At least one of the documents seized by the FBI describes Iran’s missile program, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work targeting China, they said.
According to experts, the unauthorized disclosure of specific information in the documents would pose multiple risks. Individuals assisting US intelligence efforts could be endangered and collection methods could be compromised. Additionally, other countries or U.S. adversaries could retaliate against the United States for actions it has taken in secret.
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The classified documents on Iran and China are considered among the most sensitive the FBI has recovered to date in its investigation of Trump and his aides for possible mishandling of classified information, obstruction and destruction of government records, people said.
The former president has denied wrongdoing by holding the documents at Mar-a-Lago, saying in a recent TV interview that he has declassified all documents in his possession and that a president can declassify information “even thinking about it”. National security lawyers have derided these allegations.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning. But after that article was published, Trump posted on social media, decrying what he called “document hoax” leaks and suggesting the FBI and National Archives and Records Administration were trying to frame him.
“Who could ever trust corrupt and armed agencies, and that includes NARA,” Trump wrote. “…Who also knows what NARA and the FBI are fabricating into documents, or subtracting from documents – we’ll never know, will we?”
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A part of the most sensitive materials were found during the August 8 court-approved search of Trump’s home, during which officers seized about 13,000 documents, including 103 classified and 18 top secret, according to court documents.
These papers were the third batch of classified documents recovered during the investigation. According to court records, boxes voluntarily sent from Mar-a-Lago to the National Archives and Records Administration earlier this year contained 184 classified documents, 25 of which were classified as top secret. In June, Trump’s representatives responded to a subpoena by giving investigators 38 additional classified documents.
The Washington Post previously reported that one of the documents seized in the FBI’s raid described a foreign country’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities. People discussing the case would not say whether the information was related to Iran, China or another country. Iran’s missile program and nuclear capabilities are closely watched by the Western world; US intelligence agencies believe Tehran is close to having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, but has not demonstrated mastery of some of the technologies needed to deploy such weapons, such as the ability to integrate a nuclear warhead with a long-range delivery system.
People familiar with the subject said that many of the most the sensitive documents that Trump or his aides apparently brought to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House are high-level analytical documents that do not contain the source names. But even without individual identifiers, such documents can provide valuable clues to foreign adversaries about how the United States may collect intelligence and from whom, the people said.
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Some of the documents seized detail top-secret US operations so closely watched that many senior national security officials are unaware of them, The Post reported in September. Only the president, some members of his cabinet or an official close to the cabinet could allow government officials to know the details of these special access programs, people said. Investigators in charge of the Mar-a-Lago investigation did not initially have the authority to examine this material.
New information about the documents obtained by The Post highlights what current and former intelligence officials say is the inherent risk posed by removing highly classified documents from tightly guarded government buildings and keeping them in a private club full of members. staff, guests and visitors.
David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official who has handled cases involving the mishandling of classified information, said the “exceptional sensitivity” of material found at Mar-a-Lago will count as an aggravating factor as prosecutors are weighing whether to file charges in the case. .
“The exceptional sensitivity of these documents and the reckless exposure of invaluable sources and methods of U.S. intelligence capabilities regarding these foreign adversaries will certainly influence the Justice Department’s decision whether or not to charge Mr. Trump or others with withholding deliberate. national defense information under the Espionage Act,” Laufman said.
The FBI referred questions about the documents to the Justice Department, which declined to comment for this article.
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Trump and his most ardent supporters have dismissed the criminal investigation as an effort to undermine the former president – who remains the most influential figure in the Republican Party and is openly talking about running for the White House again in 2024.
National Archives officials began seeking the return of Trump administration government records last year, after officials came to believe that some documents — such as letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — were missing and possibly in Trump’s possession.
After months of back and forth, Trump agreed in January to hand over 15 boxes of materials. When archivists examined the boxes, they found 184 documents marked classified, including 25 marked top secret, which were scattered in the boxes in no particular order, according to court documents.
Archive officials notified the Justice Department, and authorities quickly came to believe that Trump had not turned over all of the classified documents in his possession. Justice officials obtained a grand jury subpoena in May, seeking any documents still at Mar-a-Lago that bore classified marks. In response, Trump advisers met with government agents and prosecutors at Mar-a-Lago in early June, handing them a sealed envelope containing 38 other classified documents, including 17 marked top secret, according to court documents.
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According to government documents, Trump’s representatives claimed at the meeting that a diligent search had been conducted for all classified club documents.
That meeting, which included a tour of the storage room where Trump advisers said relevant boxes of documents were kept, did not satisfy investigators, who were not allowed to inspect the boxes they were seen in the storage room, according to government court documents.
Five days later, a senior Justice Department official, Jay Bratt, wrote to Trump’s lawyers reminding them that Mar-a-Lago “does not include an authorized secure location for the storage of classified information.” . Bratt wrote that based on the visit, it appeared that the classified documents “were not handled appropriately or stored in an appropriate location.”
“As a result, we ask that the room in Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all boxes that have been moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with all other items in this room) be kept in this room in their current state until further notice.
Officers continued to gather evidence that Trump was apparently not complying with government requests or subpoena requests. According to people familiar with the investigation, security camera footage showed boxes being carried from the storage area after the May subpoena was issued – and a key witness told the FBI he moved the boxes. boxes on Trump’s instructions.
With this evidence in hand, the Justice Department decided to seek a judge’s approval to search the former president’s home.