The DOJ saw something concerning on the surveillance footage they’d subpoenaed of Mar-a-Lago’s storage area, according to a new report from the New York Times.
“The Justice Department also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, including views from outside the storage room. According to a person briefed on the matter, the footage prompted concern among investigators about the handling of the material. It is not clear what time period that footage was from,” Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman reported.
They also note that the search included Trump’s office and residential areas, in addition to the storage area mentioned repeatedly as the place where Trump had stored many of the stolen documents.
Jay Bratt, Chief at Counterintelligence and Export Control Section in the National Security Division of the Justice Department, had previously had to ask Trump to secure the storage area, even though Mar-a-Lago is a club open to all kinds of people, including foreign leaders and interests.
Trump himself or through his representatives has denied having these documents, then denied they were classified, and then claimed he declassified everything when he was still in office. Trump has also suggested without evidence that the FBI “planted” the documents because “nobody” was allowed to watch, but then it was learned that not only were two of his lawyers present during the search, but he watched the entire search on CCTV.
There are a lot of reasons those defenses won’t wash, including that there are some types of documents that cannot be declassified by a president.
Additionally, former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Peter Strzok explains, “Presidents to not “get” security clearances. They gain access to classified info by virtue of their election.” This access is removed when they are out of office, which might be why Trump is now claiming to have declassified everything that left with him *before* he was out of office.
Normally, some intelligence briefings are extended to a former president upon their request. In Trump’s case, President Biden cited Trump’s “erratic” behavior as a reason he might not be given access, but left it up to the intelligence experts. CNN added, “Former Trump Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon wrote in a Washington Post op-ed following the insurrection at the US Capitol last month that Trump ‘might be unusually vulnerable to bad actors with ill intent’ once he’s out of office.
“Gordon, an intelligence veteran of more than 30 years, also said in 2019 that one of Trump’s most common responses to intelligence briefings was to doubt what he’s being told.”
His own Director of National Intelligence saw Trump as an easy target for bad actors, and now we know this easy target stole top secret documents and left them in such a way that agents watching surveillance video of the area where the documents were became even more concerned.
The types of documents reported to have been found at Mar-a-Lago include nuclear weapons material and what is called ‘SIGINT,’ which is government speak for Signals Intelligence, which is highly sensitive. This is National Security Agency territory.
As in, the territory of the data Mike Flynn was trying to use to falsely “prove” the 2020 election was stolen from Trump: “The proposal to seize and analyze ‘NSA unprocessed raw signals data’ raises legal and ethical concerns that set it apart from other attempts that have come to light.”
We first learned that some of these stolen documents were marked top secret and classified in February of this year. The National Archives had to track down missing White House documents at Mar-a-Lago in January, so Trump and his team have known they weren’t supposed to have these documents long before the FBI was forced to get a search warrant.
There was also a June meeting that took place, in response to which Trump lawyers signed a statement claiming that Trump had complied with the “federal subpoena regarding classified and government documents,” according to a CBS News report that confirms the New York Times statement report. So that’s yet another chance to have returned these documents.
Marcy Wheeler noted in her Emptywheel blog in February, “I can’t get a detail from the IG Report on White House Counsel Mike Ellis’ aborted hiring as NSA General Counsel out of my head.
The DOD IG found that Ellis’ hiring itself wasn’t a problem. But it also found that NSA Director Paul Nakasone correctly responded by holding up the process when Ellis was involved in two security incidents in the days after January 6. In both cases, Ellis was treating NSA information improperly.”
The entire IG report can be read here.
Furthermore, Wheeler highlighted this section about concern over how Ellis had treated intelligence that deals with “a specific foreign actor” from the report:
I learned … that we had questions about the way that Mr. Ellis had handled our most sensitive intelligence that deals with a foreign actor when he was in the White House.
Not only did the FBI find top secret and sensitive compartmented information at Mar-a-Lago after Trump’s lawyers signed a statement saying all classified documents had been returned after the June 3rd meeting, but also now we have the added concern of what investigators saw on the surveillance footage that caused alarm.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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