Everything You Need to Know About the “Raid” From a Former Assistant US Attorney

We all know Donald Trump is a one man crime spree. He could care less about the laws, norms, rules, or anything else that would limit his freedom and power to get what he wants for himself. He thinks and acts as a would be dictator and autocrat. After just one term as president, he is keeping the teams of AG Merrick Garland, DA Fani Willis in Georgia, New York’s AG Letitia James and the January 6th Committee working overtime doing investigations and building cases to criminally prosecute or pursue in civil courts that involve or target him.

With all the legal problems coming at Trump many people do not understand why having secret documents in his club/hotel’s basement could turn out to be the most destructive of all of his criminal activities for our country and most dangerous for us as Americans.

Let me help you understand.

What is the Big Deal with Keeping Secret Documents?

When Trump left the White House, he transported something like 30 boxes of documents that were either classified, secret, sensitive or top secret. All told we know from reporters at the NYTimes and a letter from the National Archives that Trump had taken around 1000  documents at his club/residence. Why did he do that? We don’t know. What he is telling us is a shifting story we cannot trust.

At times he claims the documents were planted at his resort by the FBI. (Baloney). At other times he says the basement at Mar-a-Lago where they were kept was just as safe as a secure viewing location at the Capitol (called a SCIF). (BTW that’s an admission they were not planted and he knowingly took them). Another admission he knowingly took them is that his lawyers have reported that when they told him not to limp off with these documents and that he should return them Trump said they belonged to him. (They do not.) At other times he claimed Barack Obama did the same thing (No. The National Archives shot that one down.) Most recently his allies are saying he just didn’t know what had been sent to Mar-a-Lago by the GSA (government service agency). That excuse falls apart because the DOJ asked nicely and got some boxes back but not all of them, then subpoenaed and got more but not all of them and got word from an inside source that Trump had kept some of these top secret documents after the lawyer claimed all of them had been returned. That prompted the search warrant and the additional recovery of highly classified secret and top secret documents. The New York Times reports that Trump had kept at least 300 classified documents at his club/residence that he had failed to turn over. The FBI retrieved those with the search warrant.

Whatever his excuse du jour, we still do not know WHY he limped off with these documents and that alone should raise a red flag. This is worrisome. The guy doesn’t read anything. He did not take them home to study up and do homework. (That was another bogus excuse his allies put out there). His aides had to create picture books for him to view when he was president so they could keep his wandering attention focused on the information they were trying to tell him. What was his real motive and why did he have at least one boxful of the most sensitive highly classified documents in our country that under the law are not to be viewed outside of a SCIF?

What’s a SCIF?

The most highly classified top secret documents are those that are so dangerous for our enemies to get ahold of that they must be viewed in a SCIF which is a setting that is isolated and separated from the rest of the public spaces in the Capitol where you cannot enter with your iPhone or wear your Apple watch.

Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (pronounced “skiff”), a U.S. Department of Defense term for a secure room. It can be a secure room or data center that guards against electronic surveillance and suppresses data leakage of sensitive security and military information. SCIFs are used to deny unau­tho­rized per­son­nel, such as for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices or corporate spies, the oppor­tu­nity for unde­tected entry into facil­i­ties for the exploita­tion of sen­si­tive activ­i­ties.

What Makes Something Highly Classified?

Our country has agents who spend a lot of time and effort creating trust relationships with people around the world called confidential informants (CIs). These CIs take a long time to learn about, reach out to, connect with, nurture, and work with over time. CIs risk their lives in some cases, to get us the information we need that keeps our country safer. Yes, they are spies. They are undercover agents working to help our government understand how to protect all of us in America from attacks by other countries that would like to see our country go down.

There are also other sources of intelligence we need to keep secure and secret to stay safe in our country.

Exposing highly classified information risks exposure of the “sources and methods” we use to keep our country safe from foreign adversaries. Informants helping us could be killed if it becomes known they are providing information to our country. It risks the lives and the relationships our agents have built sometimes over many years. It risks the loss of important knowledge and streams of valuable information we rely on to stay safe in America.

Donald Trump is a Blabbermouth

As president Donald Trump had no respect for classified information. He liked to boast to foreign dignitaries about what he knew and had no filter. In his time as president he cavalierly exposed top secret information on numerous occasions. In 2017 he revealed classified secrets to two Russians in the Oval Office: Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Another instance in 2019, Trump exposed a highly placed American who had access to classified Russian information. That agent had to be extracted from Russia to protect his life. We lost that source of inside information because of Trump. And there were other instances of exposure where he tweeted out an image to the world after being warned he was compromising our intelligence and another where he spoke openly in the dining room surrounded by club members at Mar-a-Lago.

Some U.S. officials have told Reuters they have been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump.

One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: “He has no filter; it’s in one ear and out the mouth.”

Trump has a track record of being naive at best when it comes to the need to protect our nation’s top secret matters.

Trump is a Grifter and He Needs Money 

Trump needs money to deal with all the civil and criminal cases coming for him and to run for president again. One of his piggybanks, the Trump Organization, is going to be shut down. Alan Weisselburg just pleaded guilty to 15 counts in his own tax evasion case and entered into an agreement with the prosecution to testify honestly in the upcoming civil case against Trump Org in exchange for just 5 years in prison.

I see that as a viselike grip the government has on Weisselburg now that will result in the implication of Trump in the coming trial about Trump Org wrongdoing even if Weisselburg doesn’t want to. There is no way I can imagine Weisselburg not implicating Trump when asked questions under oath like: “Whose signature is that on that false document?” (Answer: Donald Trump.) He will be between a rock and a hard place: implicate Trump or end up lying which exposes him to a 15 year jail sentence. At 77, that’s a life sentence.

Trump is the ultimate grifter. He is grifting off of the Mar-a-Lago search with his crazed MAGA base and so far he made a sweet million off of that. He is sucking up all the money from small donors that could have gone to Republicans running for office in the midterms. Instead of going to the Republican National Committee those small donor dollars are going to Mar-a-Lago. But Trump always wants more.

I think it is plausible that he took those top secret documents to make money or deals for himself by selling our secrets to our enemies. They could be worth millions to our enemies. And those enemies of democracy are some of the same autocratically led countries Trump wanted to be pals with: North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia. These documents might have been Trump’s idea of golden tickets to pay his legal expenses and fund his run for president. I hope I am wrong. But I don’t think I am. This is who Trump is. What you see is what you get.

What’s the Big Deal With Unsealing an Affadavit?

The federal magistrate, Judge Bruce Reinhart, held a hearing on August 18th in response to requests from the media to unseal the affadavit that contains the underlying information that resulted in the search warrant. The warrant has already been made public. But it is a bigger deal to unseal an affadavit. It is almost never done by a judge when the prosecutor doesn’t want that. However, in this case the judge has said he is inclined to reveal some of the affadavit information. He has asked the DOJ to redact the affadavit (cover up sensitive information with black marker.) There will be another hearing this Thursday.

As a former prosecutor, I often reviewed those affadavits before judges reviewed them and approved search warrants. The process goes like this:

  • 1) Agents you have been working with on a case have learned enough about what is going on in a matter they have suspected could be an illegal operation to find out if it’s ok to ask a judge to allow them to do a broader and more invasive search.
  • 2) They have learned this through their surveillance or talking with witnesses with first hand information that they trust.
  • 3) They come to the office of the prosecutor and lay out what they have learned and the prosecutor questions them to be sure everything was done properly because you don’t want a 4th Amendment claim (unlawful search) to bear fruit and ruin your future case. (4th Amendment claims by the defense are routine. You want your probable cause to withstand scrutiny and be able to show there were no violations of the defendant’s 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.)
  • 4) The prosecutor then makes a judgement call about whether there should be continued surveillance and witness interviews, if there is enough probable cause to move forward with the search, or if the search is a dud.
  • 5) If the team is going forward with a search warrant, the prosecutor reviews the write up of the affadavit providing the judge with the background information of probable cause a crime has been committed. The information in the affadavit for a search warrant must be accurate and specific and there must be clear crimes detailed sufficiently for the judge to review and consent to the search.
  • 6) The agent is sworn in before the judge and testifies, answering questions the judge might have about the investigation and underlying information before the judge signs off on the search warrant.

The News Media is Missing Important Clues

Why did Garland have to resort to a search at Mar-a-Lago? There are some clues that I don’t see the news media picking up on enough. One clue is the lead attorney on the case. Other clues came out when Garland spoke about the case after the search warrant and list of seized items was revealed.

The lead counsel at DOJ on this case is Jay Bratt. He is the one who closely reviewed the information presented by the agents who are doing the investigation. Bratt is the chief of the counterintelligence division of the DOJ and a seasoned prosecutor. That tells us that Trump is being looked at for a national security violation by the highest prosecutor in the counterintelligence group at the DOJ. One of the cited statutes Trump may have violated is the Espionage Act.

Merrick Garland asked the judge NOT to unseal the affadavit not only out of concern for the witnesses who could be exposed and the sources and methods that could be damaged or lost, but other ongoing investigations (plural) and the documents Trump held back could involve our nuclear secrets. That means there is more than this one investigation going on linked to this secret information Trump had in his club’s basement. Our nuclear information is incredibly important to keep secret for our country’s security. What if Russia knew where our counter attack missiles were housed? What if China knew secret codes to disrupt our defense communications?

Given the nature of this investigation, every American should be worried that Trump could be selling out our country, perhaps some of our most valuable secrets, to get money for himself. Top secret information is worth billions. That is a plausible scenario given what we know about the matter so far, what we know about Trump and how he rolls. This is not just an ex-president hoarding little souvenirs and cocktail napkins or love letters from Kim Jong Un. This appears to be a highly sensitive national counterintelligence investigation being led by the head of that department at DOJ. Let that sink in.

Why the Judge Wants to Unseal the Affadavit

The judge’s decision to reveal some of the affadavit is driven, I think, by the unprecedented event of issuing a search warrant at the residence of a former president, the strong public interest, the Republican attacks on the FBI and DOJ, the MAGA mob response and threats to himself, his family and his synagogue.

Trump is riling up his armed MAGA mob to make money for himself. Again. A crazed armed MAGA Trumper attacked FBI agents and got himself killed. Then there was a second attack by a Trumper. Threats to government agents are up across the country. This judge has been personally threatened by the Trump mob. To fail to alert the public about what could be a serious national security threat would allow Trump and the GOP to spread more disinformation unimpeded by the truth. I think this judge, who DOES already know the contents of the affadavit, wants the public to be aware and on board with the search because that might help to silence the MAGA mob and shut down Republicans who are slamming the FBI and DOJ as well as help protect himself and his family.

Trump’s own attorneys were present at the hearing to unseal the affadavit, but did not join the news agencies to ask that it be unsealed. Trump’s attorneys do not know what is in the affadavit yet, but I believe their failure to ask for a redacted version of the affadavit tells us that Trump’s lawyers are worried that Trump might really be engaged in serious espionage- perhaps selling out our country for his own profit.

Merrick Garland would never go after Trump for souvenirs and cocktail napkins. No way would he rile the MAGA mob for something that inconsequential.

This could be very serious.

For all of us.