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Unsealed Affidavit Shows Trump Never Used Declassification Excuse Before August

The affidavit further confirms that Trump knew the documents were classified when he removed them from the White House.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to crowd during a campaign event on July 1, 2023, in Pickens, South Carolina.

A federal judge has unsealed additional parts of the affidavit that accompanied a search warrant of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property last year, revealing that the former president did not, at the time, defend his improper retention of government documents by claiming that he had “declassified” them before leaving the White House.

Trump presently faces 37 federal charges from the Department of Justice (DOJ) over his hoarding of thousands of government materials at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate, including over 300 documents that were marked classified.

Over the course of 2022, Trump allowed investigators to retrieve some documents from his home, but purposely concealed the fact that he was storing other documents elsewhere, investigators allege.

This week, Judge Bruce Reinhart of the Southern District of Florida unsealed additional parts of an affidavit relating to the warrant search of Mar-a-Lago that took place in August. (Reinhart was also the judge who approved the FBI request for the warrant prior to the search.) Within the previously redacted parts of the file, the DOJ said that Trump, during a retrieval that took place in June following a subpoena ordering him to return all remaining classified documents, never made any formal excuses to investigators over why he had the documents in the first place, let alone claimed that he had “declassified” the materials.

Since August, Trump has publicly claimed that he declassified the documents before removing them from the White House. But in light of the newly revealed portions of the affidavit, it seems probable that Trump only concocted the excuse after it became public knowledge that he was hoarding sensitive documents for over a year and a half after departing office.

Other existing evidence confirms that Trump was well aware that the documents in his possession were not declassified, including audio tapes of him allegedly holding, discussing and showing documents to others, describing how he couldn’t declassify them now that he was no longer president.

The DOJ and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) also stated this week that they couldn’t locate a “standing order” from Trump while he was president giving himself permission to automatically declassify documents simply by removing them from their proper storage areas.

Many of the documents the DOJ has retrieved from Trump were meant to be viewed only within sensitive compartmented information facilities, also called SCIFs, which are incredibly well-guarded and designed to deter breach attempts, due to the immensely sensitive nature of the documents they’re meant to safeguard.

Other portions of the now-unredacted part of the affidavit reveal one of the reasons why the DOJ was able to convince Reinhart to approve the search warrant. According to the document, surveillance footage featuring Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, showed him transporting 64 boxes from the Mar-a-Lago storage room where Trump had kept them, but only 25-30 of those boxes were ever returned.

“The current location of the boxes removed from the storage room but not returned to it is unknown,” the DOJ told Reinhart in the affidavit.

Former Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran, who Trump told to find classified documents to return to the DOJ but instructed not to search beyond the storage room, filtered through the boxes that were present in order to comply with the subpoena order, finding 38 classified documents that were returned to investigators.

However, FBI investigators found more than 100 classified documents upon completing their search warrant in August, including a number that were kept within Trump’s personal offices.

The affidavit was not fully redacted by Reinhart. Though the DOJ’s request included rationales justifying a search warrant beyond the surveillance footage, the evidence they cited is currently unknown.

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