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Espionage inquiry led to search of Trump resort

By Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Charlie Savage New York Times

Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public Friday.

FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI” – shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.

It was the latest stunning revelation from the series of investigations swirling around his efforts to retain power after his election loss, his business practices and, in this case, his handling of government material that he took with him when he left the White House.

The results of the search showed that material designated as closely guarded national secrets was being held at an unsecured resort club, Mar-a-Lago, owned and occupied by a former president who has long shown a disdain for careful handling of classified information.

The documents released Friday also made clear for the first time the gravity of the possible crimes under investigation in an inquiry that has generated denunciations of the Justice Department and the FBI from prominent Republicans and fueled the anger of Trump, a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

In total, agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. Also taken by the FBI agents were files pertaining to the pardon of Roger Stone, a longtime associate of Trump, and material about President Emmanuel Macron of France – along with more than a dozen boxes labeled only by number.

The disclosure of the search warrant and the inventory made clear the stakes of the collision between a Justice Department saying it is intent on enforcing federal law at the highest levels and a former president whose norm-shattering behavior includes exhibiting a proprietary view of material that legally belongs to the government.

It is not clear why Trump apparently chose to hang on to materials that would ignite another legal firestorm around him. But last year, he told close associates that he regarded some presidential documents as his own personal property. When speaking about his friendly correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump said, “They’re mine,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.

People close to the president say it was part of his pattern of collecting keepsakes.

His office at Trump Tower was so crammed with memorabilia, including Shaquille O’Neal’s gargantuan sneakers, that visitors had to edge their way inside to avoid knocking down a knickknack.

His critics see more sinister potential motives, rooted in his cozy relationships with authoritarian leaders.

Few public figures have been so vocal about keeping quiet as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who takes great pains to explain why he cannot talk more about the Jan. 6 investigation, or other matters involving Trump.

But his decision to address the public Thursday, to request the unsealing of the warrant, marked a break in his pattern. Garland, facing withering pressure to explain the rationale for the first search of a former president’s home, said he was now free to speak on the matter only because Trump had broken the news himself.

But he also cited the broader “public interest” in coming forward — and he made a point of saying he had personally signed off on the search warrant. For a man who seldom discloses process details outside of what is included in the department’s legal filings, this was a big deal.

By doing so, Garland was hoping to strike a delicate balance between public disclosure and prosecutorial discretion that has eluded others who have overseen investigations of Trump.

But he has now created the expectation he will address the public when other searing questions arise about the department’s conduct.