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US: FBI removes top secret documents from Trump’s home, daily reports

FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida removed 11 sets of classified documents including some marked as top secret, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing documents it reviewed.

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The agents took around 20 boxes of items, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Mr. Trump’s ally Roger Stone, a list of items removed from the property shows, the Journal reported. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France,” it added.

The list of documents is contained in a seven-page document that also includes the warrant to search the premises that was granted to the FBI by US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the newspaper said. The list reportedly did not provide any more details about the substance of the documents.

Earlier on Friday, Mr 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.”

The search of the former US President’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 his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phoney slates of electors.

In a rare move, Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the department had asked Mr 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.

Mr Reinhart has imposed a 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) deadline for prosecutors to let him know if Trump’s legal team will oppose the unsealing of the warrant.

The months-long investigation
The investigation into Donald Trump’s removal of records started this year, after the National Archives and Records Administration, an agency charged with safeguarding presidential records that belong to the public, made a referral to the department.

On Friday, Republican members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee called on Mr Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to release the affidavit underpinning the warrant, saying the public needs to know.

“Because many other options were available to them, we’re very concerned about the method that was used in raiding Mar-a-Lago,” Representative Michael Turner, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters.

If the affidavit remains sealed, “it will still leave many unanswered questions,” he added.

In February, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero told House lawmakers that his agency had been in communication with Mr Trump throughout 2021 about the return of 15 boxes of records. He eventually returned them in January 2022.

At the time, the National Archives was still conducting an inventory, but noted some of the boxes contained items “marked as classified national security information.” Donald Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the Archives, calling it “an ordinary and routine process.” He also claimed the Archives “did not ‘find’ anything.”

In another matter, Mr Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions during an appearance before New York state’s attorney general in a civil investigation into his family’s business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Potential felony penalties
Several federal laws restrict what former presidents can do with documents from their time in office – many carry felony penalties.

The Presidential Records Act provides that official documents – ranging from briefing materials and meeting minutes to emails, texts and handwritten notes – created or received by presidents or their top aides are US property, rather than the personal property of the president.

The law put the National Archives in charge of handling presidential records.

While the Presidential Records Act does not specify an enforcement mechanism, taking presidential records from the White House could open Mr Trump up to charges of conspiring to impede the proper functioning of the National Archives, said Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and former federal prosecutor.

The former president could also be charged under a law, known by its code number 2071, making it a crime to conceal or destroy US public documents, or laws making it illegal to steal or damage government property.

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