Mar-a-Lago Affidavit Should Deepen Trumpworld's Sense of Dread | Opinion

Earlier today, the Justice Department released an extensively redacted version of the affidavit that federal authorities used to justify the warrant to search former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago compound earlier this month. While it wasn't exactly filled with the kind of bombshells liberals might have been anticipating, Trump allies hoping that more information from the DOJ might reveal the whole thing to be an overreach are likely quite disappointed.

In case there was any doubt, the release makes it clear that there is more going on here than Trump hanging onto a few inconsequential documents, but we still don't know the precise nature of the materials seized or what the former president was doing with them. The affidavit did reveal the existence of sources with knowledge of the movement and storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, including some highly sensitive materials regarding human sources of intelligence. Information about those sources was, of course, blacked out to protect them.

The affidavit states that when Trump gave back a tranche of documents to the National Archives in January, they were surprised to find that 184 were classified and that some of them were marked "Top Secret." The Archives then spent months trying to get the rest of the missing files back from Trump. The FBI was alerted and eventually came to believe that Trump was continuing to hold onto documents containing "national defense information." When efforts to get Trump to voluntarily cough up whatever else he was stashing away at Mar-a-Lago failed, the raid was set into motion.

Mar-a-Lago
The residence of former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Aug. 9, 2022. GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images

Today's developments are not likely to quench anyone's thirst for the full truth of what is happening here, but they also did nothing to diminish the sense that Trump is in dire legal jeopardy. Why? Well, for one thing, the affidavit showed that Trump had not only stuffed away sensitive documents with information about human sources of intelligence stationed around the world, but that he may have annotated them with notes. We can presume he wasn't underlining prose that he particularly admired.

Was he looking for information to use against people involved in the Ukraine affair that led to his 2019 impeachment? Was he planning to blow the cover of someone involved in investigating the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia? Did he just want to have some cool swag to impress the throngs of Winter White Housers angling for a few minutes with a former president?

We simply don't know yet, but we need to. The justification for the Mar-a-Lago raid is important for many reasons. First, the bar for investigating, let alone pursuing charges against, a former head of state who still leads his party and is the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee, should be high. As I have argued elsewhere, Trump's role in a plot to prevent the democratically elected government of the United States from taking power clears this bar easily. Whether the coup plotters ran afoul of the law in precisely the manner needed to put them behind bars is not for me to say, but the effort itself was unprecedented and dangerous enough to at least merit scrutiny from law enforcement.

With black lines covering much of the text, all we can see for sure in the affidavit is that law enforcement was convinced that there was "probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found" in the search.

Obstruction of what? No one outside of the DOJ and Trump's inner circle knows for sure, but the guess here is that no one in Trump's orbit will be sleeping any better tonight.

David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.