Justice Department releases redacted Mar-a-Lago affidavit

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 5:39 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022
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5:39 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Affidavit raises claims about president's "absolute authority to declassify documents"

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate are seen on Friday.
Pages from the affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate are seen on Friday. (Jon Elswick/AP)

The redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit released Friday shows that federal investigators addressed the question of a president’s authority to declassify documents, though much of that section is redacted.

The affidavit says that former President Trump’s counsel asked the Justice Department “to consider a few ‘principles,’ including the claims that the President has “absolute authority to declassify documents.” 

The affidavit also cites a claim from Kash Patel, a former Trump national security aide who was named as one of Trump’s designees to the National Archives in June. The investigator who wrote the affidavit cited a May article from right-wing website Breitbart, in which Patel claimed reports that the National Archives found classified material at Mar-a-Lago were “misleading” because Trump had declassified the materials. 

The rest of the section in the affidavit, however, is classified, so it’s not clear why federal investigators cited Patel’s comments. 

Since the FBI’s search, Trump has pointed to a Jan. 19, 2021, memo in which he declassified documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. There’s no evidence, however, that those materials were what the FBI was looking for when it searched Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.

1:38 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Former Trump officials describe how ex-President handled documents at White House and Mar-a-Lago

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

A former Trump official told CNN that they were not surprised to hear that the National Archives found boxes with classified records that “were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly (sic) identified."

According to this source, the former President was known to walk around both the White House and Mar-a-Lago and pull documents out of boxes and look at them, then put them in other boxes or to the side, often with no method or reasoning to it. One source said that Trump was constantly putting things into stacks and leaving them around his office to go through later. These stacks often included everything from newspaper clippings to the Presidential Daily Briefing. 

Sources also said Trump would write notes on the back of other presidential documents — even when aides told him not to.

Another source described how Trump would show off presidential documents to visitors including the letters between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, indicating how lax the protocol seemed to be around these documents.

1:12 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

There are a series of acronyms in the affidavit. Here's what they mean.

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

The affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Friday.
The affidavit by the FBI in support of obtaining a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Friday. (Jon Elswick/AP)

The Justice Department released a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit and memo on Friday — and it includes a series of acronyms related to classifications.

“Further, the FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following compartments/dissemination controls: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI," the document says.

Here's what they mean:

  • ORCON: A classification marking meaning “Originator-controlled.” ORCON means that any further distribution of intelligence or its inclusion in another document must be approved by the originating agency. (So, for example, if the CIA “owns” the intel in question, CIA would have to release it for it be included elsewhere.) 
  • HCS: Human intelligence control system. Control system designed to protect human sources — the actual foreign spies that provide information to the United States. HUMINT, or human intelligence
  • NOFORN: A classification marking meaning “Not for release to foreign nationals.” Information marked NOFORN cannot be released to partner nations, for example. (You see this a lot on DOD docs)
  • SI: SI is designed to protect signals intelligence including communications and electronics intelligence. It was formerly named for the first product it afforded protection, which was COMINT (Communications Intelligence). Now it is called the Special Intelligence (SI) Control System. SI information is only available to holders of SI access approval and is managed by the Director of the National Security Agency. 

Read the document here.

1:03 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Unredacted portions of affidavit reveal some information about background of FBI agent who wrote it

From CNN's Marshall Cohen 

The sworn affidavit released Friday was written by an FBI special agent. The agent's identity is redacted in the documents that were made public Friday to protect them from potential violence and threats. 

However, the unredacted portions of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit reveal some information about the FBI agent’s professional background. The agent said they were trained in “counterintelligence and espionage investigations” at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. 

The agent also said they have expertise investigating people who “unlawfully collect, retain, and disseminate sensitive government information.” 

1:02 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

FBI used separate team to search Trump’s office to protect against privilege issues

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

The FBI used law enforcement personnel who were not part of the investigation to search former President Donald Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago, in order to protect against potential attorney-client privilege issues, according to the affidavit. 

The affidavit unsealed Friday says that the FBI used a “Privilege Review Team” to search the “45 office,” separate from the investigators who searched other areas of Trump’s residence authorized by the warrant.

“The Privilege Review Team will search the ‘45 Office’ and conduct a review of the seized materials from the ‘45 Office’ to identify and segregate documents or data containing potentially attorney-client privileged information,” the affidavit says.

The separate team to go through the materials taken from Trump’s office shows that the FBI had a plan to deal with potentially privileged material before the search. Trump’s legal team has asked for a “special master” to review the materials that were retrieved under the search warrant.  

The affidavit says that if the review team determined there were “documents are potentially attorney-client privileged or merit further consideration in that regard,” the team could take steps to seek a court determination, keep the documents from the investigative team, or “disclose the document to the potential privilege holder.”

12:59 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ legal brief says disclosure of some details in affidavit could affect the Secret Service's work

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

The Justice Department's legal brief has a section about preventing a disclosure of the investigation’s “road map” as they explained redactions in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit. It included concerns that the disclosure of certain details could hamper the work of the Secret Service.

“Disclosure of certain information pertaining to physical aspects of the premises could negatively affect the Secret Service's ability to carry out its protective functions," the Justice Department's legal brief said in a footnote.

“Although the Department of Justice is not in a position at this lime to assess those potential harms, the information in the affidavit describing physical aspects of the premises fits within the category of information whose disclosure would provide a ‘road map’ of investigative techniques and avenues,” the footnote continued, with an additional clause redacted.

12:54 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

There could be "evidence of obstruction" at Mar-a-Lago, according to FBI affidavit

From CNN's Marshall Cohen 

In seeking permission to search Mar-a-Lago, the FBI told a judge that there was “probable cause to believe” that classified national security materials were improperly taken to “unauthorized” locations at former President Donald Trump’s club, and that a search would also likely find “evidence of obstruction.”  

“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified (National Defense Information) or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at (Mar-a-Lago),” the FBI affidavit says. “There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at (Mar-a-Lago.),” the affidavit continues.

12:53 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ legal brief points to grand jury information and law enforcement safety as reasons for redacting

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

In its legal briefing stating reasons for redactions in the Mar-a-Lago aerach warrant affidavit, the Justice Department stressed the need to protect grand jury information.

The brief cited federal criminal procedural rules and case law concerning grand jury secrecy before launching into a few sentences of redacted material.

Additionally, “[m]inor but important” redactions were needed to protect the safety of law enforcement personnel,” the brief said.

“Specifically, information in the affidavit that would identify the affiant such as by name or through biographical information, should remain under seal,” the brief said, adding another few lines that were redacted.

12:49 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

FBI says classified docs were taken to "unauthorized location" at Trump's Mar-a-Lago

From CNN's Marshall Cohen and Jeremy Herb

According to the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit, the early FBI investigation determined that classified documents with national security information had been stored at an “unauthorized location” at former President Trump's Florida home.  

“The FBI's investigation has established that documents bearing classification markings, which appear to contain National Defense Information (NDI), were among the materials contained in the FIFTEEN BOXES and were stored at the PREMISES in an unauthorized location,” the FBI affidavit says.

The “fifteen boxes” is a reference to the 15 boxes of material removed from Mar-a-Lago in January. And “the premises” refers to Trump’s resort and personal residence at Mar-a-Lago. 

Federal investigators also cited former Trump’s residential suite, his “45 office” and other locations at Mar-a-Lago in the affidavit supporting the search warrant of the Florida resort. 

Investigators wrote that none of the spaces in Trump’s residence had been authorized for storage of classified information. 

“Based upon this investigation, I believe that the STORAGE ROOM, FPOTUS's residential suite, Pine Hall, the ‘45 Office,’ and other spaces within the PREMISES are not currently authorized locations for the storage of classified information or NDI (national defense information),” the affidavit says. “Similarly, based upon this investigation, I do not believe that any spaces within the PREMISES have been authorized for the storage of classified information at least since the end of FPOTUS 's Presidential Administration on January 20, 2021,” according to the affidavit.