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Trump Investigated for Possible Violation of Espionage Act

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The notice filed by the Justice Department to the U.S. District Court South District of Florida informing the judge lawyers for fmr President Donald Trump didn't object to the government's motion to unseal the search warrant is photographed on Aug. 2022.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating former President Donald Trump for possible violations of the Espionage Act and other crimes after the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered 11 sets of classified documents from his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, earlier this week.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Friday unsealed the warrant authorizing the search, which identifies three federal crimes that the Justice Department is looking at as part of its investigation of Trump: violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and criminal handling of government records.

No one has been charged with a crime at this time.

The property receipt from the search revealed that FBI agents recovered more than 20 boxes of documents that include items labeled top secret, secret and confidential, as well as items marked "Potential Presidential Record," "Miscellaneous Secret Documents," photos and handwritten notes.

Paul G. Rogers Federal Courthouse is shown on Aug. 12, 2022, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Paul G. Rogers Federal Courthouse is shown on Aug. 12, 2022, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

According to the warrant, the search locations include Trump's office, "all storage rooms, and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used" by Trump and his staff and "in which boxes or documents could be stored, including all structures or buildings on the estate."

The search was personally approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who on Thursday said that the Department of Justice "does not take such a decision lightly" and where possible would "seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search and to narrowly scope any search that is undertaken."

Trump Investigated for Possible Violation of Espionage Act
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Espionage Act

The Espionage Act of 1917 prohibits obtaining information, recording pictures or copying descriptions of any information relating to national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information may be used for injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.

The act goes beyond "spying" activities to include offenses involving mishandling of classified material.

Regardless of whether Trump ends up in criminal jeopardy, the case is already damaging to national security, said Georgetown University fellow Paul R. Pillar, who spent 28 years with the Central Intelligence Agency.

"You'll have intelligence services who will be immediately thinking about how they could exploit this," Pillar told VOA.

An aerial view of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is pictured on Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.
An aerial view of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is pictured on Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.

Even now that the documents are in the FBI's possession, Pillar said, there are possibly individuals who have had access to them and now become potential targets of recruitment for foreign intelligence sources.

With this kind of breach, Pillar said that U.S. intelligence agencies will have to mitigate the "possible damage to the sources and methods of intelligence," particularly human intelligence sources such as informants who may now be in jeopardy because their identity may have been revealed.

Foreign governments will also be looking at whether any of the material might be embarrassing or damaging to them. One of the items retrieved from Trump's home was labeled "Info re: President of France."

Defiant Trump

A defiant Trump responded by making the baseless accusation that former President Barack Obama kept classified documents after leaving office.

Mar-a-Lago search warrant

"President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified," Trump wrote in a statement. "How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!"

The National Archives immediately released a statement refuting this, saying they had "assumed exclusive legal and physical custody" of Obama's presidential records after he left office.

The unprecedented move from the FBI and the Justice Department triggered the former president's closest allies to criticize the Biden administration.

"House Republicans are committed to immediate oversight, accountability and a fulsome investigation to provide needed transparency and answers to the American people regarding Joe Biden and his administration's weaponization of the Department of Justice and FBI against Joe Biden's political opponent," said Republican Elise Stefanik, U.S. representative from New York.

"President Donald Trump is Joe Biden's most likeliest political opponent in 2024, and this is less than 100 days from critical midterm elections," she said.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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