with warrants. Oh please let that safe be the mother lode Santa.

  27. BobPDX says:

    Thinking about the timing here. Is it possible that the US was handed some incriminating evidence from the Saudis when Biden was there, as part of some larger diplomatic wrangling?

  28. xbronx says:

    45’s Lament – A Limerick
    My thighs overlap so they chafe
    Cause my diet’s primarily treyf
    The Feds came to Mar Lago
    Like Ness in Chicago
    “They even broke into my safe!”

  29. Randy Baker says:

    Unless Trump’s lawyers told the feds he was keeping these documents or other evidence/contraband in his safe, I think the probable cause for opening his safe, should it ever be disclosed, will be interesting. I would imagine that would consist either of information gathered from electronic surveillance of Trump or one of his involved servants — or that one of Trump’s people told the feds about it. Given Trump’s proclivity to hold forth freely, in the event the probable cause comes from electronic surveillance of the Orange Beast himself, it could be extraordinarily amusing and incriminating.

    • Paulka says:

      Keep in mind that the reason we know the FBI searched Trump’s safe is Trump said it. I don’t know what to make of that!

      • Rayne says:

        I still think that was a tip to persons who had reason to be concerned about the content of that safe. “Hello? We’re fucked, you and me, because the fibbies got our stuff which was under lock and key!

    • Hoping4Better_Times says:

      Randy Baker has touched on something that has bothered me about this whole situation. Somehow trump had to arrange for the original 15 boxes to be shipped to Florida rather than to the Archives. How did he do that? Who helped him? Once the boxes arrived at M-a-L, who directed that the boxes be stored in the basement (and locked up). Who then went through those boxes to remove certain materials? At whose direction? I can’t imagine trump getting his hands dirty or Melania helping him move the boxes in her stilettos. One or more of those assistants (seeking immunity?) may have tipped off the FBI that more documents were to be found at M-a-L. Then the FBI obtained the warrant to search.

  30. Patrick Carty says:

    Ok wait…. Mar-a-Lago has a basement?

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; you commented last as “Mag7” though I realize it’s been a while. Please stick to one of these two names here forward. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  31. Jim O'Neill says:

    Thanks, All, for a most enjoyable evening of reading. I sure hope Rayne’s last guess proves correct!

  32. grennan says:

    Here’s a much simpler explanation/scenario (but security implications are at least as awful).

    The Archive team visited in June to find out when they’d get the rest of the material. Post says Trump looked in on meeting, didn’t stay. Trump team agreed yet again to delivery date [maybe within 60 days].

    When the team expressed concern that the documents weren’t being stored safely enough, the Trump folks bought a padlock. [Archive team probably asked about any classified documents, likely Trump person said, oh, they’re in the safe [probably had to say or show which safe because it’s likely Mar-a-Lago has several safes.]]

    Anybody who has spent a summer on either FL coast knows that scudgy stuff just moves in and storing anything that’s not on airconditioned high ground is problematic. Even without the constant danger of salt water seepage that intensifies around Labor Day, there’s humidity, mildew, mold, lizards, rodents, and more. Insecticide spray.

    It would be of great concern to the Archive people to get them out of there and a local judge would readily understand the urgency of doing it before Labor Day.

    Trump may not have released the search warrant because it’s embarassing — the Archive’s urgency spelled out by describing rodent droppings, gnawing, bug spray drips, dead lizards, Big Mac wrappers, etc.

    It must have been fairly low key — the source didn’t tell the FL guy until about 20 minutes after the agents left, and he took a while to confirm from second source. His tweet went out at 6:30 ish and Trump released his statement very soon after that.

    He told several of his people he thought this was of great advantage to him [riling up the enthusiasts].

    The reason this is even worse for security than the specifics of speculation (‘kompromat’, Trump retaining documents to sell, and on and on) is they were kept so loosely that way too many people could have gotten at them. Maybe more than one. But nothing need have happened for this to be an enormous security threat (and document condition issue — at best careless destruction, at worse withholding to obstruct, or to create all purpose excuse).

    Even without classification/safety issues, they belonged to the Archive, which goes through DOJ for the FBI to retrieve property. Somebody would need to ensure a clearance protocol to handle the documents during the search; the bureau’s counterintelligence guy would be logical.

    • grennan says:

      Forgot to add that the urgency could also be MOL re-opening after summer close. Bigger workforce starting before that, and then obviously many more people wandering around.

  33. Yorkville Kangaroo says:

    Not sure how to start posting or on what particular topic but I have stumbled into EW World and am the richer for it. I have been LONGING for people that cogently analyze and discuss matters using logic and critical reasoning. I think I finally found it.

    Keep up your good work Marcy and all the other movers and shakers out here and I thoroughly expect to transgress some unwritten law that bmaz will jump down my throat about real soon. I promise to try to keep to the law and spirit of this site.

    The New Yorker from Down-under

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