Friday’s unsealing of the affidavit tied to the FBI’s raid on former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate has raised more questions than answers.
West Palm Beach US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt had ordered the Justice Department earlier in the week to prepare a redacted version of the document in which authorities laid out their reasons for the controversial Aug. 8 search-and-seizure operation at Mar-a-Lago.
Friday’s unsealing came amid what Reinhardt called “intense public and historical interest” into the raid. The feds have described their probe as centering on the alleged mishandling of classified information, theft of government records and obstruction of justice.
But huge portions of the 38-page affidavit were blacked out, including vast swaths — and multiple entire pages — under the heading “PROBABLE CAUSE,” with even the name of the FBI agent who signed it redacted.
Here’s some of what remains unknown:
Who is assisting the feds?
Reports have said an informant tipped off authorities about official documents that remained in Trump’s possession even though they were supposed to have been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when he left office last year.
Earlier this month, former Trump administration acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told CNN that the informant would have to “be someone who was handling things on day to day, who knew where documents were.
“My guess is there’s probably six or eight people who had that kind of information,” he said.
In a separate document unsealed Friday, the Justice Department said it redacted certain information from the affidavit to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Why were the documents at Mar-a-Lago?
The blacked-out-affidavit doesn’t provide any new details about the 11 sets of classified records seized during the raid, but it alleges that 14 of the 15 boxes of records recovered from Trump’s West Palm Beach mansion earlier this year contained classified documents.
On the crucial issue of why the records were there, however, nothing was disclosed.
The affidavit notes that former Trump aide Kash Patel has said news reports about the classified documents were “misleading” because Trump had declassified them.
“The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified,” Patel told Breitbart News in a May article cited in the affidavit.
“I was there with President Trump when he said ‘We are declassifying this information.’ ”
More than two full pages that follow the reference to Patel’s remarks are redacted, leaving it unclear why the feds brought them up.
Who is under investigation?
The blacked-out affidavit doesn’t reveal the targets or subjects of the Justice Department probe, but anyone who allegedly moved or hid classified records could face prosecution, according to USA Today.
Any aides who were allegedly involved in transporting the documents to Mar-a-Lago are unlikely to be charged unless Trump is, legal experts told the paper.
“Without unexpected facts arising that we don’t know about, it’s hard for me to see the Justice Department deciding to charge an aide who was acting at the direction of the former president unless they already made a decision to charge the former president and decided to charge the aide along with the former president,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who is now a white-collar defense lawyer at Bryan Cave.
But Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who is president of West Coast Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles, said current or former staffers could be charged to get them to flip on Trump.
“By charging lower-level folks, that puts pressure on them to cooperate with the real target of the investigation,” Rahmani said.
Will Trump ultimately be charged?
No former president has ever been charged with a crime, with recent commanders-in-chief choosing instead to block potential prosecutions of their predecessors.
In 1974, one month after former President Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, then-President Gerald Ford — who took office declaring that “our long national nightmare is over” — granted Nixon a “full, free and absolute” pardon for any crimes he may have committed while in office.
In 2009, then-President-elect Barack Obama also ruled out investigations of outgoing President George W. Bush and his administration over domestic eavesdropping and the harsh interrogations of terror suspects, saying he believed “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
There’s been speculation that President Biden might pardon Trump, possibly as part of a deal to keep him from running again in 2024.
But even if it were offered, Trump could reject a pardon.
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