New details about what prompted U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to authorize the unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Florida home may come as soon as Friday, after the former president said he would not oppose the public release of the search warrant.
If made public, the warrant will not disclose all of the evidence the FBI presented for U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s approval. But it could shed light on which criminal laws prosecutors believe Trump may have violated, such as statutes that prohibit the unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials.
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, and Garland has declined to publicly describe the nature of the investigation.
If Trump did retain records related to nuclear weapons, experts say such materials could potentially be classified as “top secret,” the highest level of classification, reserved for the country’s most closely held national security information.
“Certainly classified information regarding nuclear weapons, as reported by the Post, would typically be at a higher level classification,” said David Laufman, who previously led the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, the same section spearheading the investigation into Trump.
In a rare public 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 p.m. 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!” he wrote.
CONTENTS OF BOXES A MYSTERY
The Justice Department’s motion calls for the unsealing of the warrant itself along with attachments and a redacted copy of the receipt showing a list of items the FBI seized.
A source previously told Reuters the FBI removed about 10 boxes, though the contents of those boxes remain a mystery.
The attachments could potentially reveal details about the locations the FBI searched inside Mar-a-Lago, and what they were looking for, while the warrant could cite the statutes used to justify the search, former Justice Department officials said.
Federal criminal laws related to classified information could include the Espionage Act, which can be used to prosecute people for the mishandling of classified records.
Another statute that could be cited would be one 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.
The warrant will not, however, contain all of the details of what the government has learned to date about the materials that may have been in Trump’s possession.
Such details would be part of a sworn affidavit submitted by prosecutors to the court in support of the warrant, a copy of which the Justice Department has not asked the judge to release.
In theory, Trump could request its release, but it was unclear whether the Justice Department would support such a request.
The search on Monday 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.
The investigation into Trump’s removal of records started this year, after the National Archives made a referral to the department.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Ross Colvin, Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)