August 15, 2022
The raid on Mar-a-Lago on Monday, August 8, was based largely on information from an FBI confidential human source—one who was able to identify exactly which classified documents former President Donald Trump still was hiding and even the location of those documents, two senior government officials have leaked to Newsweek.
Who was that insider? Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen weighed in on the matter, telling Business Insider that he wouldn’t be surprised if the informant turned out to be Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, or one of [Trump’s] hildren.
Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff for Trump, has speculated that, if an FBI informant in Trump’s camp did exist, he or she would likely be one of the six to eight people closest to the former president.
Mulvaney spoke to CNN on Thursday about the FBI’s Monday raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. He said that he thought the informant whose tip-off sparked the raid was likely someone deeply embedded in Trump’s orbit and “really close” to him.
As for the rationale for the raid, both senior government officials who spoke to Newsweek said that the raid was scheduled with no political motive; the FBI solely intent on recovering highly classified documents that were illegally removed from the White House.
Preparations to conduct such an operation began weeks ago, but in planning the date and time, the FBI Miami Field Office and Washington headquarters were focused on the former president’s scheduled return to Florida from his residences in New York and New Jersey.
“They were seeking to avoid any media circus,” says the second source, a senior intelligence official who was briefed on the investigation and the operation. “So even though everything made sense bureaucratically and the FBI feared that the documents might be destroyed, they also created the very firestorm they sought to avoid, in ignoring the fallout.”
On Monday at about 9 a.m. EDT, two dozen FBI agents and technicians showed up at Donald Trump’s Florida home to execute a search warrant to obtain any government-owned documents that might be in the possession of Trump—but actually had been required to be delivered to the Archives under the provisions of the 1978 Presidential Records Act. (In response to the Hillary Clinton email scandal, Newsweek cites that Trump, himself, signed a law in 2018 that made it a felony to remove and retain classified documents.)
The act establishes that presidential records are the property of the U.S. government and not a president’s private property. Put in place after Watergate to avoid the abuses of the Nixon Administration, the law imposes strict penalties for failure to comply. “Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined” $2,000, up to three years in prison or “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
The act, and concerns about the illegal possession of classified “national defense information” are the basis for the search warrant, according to the two sources. The raid had nothing to do with the January 6 investigation or any other alleged wrongdoing by the former president.
The road to the raid began a year-and-a-half ago, when in the transition from the Trump Administration to that of President Joe Biden, there were immediate questions raised by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as to whether the presidential records turned over to the federal agency for historical preservation were complete or not.
In February, Archivist David Ferriero testified before Congress that his agency began talking with Trump’s people right after they left office and that the Trump camp had already returned 15 boxes of documents to the Archives. Ferriero said that in those materials, the Archives discovered items “marked as classified national security information,” unleashing further inquiries as to whether Trump continued to possess classified material, Newsweek says.
The basic outlines of the facts surrounding this timeline have been confirmed by the former president. He has previously said that he was returning any official records to the Archives, labeling any confusion in the matter as “an ordinary and routine process to ensure the preservation of my legacy and in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”
Trump also claimed the Archives “did not ‘find’ anything” in what he had already been returned, suggesting that there was nothing sensitive. He said the documents had inadvertently shipped to Florida during the six-hour transition period in which his belongings were moved.
According to the Justice Department source, the Archives saw things differently, believing that the former White House was stonewalling and continued to possess unauthorized material. Earlier this year, they asked the Justice Department to investigate.
In late April, the source says, a federal grand jury began deliberatingv whether there was a violation of the Presidential Records Act or whether President Trump unlawfully possessed national security information. Through the grand jury process, the National Archives provided federal prosecutors with copies of the documents received from former President Trump in January 2022. The grand jury concluded that there had been a violation of the law, according to the Justice Department source.
In the past week, the prosecutor in the case and the local Assistant U.S. Attorney went to Florida magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in West Palm Beach to seek approval for the search of Donald Trump’s private residence.
The affidavit to obtain the search warrant, the intelligence source says, contained abundant and persuasive detail that Trump continued to possess the relevant records in violation of federal law, and that investigators had sufficient information to prove that those records were located at Mar-a-Lago—including the detail that they were contained in a specific safe in a specific room.
“In order for the investigators to convince the Florida judge to approve such an unprecedented raid, the information had to be solid, which the FBI claimed,” says the intelligence source.
Indeed, The Washington Post reported on August 12, ‘Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The senior Justice Department source says that Attorney General Merrick Garland was regularly briefed on the Records Act investigation, and that he knew about the grand jury and what material federal prosecutors were seeking.
FBI director Christopher Wray ultimately gave his go-ahead to conduct the raid, the senior Justice official says. “It really is a case of the Bureau misreading the impact.”
In consideration of that impact—which included demands from Congress and from the American people for the details of the search—on August 11, Attorney General Garland asked the judge to approve the release of the details of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, pending approval by Trump’s lawyers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, late on August 11, the former president said on his social-media site that he wouldn’t oppose the release of the court documents, encouraging their “immediate release,” while adding he viewed the process as partisan.
Trump was given a copy of the warrant and a list of items that were taken during the search and his aides had previously declined requests to release them. According to people familiar with the search, some of the documents contained highly classified national-security information.
Research contact: @Newsweek