Thursday Reads: The Search AftermathPosted: August 11, 2022
The top stories today are focused on the earthshaking FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Of course there is other news; but I’m obsessed with bringing down Trump, so those stories are what interest me.
The only really new information to come out yesterday was this story by national security reporter William Arkin at Newsweek: Exclusive: An Informer Told the FBI What Docs Trump Was Hiding, and Where.
The raid on Mar-a-Lago was based largely on information from an FBI confidential human source, one who was able to identify what classified documents former President Trump was still hiding and even the location of those documents, two senior government officials told Newsweek.
The officials, who have direct knowledge of the FBI’s deliberations and were granted anonymity in order to discuss sensitive matters, said the raid of Donald Trump‘s Florida residence was deliberately timed to occur when the former president was away….
Both senior government officials say the raid was scheduled with no political motive, the FBI solely intent on recovering highly classified documents that were illegally removed from the White House. Preparations to conduct such an operation began weeks ago, but in planning the date and time, the FBI Miami Field Office and Washington headquarters were focused on the former president’s scheduled return to Florida from his residences in New York and New Jersey.
“They were seeking to avoid any media circus,” says the second source, a senior intelligence official who was briefed on the investigation and the operation. “So even though everything made sense bureaucratically and the FBI feared that the documents might be destroyed, they also created the very firestorm they sought to avoid, in ignoring the fallout.”
Of course it was Trump himself who ignited the firestorm by publicly announcing the FBI search, then whining, ranting, and grifting from his followers based on his supposed victimization.
In the past week, the prosecutor in the case and local Assistant U.S. Attorney went to Florida magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in West Palm Beach to seek approval for the search of Donald Trump’s private residence. The affidavit to obtain the search warrant, the intelligence source says, contained abundant and persuasive detail that Trump continued to possess the relevant records in violation of federal law, and that investigators had sufficient information to prove that those records were located at Mar-a-Lago—including the detail that they were contained in a specific safe in a specific room.
“In order for the investigators to convince the Florida judge to approve such an unprecedented raid, the information had to be solid, which the FBI claimed,” says the intelligence source.
There’s much more background information in the article if you want a refresher.
Today, The Wall Street Journal has more on the events that led up to the FBI warrant and search of Trump’s property: FBI Quest for Trump Documents Started With Breezy Chats, Tour of a Crowded Closet. Why interactions between FBI, Trump team soured remains a mystery.
Around lunchtime on June 3, a senior Justice Department national security supervisor and three FBI agents arrived at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida to discuss boxes with government records sitting in a basement storage room along with suits, sweaters and golf shoes.
A few days later, the FBI sent a note asking that a stronger lock be installed on the storage room door, signing off: “Thank you. Very truly yours, Jay Bratt, chief of counterintelligence and export control section.”
In the following weeks, however, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier in the year, people familiar with the matter said. And Justice Department officials had doubts that the Trump team was being truthful regarding what material remained at the property, one person said. Newsweek earlier reported on the source of the FBI’s information.
Two months later, two dozen Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were back at Mar-a-Lago with a warrant predicated on convincing a federal magistrate judge that there was evidence a crime may have been committed. After hours at the property, the agents took the boxes away in a Ryder truck.
Many elements of what happened between those events—one seemingly cordial, the other unheard of—remain unknown. But the episode points to a sharp escalation in the Justice Department’s inquiry into Mr. Trump, which also includes an investigation into the events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol. And it has prompted outrage from Republicans, who have rallied around Mr. Trump as he contemplates running again for president.
The WSJ says it’s a mystery why the DOJ investigation “escalated” to the point where the FBI was directed to search Trump’s property. It doesn’t seem that mysterious to me. Right-wing “reporter” John Solomon writes that Trump received a grand jury subpoena “months before” the “raid.” Obviously, the situation escalated when Trump ignored the subpoena.
The WSJ story doesn’t seem to have a paywall (I got there from Memeorandum), so you can read much more at the link. It’s very long, but Politico has a good summary of the facts from the WSJ article:
On June 3, JAY BRATT, chief of counterintelligence and export control section at the Department of Justice, visited Mar-a-Lago to inspect a storage room that contained presidential documents. By this point in his standoff with the government, Trump had already returned 15 boxes of records to the National Archives, which subsequently found “classified national security information” among the returned items.
Trump, who stopped by the June inspection to greet Bratt, had told the government that there was no more classified material in his possession. The dispute, it appeared, when Bratt showed up, was about returning what Trump represented to be non-sensitive documents. Retaining non-classified documents is still a violation of the strict Presidential Records Act, but the available evidence suggests the two sides were working it out.
But things started to escalate. Five days later, Bratt sent Trump’s lawyer, EVAN CORCORAN, an email, a copy of which was read over the phone to the Journal: “We ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”
Then, on June 22, the government subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage, which the Journal says was provided.
And then on Monday, the FBI warrant was executed.
The mystery is: What changed?
The answer, according to the Journal, is that an informant told the FBI that Trump was lying.
This morning, Mick Mulvaney spoke to CNN about the FBI search, and in the midst of multiple lies and obfuscation he revealed something important. Politicus USA: Mick Mulvaney Says The FBI Informant Is Someone Very Close To Trump.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that only six or eight people would have the info given to the FBI, so the informant is someone very close to Trump.
“I didn’t know there was a safe at Mar-a-Lago and I was the chief of staff for 15 months. This would be someone handling things on day to day, who knew where documents were, so it would be somebody very close to the president, my guess is there are probably six or eight people who had that kind of information.
I don’t know the people on the inside circle these days. I can’t give any names of folks who come to mind, but your instinct is a good one if you know where the safe is and you know the documents are in ten boxes in the basement, you are pretty close to the president.”
If Mulvaney is correct, and the informant is someone very close to the former president, it makes sense that the FBI might also have knowledge of what Trump was planning on doing with the documents that he stole from the White House.
Of course the MAGA maniacs are up in arms. Kyle Cheney and Meredith McGraw at Politico: Trump world gripped with anger, fear and a host of conspiracies about the FBI search.
In the wake of news that the FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Trump’s allies and aides have begun buzzing about a host of potential explanations and worries. Among those being bandied about is that the search was a pretext to fish for other incriminating evidence, that the FBI doctored evidence to support its search warrant — and then planted some incriminating materials and recording devices at Mar-a-Lago for good measure — and even that the timing of the search was meant to be a historical echo of the day President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.
“There are no coincidences when it comes to the Deep State. They could have done this raid a couple of days before or tomorrow, but they chose Aug. 8 for a reason,” Monica Crowley, a former top official in the Trump Treasury Department, said on the “War Room” podcast.
Trump world is no stranger to being deeply suspicious, even conspiratorial. But the speculation sparked by the FBI search has taken on a different scope, coming amid a combination of anxiety — that the so-called Deep State is out to get the former president — and a dearth of public information about the bureau’s actions.
“I can tell you all of us agree this is corrupt,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump confidante whose service in the Trump administration was marked by attacks he waged on career officials and an acrimonious exit. “Many people in Trump world agree with me that this is theater and this is designed to damage the president, this is designed to damage Republicans in the midterms and it is designed to advance the interests of the Democratic Party. And you know what, they completely failed.”
There is no evidence that the Department of Justice did anything improper, and it in fact obtained approval from a federal court to obtain its search warrant. Trump himself could answer some of the lingering questions. He is at liberty to disclose the warrant — though he has not been provided the underlying affidavit — and to describe the files that were confiscated by the FBI. But so far he has opted against doing so.
More on Trump’s and MAGA world’s paranoia from Asawin Suebsaeng at Rolling Stone: With Feds Circling, Trump Asks Allies: Who’s ‘Wearing a Wire’?
Donald Trump is worried he may have a rat — or multiple rats — in his midst. He’s wondering if his phones are tapped, or even if one of his buddies could be “wearing a wire.”
As the federal and state investigations into Trump and his orbit swell, so have the former president’s suspicions, according to two sources familiar with the matter and another two people close to the twice-impeached former Oval Office occupant.
This summer, Trump has asked close associates if they think his communications are being monitored by the feds, or — per his phrasing — “by Biden.” As a source close to Trump describes it to Rolling Stone: “He has asked me and others, ‘Do you think our phones are tapped?’ Given the sheer volume of investigations going on into the [former] president, I do not think he’s assuming anything is outside the realm of possibility.”
The source adds, “He’s talked about this seriously [in the past few months], but I know of one time when he made a joke that was something like, ‘Be careful what you say on the phone!’”
Moreover, on at least a couple of occasions since May, the former president has wondered aloud if there were any Republicans visiting his clubs who could be “wearing a wire,” according to another person close to Trump and a different source familiar with the matter. Trump and his allies are baselessly floating the idea that federal agents could be guilty of “planting” incriminating evidence at his private resort. And the ex-president and several of his longtime advisers are trying to figure out if they have, in their terminology, a “mole” or a “rat” in Trump’s inner sanctum who is slipping his secrets to the feds.
More stories about the search to check out:
I highly recommend this piece by Brian Karam at Salon: No exit: After Mar-a-Lago raid, Trump is trapped — and his fear is palpable. It actually helped me feel somewhat hopeful.
Emptywheel: The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit.
The Washington Post: Citizen Trump may have broken a law that President Trump made a felony.
The Daily Beast: Hell Week: How Trump’s Problems All Converged at Once.
New York Magazine: ‘You Can’t Play the Cable-News Game in Court.’
Have a great Thursday Sky Dancers!!