The US Justice Department has said it opposes the release of an affidavit, or sworn legal document, that would reveal its justification for raiding former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The response from the federal law enforcement agency comes as details of the investigation, which focuses on the deletion of White House documents and has given rise to political turmoil, continue to emerge. US media reported that FBI agents searched for classified nuclear weapons-related documents, among other items, in the August 15 search.
Trump has claimed that all of the deleted documents were declassified beforehand.
The investigation is already transforming the political landscape ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in November, while opening up a debate about what laws the former president may have violated and whether a conviction would prevent him from running in 2024.
Here are some questions to understand the current situation:
Why is the ‘sworn statement’ related to the search for Mar-a-Lago in the news?
The Justice Department has said little officially about the investigation, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has moved to release several documents related to the investigation.
What has not been revealed is the document that federal prosecutors gave to a judge to obtain a search warrant to enter Trump’s property. That affidavit would have presented the evidence that the Department of Justice had collected to show that the extraordinary search of the house of a former US president was justified.
Both Republican lawmakers and news outlets have called for the affidavit to be unsealed, with the former calling for the document to be shown to Congress in classified briefings. Trump has also called for the “unredacted” affidavit to be released.
For their part, Justice Department lawyers have said the release “will cause significant and irreparable harm to this ongoing criminal investigation” by providing a “roadmap” for how investigators are approaching the investigation. They have said the document contains “highly confidential information about witnesses” and other evidence in the case.
The Justice Department released the search warrant and several legal documents related to the investigation, which showed the FBI seized 11 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, including some not only marked top secret but also “compartmentalized confidential information” – a special category intended to protect the nation’s most important secrets that, if publicly revealed, could cause “serious” harm to US interests.
The order also revealed the possible violations for which Trump is being investigated: a law that prohibits the unauthorized removal or destruction of records from a federal office; a law prohibiting the falsification or destruction of records in a federal investigation; and the so-called Espionage Act, which prohibits “gathering, transmitting, or losing” defense-related information with the intent that the information could be used to harm US security or national interests.
Breaking either law could result in a fine or imprisonment, and the combined offenses carry a maximum of 33 years in prison.
Why is there so much focus on Espionage Law?
The Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917, drew particular attention in the wake of the investigation, with Republican Senator Rand Paul renewing ongoing criticism of the law, calling it a “first amendment offense.”
Passed just weeks after the US entered World War I, the law was used to stifle opposition to the conflict, according to the Center for Free Speech at Middle Tennessee State University, notably through a provision that it created criminal sanctions for “anyone who obstructs enlistment in the armed forces or causes insubordination or disloyalty in the military or naval force.”
In the decades that followed, some high-profile cases were prosecuted under the law, including those of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, both convicted of working as double agents for the KGB while infiltrating the FBI and CIA, respectively.
In modern times, the law has most commonly been used to target people accused of leaking classified information, including former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, as well as Reality Winner, the woman who allegedly leaked classified information showing that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election.
What about Trump’s passports?
Trump shocked this week when he said the FBI had “seized all three of his passports” during the Mar-a-Lago raid, noting that one had expired.
It is unknown if Trump has dual citizenship with any other country. At least one of the referenced passports possibly refers to the diplomatic passport issued to American presidents.
The passports had reportedly been returned to Trump as of Monday.
The investigation has the potential to make or break Trump’s potential 2024 presidential ambitions, and the former president and his supporters are already touting the investigation as further evidence that he is being unfairly targeted in a government “witch hunt.” establishment.
But what a conviction could mean for Trump’s potential candidacy remains unclear — a felony charge or conviction cannot, by itself, disqualify a person from running for president.
Marc Elias, an election attorney for the Democratic Party, has pointed out that one of the violations for which Trump is being investigated, for the unauthorized removal or destruction of records of public office, states that someone convicted of the crime “will lose their position and will be disabled.” to hold any office in the United States.
However, Elias and other legal scholars have pointed out that the law would likely be overridden by the US constitution, which states that the only requirement for a presidential candidate is that the person be a US citizen by birth, resident for 14 years and 35 years of age. or more. On the other hand, Elias noted that the situation could set Trump up for a lengthy legal battle in the midst of a campaign.
FBI questions former Trump lawyer
The FBI has interviewed Donald Trump’s former White House lawyer Pat Cipollone and his deputy in its investigation into sensitive documents stored at the former president’s home, a source familiar with the situation said Tuesday.
It’s unclear when Cipollone was spoken to, while his deputy, Patrick Philbin, was interviewed in the spring, according to the New York Times, which previously reported the news.