Yesterday, Donald Trump announced that during the Mar-a-Lago raid, FBI agents “stole” his three passports, one of which was expired. The Department of Justice initially tried to deny this claim, or at least weasel out of it. Via RedState:
NEW: According to a DOJ official, the FBI is NOT in possession of former President Trump's passports. Trump had accused the FBI of stealing his three passports during the search of his Mar-a-Lago home.
— Norah O'Donnell 🇺🇸 (@NorahODonnell) August 15, 2022
This is typical of how the Biden Department of Justice and the FBI operate. They piously assert that they can’t comment on much of anything publicly, and then leak falsehoods and half-truths to friendly and gullible media outlets. The careful wording of this particular leak is obvious: the FBI “is NOT in possession” of Trump’s passports–not that they didn’t take them, as Trump said.
It turns out that Trump was right:
So Trump team now publicizing this email, which shows:
1) DOJ obtained three passports (two expired, not one, as Trump said) and alerted Trump lawyers
2) They were recovered by a filter team, which weeds out privileged info.
3) Trump publicized this after DOJ offered them back pic.twitter.com/lz8wneIQ0a
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) August 15, 2022
A word of explanation: Trump and his agents have pointed out that some of the materials seized by the FBI were covered by attorney-client privilege. This happens a lot. The usual practice, as I understand it, is to have a team not associated with the investigation (the “filter agents”) review the materials and remove privileged documents before the investigative team digs into them. Apparently the “filter agents” removed the passports and the FBI offered them back to Trump. Is this consistent with the DOJ leak claiming that the FBI was “NOT in possession” of the passports? Only if the filter team did not consist of FBI employees, and even then, only if you construe “possession” with misleading narrowness.
The next question is whether the passports were within the scope of the search warrant. DOJ tells us the FBI was searching for “nuclear secrets,” which wouldn’t likely be hiding in a former president’s diplomatic passport. But the terms of the search were extraordinarily broad. The FBI was authorized to carry away from Mar-a-Lago:
a) Any physical documents with classification markings, along with any containers/boxes (including any other contents) in which such documents are located, as well as any other containers/boxes that are collectively stored or found together with the aforementioned documents and containers/boxes;
So if the FBI agents who conducted the raid found one or more documents with classification markings, they were authorized to carry away not just those documents, and not just the containers or boxes that held such documents, but any containers or boxes “found together” with them. That would include any container or box in Trump’s basement, and might have been construed more broadly by the agents, to include any containers or boxes at Mar-a-Lago. It would be interesting to know where Trump’s passports were kept.
The incident of the stolen passports reveals the extraordinary breadth of the Mar-a-Lago raid, and I think can fairly be said to cast doubt on DOJ’s self-serving claim to have been searching for “nuclear secrets.”