Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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FBI seizes top-secret documents at Trump’s Florida house, cites Espionage Act violations

New Delhi: The Justice Department revealed on Friday that FBI agents searched former US President Donald Trump’s Florida home this week and removed 11 sets of classified documents, some of which were marked as top secret. The Justice Department also revealed that it had probable cause to search the property due to potential Espionage Act violations.

Four days after authorities searched President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, the search warrant and related documents that it was accompanied by were made public. One of the three laws listed in the warrant application, the 1917-adopted Espionage Act, makes it unlawful to divulge information that can jeopardise national security.

In a post on his social media channel, Trump claimed that the documents had been “fully declassified” and stored in “safe storage.”

“They didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago,” the Republican businessman-turned-politician said.

The search was conducted as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump improperly removed papers after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden two months earlier in January 2021.

The three laws listed as the basis for the warrant make it a criminal to mishandle federal records, regardless of whether they are classified, even though the FBI took away evidence marked as sensitive on Monday. Trump’s claims that he declassified the records would therefore not be relevant to the alleged legal transgressions.

A list of things taken by FBI investigators revealed that they removed more than 30 items, including more than 20 boxes, photo binders, a handwritten message, and the presidential clemency order for Trump ally and longtime adviser Roger Stone. The list also contained details regarding the “President of France.”

The warrant revealed that FBI agents were instructed to search “the 45 Office,” a place on the estate used by Trump or his staff where boxes or documents might have been kept, as well as all other rooms, structures, or buildings on the property. Trump was the 45th U.S. president.

In the warrant application that U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart authorised, the Justice Department said that there was reason to think that violations of the Espionage Act had taken place at Trump’s residence.

That law was initially passed in order to thwart espionage. Before the Justice Department increased its use of it under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama to prosecute those who leak information about national security, including leaks to the media, prosecutions under it were relatively rare.

The law’s referenced section for the warrant forbids unlawful possession of material related to national defence. It omitted to elaborate on the specifics of the grounds for the investigators’ suspicion that such a breach took place.

The Espionage Act has been employed by the Justice Department in prominent instances recently, including those involving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The application also listed probable cause of alleged contraventions of two other laws that make it unlawful to hide or destroy official records of the United States.

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