FBI agents who searched former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on Monday removed 11 sets of classified documents including some marked as top secret, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing documents it reviewed.
The U.S. Justice Department also disclosed it has probable cause to believe Trump violated the Espionage Act, a law which prohibits the possession or transmission of national defense information.
FBI agents took around 20 boxes of items, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Trump's ally Roger Stone, a list of items removed from the property shows, the Journal reported. Also included in the list was information about the "President of France," it reported.
The list of documents is contained in a seven-page document that also includes the warrant to search the premises that was granted to the FBI by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the newspaper said. The list did not provide any more details about the substance of the documents, it said.
The reported revelations that Trump had documents labeled "top secret" could create major legal jeopardy for him.
"Top secret" is the highest level of classification, reserved for the country's most closely held national security information. It is usually kept in special government facilities because its disclosure could cause grave damage to national security.
Numerous federal laws prohibit the mishandling of classified material, including the Espionage Act as well as another statute that prohibits the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material.
Trump increased the penalties for this while he was in office, making it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
- Call with Netanyahu made Trump 'second-guess' Jerusalem embassy move, Kushner says
- Three years later, Israelis find out what Trump really thought of Netanyahu
- Top U.S. general warned Netanyahu: 'You're gonna have a fucking war' with Iran
Earlier on Friday, Trump denied a Washington Post report that the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home was for possible classified materials related to nuclear weapons, writing on his social media account that the "nuclear weapons issue is a hoax."
Reuters could not immediately confirm the Washington Post report. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has declined to publicly detail the nature of the investigation.
The search of Trump's home marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations he is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate one by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump's allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.
In a rare move, Garland on Thursday announced that the department had asked Reinhart to unseal the warrant that authorized the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. This followed a claim by Trump that the search was political retribution and a suggestion by him, without evidence, that the FBI may have planted evidence against him.
Reinhart has imposed a 3 PM EDT (1900 GMT) deadline for prosecutors to let him know if Trump's legal team will oppose the unsealing of the warrant.
Late on Thursday, Trump released a statement on social media saying he does not intend to oppose its release.
"Release the Documents Now!" Trump wrote.
The search and seizure warrant signed by Reinhart shows that FBI agents sought to search "the 45 Office," as well as "all storage rooms and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by (the former president) and his staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored, including all structures or buildings on the estate," the Wall Street Journal reported.
It added that FBI agents had collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents.
The investigation into Trump's removal of records started this year, after the National Archives and Records Administration, an agency charged with safeguarding presidential records that belong to the public, made a referral to the department.
On Friday, Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee called on Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to release the affidavit underpinning the warrant, saying the public needs to know.
"Because many other options were available to them, we're very concerned of the method that was used in raiding Mar-a-Lago," Representative Michael Turner, the committee's top Republican, told reporters.
If the affidavit remains sealed, "it will still leave many unanswered questions," Turner added.
In February, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero told House lawmakers that his agency had been in communication with Trump throughout 2021 about the return of 15 boxes of records. He eventually returned them in January 2022.
At the time, the National Archives was still conducting an inventory, but noted some of the boxes contained items "marked as classified national security information." Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the Archives, calling it "an ordinary and routine process." He also claimed the Archives "did not 'find' anything."
Since Monday's search, the Justice Department has faced fierce criticism and online threats, which Garland have condemned. Trump supporters and some of his fellow Republicans in Washington have accused Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target him even as he mulls another run for the presidency in 2024.
In another matter, Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions during an appearance before New York state's attorney general in a civil investigation into his family's business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.