Seized documents were part of an investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and two other laws

Federal agents removed top-secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant released Friday.

FBI agents seized a total of 11 sets of documents, including some marked “classified/TS/SCI” — short for “top secret/sensitive classified information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information so categorized is intended to be viewed only in a secure government facility.

It was the latest stunning revelation in a series of investigations swirling around his efforts to retain power after his election loss, his business practices and, in this case, his handling of government materials he took with him when he left the White House.

The results of the search revealed that material designated as closely guarded national secrets was kept at an unsecured resort club, Mar-a-Lago, owned and occupied by a former president who has long shown a disdain for the careful handling of classified information .

The documents released Friday also made clear for the first time the seriousness of the possible crimes being investigated in an investigation that has generated condemnation of the Justice Department and the FBI from prominent Republicans and fueled the anger of Mr. Trump, a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

In all, agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the statement showed. The FBI agents also took files regarding the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material on President Emmanuel Macron of France – along with more than a dozen boxes labeled only by number.

The disclosure of the search warrant and inventory made clear what was at stake in the collision between a Justice Department that said it is intent on enforcing federal law at the highest level and a former president whose norm-breaking behavior includes exhibiting a proprietary view of material that legally belongs to the government.

It is not clear why Mr. Trump apparently chose to hang onto materials that would ignite another legal firestorm around him. But last year he told close associates that he considered some presidential documents his own personal property. Speaking about his friendly correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump: “They’re mine,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.

Although the FBI’s inventory of materials seized from Mar-a-Lago indicated that several files had “top secret” markings, Mr. Trump on Friday that he had declassified all the material. Presidents exercise extensive power to declassify documents, though such markings are usually removed when that happens.

But even if Mr. Trump declassified the information before he left office, none of the three potential crimes cited by the department in requesting the warrant depend on whether a mishandled document has been deemed classified.

The executive order said the agents would search for material while investigating potential violations of the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized retention of defense-related information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary — a standard that was written by Congress before the creation of the modern classification system.

It also cited a federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or conceal a document to obstruct a government investigation, and another statute that bars the illegal taking or destruction of public records or documents.

The existence of a search warrant does not mean that the Department of Justice has decided to pursue criminal charges against someone. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong.

A federal court in Florida quashed the search warrant and the inventory on Friday after a request by the Justice Department a day earlier to make them public. Portions of the order and the accompanying statement were reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times also obtained them before they were closed.

The order appears to have given agents broad latitude to search for materials deemed improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago, granting access to the “45 Office” and “all storage rooms and all other rooms or areas” in the premises that may used to store documents.

The most informative and sensitive document — the Justice Department’s application for the warrant, which most likely contained an affidavit detailing the evidence that persuaded a judge there was probable cause to believe a search would turn up evidence of crimes — was not among the documents the department asked to unseal. It’s unlikely to become public anytime soon, or ever.



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The documents did not answer several basic questions about the daylong search, including its timing. It came after months of negotiations between the department and the former president’s lawyers.

The investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act represents a hitherto unknown and potentially significant dimension in an investigation initiated by the National Archives.

The Act contains several provisions that could apply to Mr. Trump’s case, especially if it later turns out that he was grossly negligent in keeping the material, or knew that the information in his possession could harm American interests and still refused to return it to investigators, said Mary McCord, a former top official in the Justice Department’s national security division.

“We are talking about highly classified documents with the potential to seriously harm the national security of the United States, including by benefiting foreign agents,” Ms. McCord, now executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The cancellation of the search warrant helped flesh out what is known about why Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, on the advice of the National Security Division, felt compelled to search the former president’s home.

The search was conducted as part of the government’s effort to declassify documents that a person briefed on the matter said related to some of the most classified programs run by the United States.

The person told The Times that investigators had been concerned about material that included anything from what the government calls “special access programs,” a designation typically reserved for extremely sensitive operations conducted by the United States abroad or for closely held technologies and capabilities. .

The Washington Post reported that some of this material could have been related to classified documents “relating to nuclear weapons”, which could have been part of the Special Access Program designation.

In January, Mr. Trump 15 boxes of material for the National Archives, which he had improperly taken with him when he left office. The archives subsequently identified classified material in the boxes and referred the case to the Department of Justice, which later convened a grand jury.

But as the results of Monday’s search appeared to show, other government material remained at Mar-a-Lago. Why Mr. Why Trump did not return it, along with the 15 boxes he gave to the archives in January, is not clear. But at some point the Justice Department learned about it, and it issued a subpoena this spring demanding the return of some materials.

The existence of the subpoena suggests the department tried methods other than a search warrant to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending FBI agents unannounced to Mar-a-Lago.

Jay Bratt, the department’s top counterintelligence official, traveled with a small group of other federal officials to Mar-a-Lago in early June.

There they met with Mr. Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran and examined a storage area in the basement where the former president had kept material that had come with him from the White House. Sir. Bratt subsequently emailed Mr Corcoran and asked him to further secure the documents in the storage area with a stronger padlock.

After that, federal investigators subpoenaed surveillance footage from the club, which could have given officials a glimpse of who was coming in and out of the storage area, according to a person familiar with the matter.

During the same period, investigators were in contact with a number of Mr. Trump’s aides, who had some knowledge of how he stored and moved documents around the White House and still worked for him, said three people familiar with the events.

At least one witness provided investigators with information that led them to press Trump further for material, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Federal officials came to believe this summer that Mr. Trump had not relinquished all the material that left the White House with him at the end of his term, according to three people familiar with the investigation.

Last Friday, the Department of Justice applied for the search warrant. Early Monday morning, FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago.

Katie Benner contributed with reporting.

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