Takeaways from the unsealed warrant to search Trump’s home

Millions of words have been written about former President Donald J. Trump, but few may prove as consequential for the man, or the country, as the seven pages of federal code references and document inventories that make up the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.

The Justice Department warrant and two critical supporting memos were first leaked and then officially released by a federal judge in Florida on Friday afternoon, four days after FBI agents went through Mr. Trump’s residence in search of materials he is believed to have improperly removed from the White House.

The importance of what they found remains to be seen. But the ruling — remarkable in both its execution and publication — sheds considerable light on an investigation that appeared to take a backseat to the investigation of Mr. Trump’s actions on the day of the Capitol riot, January 6, 2021, and leading up to it.

Here are the key takeaways from the latest developments:

Before Friday, the department’s investigation into Mr. Trump’s removal of potentially sensitive materials to focus on violations stemming from his nonchalant, even defiant, handling of presidential documents.

It was serious enough: the executive order cited obstruction of justice as one of the potential crimes justifying the search, and the possible mishandling of government records was listed as the other potential charge.

But it was the third possible breach that made the news. Prosecutors cited Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 793, better known as the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary.

People close to Mr. Trump played down the inclusion of the action, saying the department was elevating a legal scrap over the possession of the former president’s papers and other memorabilia to something more serious for political purposes.

But the inclusion of the Espionage Act changes the course of the investigation. Several provisions of the law could apply to Mr. Trump’s case, particularly if he was found to be grossly negligent in keeping sensitive material or knowing the information could harm American interests, according to Mary McCord, a former top official in the Justice Department’s national security division.

And prosecutors could argue that documents stored illegally at Mar-a-Lago violate the law, regardless of whether Mr. Trump declared them unclassified before he left office.

The National Archives, along with the Justice Department, have been trying for months to get Mr. Trump to hand over lots of government documents.

They retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago in 2021, and prosecutors argued with the former president’s lawyers over the issue for most of the summer before deciding to seek a search warrant.

They found a lot of stuff — 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked “classified/TS/SCI,” short for “top secret/sensitive classified information,” according to the report. Agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents. Also included in the manifesto were files regarding the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material on President Emmanuel Macron of France.

So why did Mr Trump keep all these things in his private residence?

People close to the president say it was part of his pattern of collecting memorabilia. His office in Trump Tower was so crammed with memorabilia, including Shaquille O’Neal’s giant sneakers, that visitors had to go inside to avoid knocking over a trinket. His critics see more sinister potential motives, rooted in his cozy relationship with authoritarian leaders.

Few public figures have been as vocal about keeping quiet as Mr. Garland, who is at pains to explain why he can’t talk more about the January 6 investigation or other matters involving Mr. Trump.

But his decision to go public on Thursday to request that the order be lifted marked a break in his pattern. Garland, facing withering pressure to explain the rationale for the first-ever search of a former president’s home, said he was now free to speak about the case only because Mr. Trump himself had brought the news.

But he also cited the wider “public interest” in coming forward – and made a point of saying he had personally signed the search warrant. For a man who rarely reveals process details beyond what is included in the department’s legal filings, this was a big deal.

In doing so, Mr. Garland hoped to strike a delicate balance between public disclosure and prosecutorial discretion that has eluded others who have overseen investigations into Mr. Trump.

But he has now created expectations that he will address the public when other burning questions about the department’s conduct arise.

Maggie Haberman, Katie Benner and Charlie Savage contributed reporting.

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