On Friday afternoon, the F.B.I.’s search warrant for Mar-a-Lago was unsealed, revealing that the government believed evidence of three federal crimes regarding the handling of sensitive material could be found at former president Donald Trump’s opulent Palm Beach, Florida estate.
The search warrant said that a magistrate judge had established “probable cause” for the U.S. Department of Justice to request access to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property and seize documents —including some related to nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported. The F.B.I. searched the Florida estate on August 8.
Earlier this year, the National Archives had asked the Department of Justice to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.
The warrant cites three statutes, all of which fall under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which deals with federal crimes and criminal procedure.
Of the three laws listed, Section 793—more commonly known as the Espionage Act—is drawing the most attention. Among other offenses, the Espionage Act includes the unauthorized possession of and refusal to return national defense information. The receipt for materials taken by the F.B.I. following its search revealed that the former president was storing classified material at Mar-a-Lago. According to the New York Times, the F.B.I. seized documents marked as “classified/TS/SCI,” or in other words, one of the highest levels of classification. Conviction under this statute can result in a penalty of up to 10 years in prison per offense.
Another statute cited in the warrant—Section 1519—deals with obstruction, including the destruction or alteration of records related to a federal investigation with “the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation.” Conviction of this offense can result in a penalty of up to 20 years in prison per offense.
The remaining statute mentioned in the warrant—Section 2071—criminalizes the concealment, mutilation or destruction of government documents. Conviction of this penalty can result in a penalty of three years in prison per offense; perhaps more significantly, a conviction also prohibits the guilty party from holding any federal office—including the presidency. Trump has said time and time again that is not a question of if, but of when he will announce his bid for president in 2024.
On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that DOJ had moved to unseal the warrant stating there was “substantial public interest in this matter.” Later that day, Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform that not only did he “not oppose the release of documents,” but that he was “going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
On Saturday morning, the New York Times reported that in June, one of Trump’s lawyers signed a written statement assuring that all classified materials that had been held at Trump’s Florida estate had been returned to the government. Similarly, Trump said on Friday that he had declassified all the Mar-a-Lago material while he was still president—although he provided no documentation to support this claim. Both the signed statement by Trump’s lawyer and Trump’s claim contradict the findings laid out in the unsealed warrant.