WASHINGTON: Agents who searched former US president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida this week removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked as top secret, the Justice Department said on Friday while disclosing it has probable cause to believe he violated the Espionage Act.

The bombshell disclosures were made in legal documents released four days after FBI agents carried out the search of Trump’s residence based on a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge.

The Justice Department told judge Bruce Reinhart in its warrant application that it had probable cause to believe that Trump violated the Espionage Act, a federal law that prohibits the possession or transmission of national defence information.

Agents belonging to the Federal Bureau of Investigations took more than 30 items, including more than 20 boxes, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Trump’s ally and longtime adviser Roger Stone, a list of items removed from the property showed. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France.”

Trump terms search for nuclear papers ‘hoax’

“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.

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”.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has declined to publicly detail the nature of the investigation.

Monday’s 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 Donald Trump’s allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.

Garland on Thursday announced that the department had asked Reinhart to unseal the warrant that authorised 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.

Trump’s attorneys on Friday afternoon signalled they will not object to having the search warrant for his Florida residence unsealed to the public, the Justice Department said in a court filing, indicating the unsealing could come shortly.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2022

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