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Trump suspected of violating Espionage Act, according to search warrant

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Federal law enforcement suspected former President Trump had violated the Espionage Act and other laws when it sought and obtained a search warrant for his Mar-a-Lago estate, according to court records unsealed Friday.

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The unsealed warrant shows that investigators were authorized to seize any documents or records with classified markings or related to the “transmission of national defense information or classified material.”

The warrant also authorized the seizure of “any evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or Presidential Records, or of any documents with classification markings.”

Investigators listed 33 items that they had seized from the property, including the executive order of clemency for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone and information regarding the “President of France.” The receipt also included entries such as “Miscellaneous Top Secret Documents,” binders of photos and a handwritten note.

The inventory of documents seized during the search lays out 11 different sets of classified items seized during the search, including one set of documents as “various classified/TS/CSI documents,” meaning top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information. 

In other cases, authorities seized three items labeled confidential, three items rated secret and four top secret items. 

A spokesman for Trump, when asked for comment, pointed to a post from the former president on Truth Social, claiming that the records had been declassified.

“Number one, it was all declassified,” Trump wrote in the post. “Number two, they didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago. It was in secured storage, with an additional lock put on as per their request. They could have had it anytime they wanted—and that includes LONG ago.”

While the Justice Department had agreed to release the warrant itself and the receipt of the seized property, a law enforcement affidavit that typically accompanies warrant applications remains under seal. The affidavit likely contains information supporting investigators’ finding of probable cause to believe that there was evidence of criminal conduct in Mar-a-Lago.

The warrant lists three potential criminal violations that investigators suspected they would find evidence of in the search: concealment or removal of federal records, destruction or alteration of records in a federal investigation and transmitting defense information.

The most serious of the charges, the one involving destroying records in a federal investigation, carries a maximum possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Trump’s legal team filed a motion right at a federal judge’s 3 p.m. deadline indicating they would not oppose release of the warrant.

The release of the records comes after a week of growing demands for answers about the search of the former president’s Florida home. Under increasing pressure to provide some transparency and dispel various unfounded accusations from Trump and his allies, Attorney General Merrick Garland made his first public appearance since the search on Thursday, saying he personally made the decision to seek a warrant and that it was not done “lightly.”

On Thursday night, The Washington Post reported investigators had been concerned that Trump possessed highly sensitive documents containing information about nuclear weapons. It’s unclear if the FBI seized such records during its search and the documents unsealed Friday make no mention of nuclear weapons.

Prosecutors have brought charges under the Espionage Act in several high-profile cases in recent years, including against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, who has been living in Russia since shortly after he leaked a trove of information revealing National Security Agency surveillance programs in 2013.  

Chelsea Manning, a former Army soldier convicted of leaking a massive trove of government documents to WikiLeaks, was court-martialed under the law and sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 before former President Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.

The act was also used to prosecute Reality Winner, a defense contractor who was sentenced in 2018 to more than five years in prison for leaking information related to Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. 

It remains unclear whether the Justice Department has seized evidence that would support charging Trump with any of the crimes, or if he faces an imminent threat of prosecution.  

The effort to obtain the remaining information stored at Mar-a-Lago follows a months-long effort by the Justice Department.

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Despite Trump’s claims that authorities could have had the documents “any time they wanted,” the extraordinary search of a former president’s home comes after authorities this spring subpoenaed various documents in Trump’s possession.

That move followed a January visit from authorities to Mar-a-Lago where they retrieved 15 different boxes of materials, including some that were labeled as classified.

Updated at 5:17 p.m.

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