Key U.S. lawmakers called Sunday for a closer look at the justification for last week’s court-authorized search of former President Donald Trump’s oceanside resort in Florida and whether he damaged U.S. national security by taking highly classified documents with him when he left the White House in early 2021.
“We have a number of concerns,” Congressman Mike Turner, the lead Republican on the House Intelligence Committee told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “One is whether or not the raid was justified,” which Attorney General Merrick Garland said he personally authorized before a U.S. magistrate approved it.
“We have this list from the FBI [of what it discovered at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home],” Turner said, “but we don’t have conclusive [evidence] as to if this is actually classified material and whether or not it rises to the level of highly classified material.”
After last Monday’s search, FBI agents carted away 20 boxes of material that they said included 11 classified document files, including some labeled with the highest U.S. security classification – “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information” that must only be viewed in highly secure government-controlled locations.
Trump’s winter-time home was not such a place, although the former U.S. leader is claiming he declassified the material before leaving office, as would have been his right to do so. But U.S. officials have since said there is no trail of paperwork showing that he declassified the documents the FBI agents found.
In January, Trump, about a year after leaving office, turned over 15 boxes of materials to the National Archives, including classified documents, as required by U.S. law when presidents leave office and again become private citizens.
He turned over more documents in June after the government secured a subpoena for the material. But prosecutors subsequently suspected there was still more classified material at Mar-a-Lago, leading to last Monday’s search. In seeking court approval for the search, the U.S. said it was investigating Trump for possible violation of three U.S. laws, including the Espionage Act.
Turner said that “on a bipartisan basis, Congress is saying, ‘Show us the goods.’ We want to know, one, what did the Department of Justice and the FBI tell the judge they were going to find and what did they find.”
“There’s nothing in those boxes that members of the Intelligence Committee … don’t have the ability to see, if it rises to the level of an immediate national security threat, which is what it would take to actually raid the president’s home,” Turner said. “Because they had a number of options, including going to court and just asking the court to enforce the subpoena they had.”
“Clearly no one is above the law, Donald Trump is not above the law. Attorney General Garland is not above the law either,” he said. “Congress has the power of oversight. We’ve seen material like this before. We’ve seen materials that have been submitted to courts. This is not unprecedented.”
But Turner characterized Garland’s authorization of the search as “unprecedented in history, and he has a lot of questions to answer.”
Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” show called Trump’s collection of the classified material at Mar-a-Lago “deeply troubling.” He called for a “damage assessment” from current U.S. intelligence officials about the classified material Trump was holding and said he was “confident” that it would be provided.
He said that since Trump had twice turned over some material it appears “to be willful that he was keeping the documents after the government had asked for them.”
“I’ve seen no evidence of declassification” by Trump, Schiff said, and said Trump’s claim was “absurd that anything he took home was automatically declassified.”
Also on CBS, Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, another House Intelligence Committee member, urged fellow lawmakers to “reserve judgment” on the reasons behind the unprecedented search of a former president’s home.
But he said, “nobody’s claiming it’s right to see classified information outside the secure rooms.”
Fitzpatrick called for the release of the affidavit from FBI agents about their justification for the search when the search warrant request was made to U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart in Florida. Such affidavits, however, are often not disclosed unless criminal charges are eventually filed and there is no certainty that Trump or anyone else will face charges in this case.
Reinhart approved the search. Days later, Garland called for the release of the search warrant and the list of what FBI agents found, and Trump did not object.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC’s “This Week” show that President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in the 2020 election, was not informed ahead of the search.
She said the Department of Justice headed by Garland “is independent. This is what we believe. We don’t interfere. We did not get briefed. We have learned about all of this the same way the American people have learned about this,” through news accounts of the search and subsequently what the FBI agents found.