UNITED STATES: As per a search warrant claimed to have been “personally approved” by US Attorney General Merrick Garland, the FBI seized top secret files in a raid at former president Donald Trump’s lavish Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida last week. Agents successfully retrieved 11 sets of documents, including some marked “TS/SCI”, a specific terminology for material that could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to US national security.
It was the first time an ex-president’s residence had been legally authorized to be ransacked for sensitive information in a criminal probe. As expected, Trump denied involvement in any criminal activity and said the items were declassified.
The documents were revealed to the public and press on Friday afternoon after a judge broke the seal on a seven-page document that included the search warrant for Trump’s upscale Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago.
The document entailed that 20 boxes of items were taken on Monday, including a binder of photos, a handwritten note, anonymous information about the “President of France”, and a clemency letter written on behalf of long-time Trump aide Roger Stone.
Additionally, along with four sets of top-secret files, the cache includes three sets of “secret documents” and three sets of “confidential” material.
The warrant indicates that FBI agents legally raided the residence upon investigation into potential violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it illegal to retain or transmit potentially dangerous national security information in one’s possession.
Removing classified, sensitive information that could hold the key to international relations, state secrets and other military operations is prohibited by law. Trump increased the penalties suffered for the crime while still in office, and now, it amounts to a 5-year prison sentence.
The warrant notes that the locations searched at Mar-a-Lago include an area called the “45 office” and storage rooms, but not private guest suites being used by Mr. Trump and his staff.
The justice department moved the court to make the details of this probe known to the public press on Thursday, which is rare amid an ongoing investigation. It was eventually approved on 5 August, and the announcement was made three days later.
On Friday night, Trump’s office issued a statement justifying the reason behind the issue: the former president had taken the liberty to declassify the documents with his authority as a sitting president during his time in office.
“He had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and brought into the residence were deemed declassified,” according to the statement.
“The President of the United States has sole authority to classify and declassify documents.”
“The notion that some paper-pusher bureaucrat with presidentially delegated classification authority must approve declassification is absurd.”
However, legal experts have overturned this logic and expressed doubt about its appearance in a court of law. Declassification of sensitive documents needs to follow a specific “procedure”, according to Tom Dupree, a lawyer who previously worked in the justice department, who spoke to BBC.
“They have to fill out forms. They have to give certain authorizations. They can’t simply say these documents are declassified. They have to follow a process [and it is] not clear that was followed here.”
Meanwhile, as news broke out that the FBI executed the raid, Trump’s supporters and Conservative aides backed up the former president and started attacking the FBI’s integrity. Law enforcement authorities are currently monitoring online threats against government officials that have emerged in the wake of this raid.
However, US Attorney General Merrick Garland is not one to bow down before fear and took full responsibility for the authorization of the raid, as he defended federal agents on Thursday as “dedicated, patriotic public servants.“
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he told reporters.