What Was the FBI Looking For at Mar-a-Lago?

Trump doesn't like to keep records, but he likes money

The big question remains after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago — what could they have been searching for?

To obtain a search warrant, three criteria have to be met.

  • Someone is under investigation.
  • The warrant must be accompanied by an affidavit listing why there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the premises are likely to show evidence of a crime. An affidavit will show a list of items expected to be found.
  • There must be a designated secure location for the seized materials to be delivered, in preparation for a grand jury proceeding to procure an indictment against the target of the investigation. Materials are bagged or boxed, sealed and signed for by officials from the office of the prosecutor who requested the warrant and authorized the search.

What crime could Trump have committed?

The Presidential Records Act prohibits removing official documents and materials and/or damaging them or distributing them to unauthorized persons. There is a clause in the PRA that any official guilty of violating the law would be barred from holding office.

But what official documents would be worth the political risk of such a move?

In February, there were reports that 15 boxes removed by Trump contained classified material so sensitive that the National Archives could not describe them publicly. Knowing that Trump is averse to written records, what would be so valuable to Trump to risk removing documents illegally?

  • The answer is money, and the documents associated with getting or being paid money are usually contracts. Trump could have removed from the White House contracts he concocted while he was serving as president that would provide him money after he left office.
  • The other sorts of documents which might be valuable enough to be worth real money would be secrets regarding foreign nations that might be willing to pay money to learn what those secrets are. These may be the documents said to have been marked “Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information,” or “TS/SCI.”  This is a level of security used to protect national security secrets, data and even technology which could affect national security if they fall into the wrong hands. 
  • This is also the kind of information that is sought by foreign spies and paid for by foreign governments to American citizens who sell it to them. This is called espionage, and I think it may be possible that the FBI was looking for materials that are valuable as intelligence sought by foreign powers hostile to the United States.

It seems unlikely that the Department of Justice would search the home of a former president, something that has never been done in the nation’s history, unless they are involved in an investigation of a very, very serious crime, such as walking away with secrets that are known to be sought by hostile foreign actors, not merely walking away with documents that don’t belong to you. It’s possible the DOJ may be investigating Trump not only for violating the Presidential Records Act, but for violating the Espionage Act. 

This commentary was found at Salon. You can read the entire article here.

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