Court Battles

Here are Trump’s shifting defenses for taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago

Former President Trump has shifted his defenses for taking classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago residence in the wake of the FBI search of the estate last week, when agents seized 33 items including nearly a dozen sets of classified items.

Trump has ripped the FBI and Department of Justice while giving varying explanations for why he did nothing wrong.

On Monday, in an interview with Fox News he said the “temperature has to be brought down” but then added that his supporters would not “stand for another scam,” repeating his criticisms. Those statements came amid worries that law enforcement could come under attack given the fierce criticism of the FBI coming from some voices on the right.

An unsealed warrant shows the FBI executed the warrant while investigating whether the Espionage Act had been violated. Agents seized 11 sets of classified documents from the estate. The warrant was approved by a federal judge.

Here’s what Trump has said about the FBI’s actions and his shifting explanations about the documents.

FBI search was unnecessary and inappropriate

Trump told the world that the FBI had executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home, calling it “not necessary or appropriate.”

He said at the time he had been “working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies” and described his home as “under siege” by FBI agents.

Investigators had provided Trump’s attorneys with their own copy of the search warrant and a receipt that would have itemized the materials seized during the search, which follows standard practice.

Trump at the time also decried the search as “political persecution” and included a link for donations to his political action committee in his statement. The investigation comes amid growing speculation over how soon the former president might announce he’s running again in 2024.

Trump and his supporters also in the days that followed floated a conspiracy theory that the FBI had planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s initial reaction led to a flurry of finger-pointing from his supporters, including Republican lawmakers who blamed President Biden and claimed the president had used the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) to go after his political opponent.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland made his first public appearance since the search to say he personally made the decision to seek a warrant and that it was not done “lightly.” He announced at the time that the DOJ would move to unseal the warrant authorizing the search.

Documents were declassified under a standing order

After initially suggesting evidence had been planted, Trump’s argument evolved as he and his team said the president had declassified the documents that were at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump on his social media platform Truth Social argued that the FBI didn’t need to seize anything because they could have had these documents anytime.

Court records unsealed on Friday indicated the FBI seized 33 items, including 11 sets of classified items and some marked as top secret. The Justice Department on Friday disclosed that the search was a part of the agency’s investigation into whether Trump violated the Espionage Act and other federal statutes.

The Trump camp put out a statement later, saying “everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time” and that Trump would take documents, including classified documents, to his residence to “prepare for work the next day.”

“He had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them,” the statement said.

The 33 items that were seized from the property included the executive order of clemency for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, information regarding the “President of France,” binders of photographs, and a handwritten note. The FBI reportedly sought documents containing information about nuclear weapons in the search, but it’s unclear if such records were seized.

The documents seized are protected by attorney-client and executive privileges

In his latest defense, Trump claims the documents are protected by attorney-client and executive privileges and called on the FBI to return them on Sunday. Trump said on his social media platform that the FBI “knowingly should not have taken” these privileged documents.

Attorney-client privilege enables communications between an attorney and their client to remain private during an investigation and executive privilege allows the president to keep some communications private from the other two branches of government.

Trump tried to use the executive privilege defense before in an effort to block records from being turned over to the House Jan. 6 committee for the probe into the Capitol riot. A federal appeals court in December denied his claims of such privilege.

Tags DOJ Donald Trump Espionage Act FBI Mar-a-Lago FBI raid Mar-a-Lago search
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