Trump could face espionage charges regarding nuclear documents taken to Mar-a-Lago
President Donald Trump grabs a box of documents in the Oval Office, Dec. 22, 2017, in Washington. The FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence is reportedly linked to Trump taking other documents - top secret nuclear information - when he left the White House in January 2021. | Evan Vucci / AP

Late Thursday night, The Washington Post published a report indicating that top secret nuclear documents were among the papers former President Donald Trump spirited away from the White House when he unceremoniously vacated the premises in January 2021. Depending upon what is in those documents, Trump could be liable to charges of espionage.

The Post said it could not confirm whether the documents related to U.S. or foreign nuclear weapons matters.

Calling the bluff of Trump’s Republican allies in Congress and on Fox News, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday night that the Department of Justice has asked a court to unseal the warrant authorizing the search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Trump’s allies have demanded that the public see why the premises were searched and have been saying that DOJ should have subpoenaed the documents before taking the drastic step of a search.

The motion by the Justice Department to the U.S. District Court to unseal the search warrant the FBI received before raiding the Florida estate of former President Donald Trump. Attorney General Merrick Garland cited the ‘substantial public interest in this matter’ in announcing the request. | Jon Elswick / AP

DOJ had, in fact, tried the routes of polite request and subpoena months ago, but Trump refused to comply.

Trump now says he too wants the warrant to be released, but he’s expected to have a planned response to whatever information comes forward as part of an effort to try to cover his tracks. He and former First Lady Melania Trump reportedly watched and heard everything the FBI did during the raid because they have their entire estate rigged with spy cameras, enabling them to monitor everything from New York.

One such avenue of deniability for Trump might be to claim that all the documents involved were ones that he had already declassified. There are procedures to be followed for declassifying documents, however, and it’s not yet clear whether he followed them in the last days of his presidency. A former president, of course, cannot declassify documents once he is out of office.

Another line of attack from Trump might be false claims that the DOJ is using the media to present information in a manner unfair to him. Laundering news and plans via manipulation of the media has, of course, long been standard practice for Trump himself, but it is not something practiced by Garland.

The Attorney General said he wants the copies of the warrant released due to “substantial public interest in the matter.”

In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump continues to assail the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago as “unAmerican, unwarranted and unnecessary.”

The FBI office in Cincinnati, meanwhile, was attacked Thursday by a Trump supporter who fired a nail gun into the storefront office. The gunman was caught miles away from the office by authorities who shot him dead after he pointed a gun at law enforcement. The perpetrator attended the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that was part of Trump’s coup attempt.

Release of the warrant by the judge could disclose things that are far worse than anything Trump allies who have come out to defend him expected thus far. Some Trump allies are now, according to The New York Times, holding back on their knee-jerk defense of the former president and their attacks on law enforcement until they learn more.

It’s unclear at this point, however, how much information would be included in the documents, if they are made public. It is even not clear whether the release would include a detailed factual basis for the search of any items listed on the warrant. The DOJ is requesting the unsealing of the warrant as well as a property receipt listing the items that were seized, along with two unspecified attachments.

Regardless of what is released, the raid must be quite worrisome to Trump and his allies. To obtain a search warrant, federal authorities must prove to a judge that probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly, given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home.

Neither Trump nor the FBI has said anything about what documents the FBI might have recovered, or what precisely agents were looking for. Trump, for years, has attacked the FBI because they so often refused to carry water for him. Since he, himself, knew how deeply mired in crime he was, he sought to sow distrust among his supporters regarding the FBI in case it ever came after him directly. Trump’s concern has never been about the agency’s history of undemocratic and repressive behavior, especially towards the left. His only concern was to decapitate any FBI moves against himself, the nation’s criminal-in-chief.

Garland cited the fact that Trump had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.

Rural Clinton County, Ohio, was the scene of a standoff between law enforcement and a Trump supporter who had attacked the FBI’s Cincinnati office on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. The man was shot dead after reportedly pointing his firearm at officers. He was a present in Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6, 2021, Trump coup attack on the Capitol. | Nick Graham / Dayton Daily News via AP

Garland said in his statement Thursday, “Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations,” he said. “Federal law, longstanding department rules and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time.”

The Justice Department has tried to avoid being seen as again injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton regarding her handling of government email on a private server—and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this year. The National Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified documents. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information.

Garland blasted attacks on the FBI and Justice Department by Republicans and Trump allies, attacks accompanied on the internet by outright calls for violence that are adding fuel to the undemocratic flames sweeping through large sections of the country.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.”

The incendiary rhetoric already helped set off the Cincinnati attack, and the fear is that the hate campaign mounted by Trump allies could create a situation even worse than what the nation endured on Jan. 6, 2021.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.