Sources familiar with the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this week said that agents were looking for whether the former president had improperly taken documents pertaining to nuclear weapons.
Much of the materials believed to have been at the Palm Beach, Florida, estate — documents that were relocated from the White House by Trump during his last days in office — were labeled with the designation “special access,” according to sources with knowledge of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) rationale for the search. Such a designation means that a document is only meant to be accessible by people with the highest level of security clearances.
Authorities were reportedly worried that the information being stored at Mar-a-Lago could “potentially…[fall] into the wrong hands,” per reporting from The Washington Post. The Trump property is known for having a high degree of security-related vulnerabilities.
The Post also cited sources with knowledge of the search that said the FBI believed the documents Trump was still holding at Mar-a-Lago (beyond an initial retrieval of “top secret” documents at the start of the year and a retrieval that took place, by subpoena, in June) included classified documents pertaining to nuclear weapons.
Those sources, speaking anonymously about the investigation, did not tell the Post whether the documents suspected to be at the Trump estate dealt with weaponry in the U.S. or foreign nations. The sources also wouldn’t comment on whether any of the 12 boxes the FBI retrieved on Monday included documents relating to nuclear weaponry.
Still, the revelation is startling — if Trump indeed removed materials that dealt with nuclear weapons, it would be a significant breach of national security secrets, and could explain in large part why the FBI acted swiftly (and without notification to Trump himself) to retrieve the documents.
“If the FBI and the Department of Justice believed there were top secret materials still at Mar-a-Lago, that would lend itself to greater ‘hair-on-fire’ motivation to recover that material as quickly as possible,” David Laufman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence section, said to the Post.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) called for transparency and sober minds.
“We need more facts. We need to see the warrant,” said Murphy. “We can’t be sure what’s going on. But for now every single Republican who rushed to Trump’s defense with all sorts of real and fake outrage needs to stand down.”
Reports of what the FBI and DOJ were looking for came hours after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the department would be calling for the search warrant to be made public so that every American could know what prompted the search of the property.
“More information [about the search] will be made available in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time,” Garland said on Thursday.