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Unsealed parts of affidavit used to justify Mar-a-Lago search shed new light on Trump documents probe

Trump defiant after audio recording release
Trump defiant on campaign trail after release of audio recording 04:06

Washington — The Justice Department on Wednesday released a more complete version of the affidavit used to justify the August 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago, revealing more of the evidence investigators compiled before the FBI executed its search warrant at former President Donald Trump's South Florida property.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered additional portions of the affidavit to be unsealed after a contingent of media outlets, including CBS News, requested it be made available to the public after Trump was indicted last month.

The former president is charged with 37 felony counts stemming from his alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents, including 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. He has pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors agreed that some additional parts of the search warrant affidavit could be revealed. Reinhart declined to unseal the entire 32-page document. As a result, some blocks of text remain blacked out and shielded from public view.

Most of the newly revealed details were included in the 44-page indictment against Trump and aide Waltine "Walt" Nauta unsealed last month. Still, the affidavit, written by an FBI special agent and dated Aug. 5, 2022, provides an accounting of what investigators knew when they asked Reinhart to approve the warrant for the unprecedented Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.

The unsealed portions show that the door to the storage room at Mar-a-Lago, where between 85 and 95 boxes of material from Trump's time in the White House were stored, was painted gold. One photo from the affidavit, which would also be included in the indictment, shows stacks of boxes in the storage room.

"The purpose of the photograph was to show [Trump] the volume of boxes that remained in the storage room," investigators wrote. "The storage-photo … captures approximately sixty-one of the [Trump] boxes located in the storage room."

This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records in a storage room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, that were photographed on Nov. 12, 2021.
This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records in a storage room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, that were photographed on Nov. 12, 2021.  Justice Department via AP

The affidavit also details video footage the FBI received from representatives of the Trump Organization in July 2022 in response to a subpoena issued in early June 2022. The footage was captured by cameras located in the basement hallway of Mar-a-Lago, where there is a door to the storage room.

According to the filing, a person identified as "Witness 5" was observed in the footage carrying three boxes out of the anteroom leading to the storage room on May 24, 2022. On May 30, 2022, four days after Witness 5 — Nauta, Trump's aide — was interviewed by the FBI about the location of boxes, footage showed him moving 50 boxes out of the anteroom.

"FBI did not observe this quantity of boxes being returned to the storage room through the anteroom entrance in its review of the footage," the affidavit states.

Nauta was seen in surveillance video moving another 11 boxes out of the anteroom on June 1, 2022, according to the unsealed parts of the affidavit. One day later, he was seen moving 25 to 30 boxes, "some of which were brown cardboard boxes and others of which were Bankers boxes," back into the storage room.

The indictment against Trump unsealed last month alleged Nauta moved 64 boxes to the former president's residence "at Trump's direction." Nauta, who worked as a White House valet, is named by prosecutors as a co-conspirator and faces six felony counts, including one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. He pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday.

The effort to move the boxes took place days before a lawyer for Trump met with Justice Department officials at Mar-a-Lago on June 3, 2022, and turned over an envelope that contained 38 documents bearing classification markings in response to a grand jury subpoena. Prosecutors alleged the lawyer did not have access to the boxes that had been moved from the storage room when searching for responsive documents.

The newly unsealed affidavit states that Trump's lawyer told federal officials that "he was not advised there were any records in any private office space or other location in Mar-a-Lago." When Trump's representatives gave investigators the envelope of documents, they did not assert that Trump "had declassified the documents," according to the affidavit.

The former president has repeatedly asserted that he committed no wrongdoing and has attacked the prosecution as politically motivated.

An FBI agent who wrote in the affidavit stated "it is very likely" that Trump's lawyer did not search for classified information in other locations at Mar-a-Lago beyond the storage room.

"The investigation has established, however, that classified information was possessed in other areas of the premises and that other [Trump] boxes, which are likely to contain similar contents to the 15 boxes, were moved from the storage room to other locations in the premises, including [Trump's] residential suit and Pine Hall," the investigator said.

The National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022 after months of wrangling with the former president's representatives to get back records brought from the White House to South Florida after Trump left office. Those boxes contained 184 documents marked classified, prompting the Archives to refer the matter to the Justice Department.

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