Investigators executing a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week were seeking out specific documents they believed he was going to weaponize, possibly in the 2024 presidential election, according to a new report.
According to Newsweek, though the pretext of the search was to gather all government documents that Trump had improperly stored there, officials were after very specific documents that were part of his personal “stash,” including some that were related to the Russia investigation Trump vehemently opposed (and potentially obstructed) early on in his presidency. The publication cited interviews they conducted with two high-level intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing inquiry.
“They collected everything that rightfully belonged to the U.S. government but the true target was these documents that Trump had been collecting since early in his administration,” one of the officials said to Newsweek.
Though officials may have retrieved sensitive documents related to nuclear weapons, the original impetus behind the search was because the Department of Justice (DOJ) was worried that Trump might share classified documents they knew he possessed in order to help him win a presidential bid in 2024. Although Newsweek reports that the documents relate in some way to the Russia investigation, it’s unclear what specifically they relate to, or how exactly Trump might use them to further his future presidential aspirations.
The retrieval of documents pertaining to nuclear weapons is especially troubling — it’s unclear yet why Trump was in possession of them, and what motivation he had for keeping them at his estate — but given the insecure nature of how Mar-a-Lago is set up, their presence there is dangerous, observers have pointed out.
Trump officials in the past have described how he regularly removed pages from intelligence briefings or other official documents he received while in the White House if they piqued his interest. The former president would frequently rip these pages out and hold onto them, these officials recounted.
Trump has already shared classified information on social media that he wasn’t supposed to divulge. During his presidency, he created a post on Twitter that showed a failed missile launch in Iran — an image that his former national security adviser, John Bolton, confirmed this week was classified. Though Trump’s tweet wasn’t technically illegal, experts say it may have been dangerous to post the image.
Some defenders of Trump misleadingly say that, when he removed documents from the White House, it was an automatic declassification of the material he took. While experts acknowledge that presidents make the final calls on declassifying documents, many have unequivocally stated that is not how the process works.
“The president is the ultimate classifier and de-classifier — but he can’t just wave a magic wand, and he can’t do it in secret,” Douglas London, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, said to ABC News.
“If [Trump] and his allies are defending his handling of these documents by claiming that they’re no longer classified, they need to show the paper trail” of when that happened, London added.