August 16, 2022 / by emptywheel


How Trump’s Search Worked, with Nifty Graphic


I did a really rough, overly-simplified graphic explaining what we know about Trump’s search.

Round-edged boxes above are documents. Ovals are physical objects. Grey boxes are the boxes that documents were contained in. Turquoise represents documents that were not known to be classified or otherwise proof of any crime except (possibly, but not necessarily) a violation of the Presidential Records Act. The other colors for documents show various kinds of criminal evidence that a document might represent.

The search warrant authorizes the seizure of evidence that Trump:

  • Retained classified documents he’s not authorized to have
  • Took government documents he was obligated under the Presidential Records Act to turn over to the Archives
  • Obstructed investigations and government functions by destroying or concealing evidence

But the search method permits agents to take documents marked as classified, the boxes they’re in (with everything else in the boxes), and other boxes stored in the same place.

Any physical documents with classification markings, along with any containers/boxes (including any other contents) in which such documents are located, as well as any other containers/boxes that are collectively stored or found together with the aforementioned documents and containers/boxes;

Agents were allowed to search any part of Mar-a-Lago that Trump or his staff could access, but two locations we know they searched were his office and a storage closet (which I’ve indicated by two separate boxes, above).

Here are things that were seized that might have been found in Trump’s office (indicated above by the top horizontal black box):

  • A leatherbound box (that long horizontal grey box in the graphic)
    • Top Secret/SCI documents in that box
    • Everything else in that box
    • Trump’s diplomatic passport
  • Photo albums
  • An Executive Grant of clemency for Roger Stone
    • Information in that executive grant of clemency about the President of France
  • A handwritten note
  • Other documents that include privileged information which may be evidence of obstruction

Here are things that were seized that might have been in that storage closet (indicated above by the bottom horizontal black box):

  • Boxes with Top Secret documents and everything else in the boxes
  • Boxes with Secret documents and everything else in the boxes
  • Boxes with Confidential documents and everything else in the boxes
  • All the other boxes stored with the boxes with classified documents
  • Boxes that happen to include Trump’s expired passports
  • Boxes that include privileged documents which may be evidence of obstruction

At least some of the agents that did the search were a filter team, which means they’re agents who are not part of the primary investigative team. Before any agents from the primary investigative team looked at the materials, these filter agents sorted through the evidence and determined what documents were privileged or what boxes included privileged information. Everything that was deemed unprivileged seems to have been inventoried on what I’ve called the “CLASS receipt” signed by a Special Agent. (See these two posts for further discussions of the two receipts.) Those are marked by the lefthand green box above.

Then, it appears that someone else (possibly the Supervisory Special Agent) reviewed those privileged documents and identified any that could be seized anyway — either because they included classified documents, or because they were proof of obstruction. According to a Fox News report, those were all inventoried on what I’ve called the “SSA receipt.” That seems to indicate that anything privileged, regardless of where it was discovered (for example, if it was in the leatherbound box, as I showed above), was seized and inventoried separately. I’ve bolded those in my list above and marked them with the righthand green box.

So the process for Trump’s search likely looked like this:

  1. Is it a government document dated January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021? If no, go to step 2; if yes, go to step 3
  2. Is it classified, in a box w/classified, or a closet with classified?
  3. If yes, is it privileged?
  4. If no, then put in CLASS inventory
  5. If yes, is it proof of obstruction?
  6. If yes, then put it in the SSA inventory

Since the seizure, agents appear to have at least started the scope review — the process of sorting through which materials are proof that Trump stole classified information, documents otherwise covered by the Presidential Records Act, or proof of obstruction. The stuff that is not covered in the investigative scope, the FBI will return to Trump.

The first such items — his current diplomatic passport and two expired ones — were returned yesterday. Those likely were seized because they were stored in a box that either contained classified documents or were stored in a closet with other boxes that contained classified documents. Above, I’ve suggested that Trump’s diplo passport may have been seized in that leatherbound box where he allegedly kept TS/SCI documents, and I’ve shown how the other passports may have been in a box of documents that were in the storage closet with other boxes which had classified documents.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

18 USC 793e in the Time of Shadow Brokers and Donald Trump

[from Rayne] Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

Trump’s Stolen Documents

John Solomon and Kash Patel May Be Implicated in the FBI’s Trump-Related Espionage Act Investigation

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Three Ways Merrick Garland and DOJ Spoke of Trump as if He Might Be Indicted

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

[from Rayne] Expected Response is Expected: Trump and Right-Wing DARVO

DOJ’s June Mar-a-Lago Trip Helps Prove 18 USC 793e

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

FBI Executes a Search Warrant at 1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

The ABCs (and Provisions e, f, and g) of the Espionage Act

Trump’s Latest Tirade Proves Any Temporary Restraining Order May Come Too Late

How Trump’s Search Worked, with Nifty Graphic

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