Paranoid Trump worried allies “wearing a wire” after insider told FBI about Mar-a-Lago docs: report

Trump hunts for "rats" and worries his phone is tapped after "confidential" source tipped off investigators

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published August 11, 2022 9:14AM (EDT)

Donald Trump surrounded by piles and piles of documents (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump surrounded by piles and piles of documents (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump is increasingly paranoid about his inner circle after reports revealed that someone on the inside tipped off investigators about classified documents he kept at Mar-a-Lago.

The FBI on Monday executed a search warrant at Trump's residence at the Palm Beach resort, removing about a dozen boxes of materials that may include classified documents. Someone "familiar with the stored papers" told investigators there may still be more classified documents at the club two months before the raid, according to The Wall Street Journal, though investigators were already suspicious that Trump did not turn over all classified material when the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier this year. Newsweek reported that the raid was "based largely on information from an FBI confidential human source" who was able to identify what documents Trump was still hiding and where they were.

Even before the reports surfaced, TrumpWorld was gripped with paranoia that someone in Trump's inner circle may have "flipped," Axios reported on Wednesday. Trump's allies have speculated about which aide or aides may have provided information to the FBI, leading to an environment of "mistrust and paranoia," the outlet reported.

Trump himself is concerned that he may have a "rat" and is wondering whether his "phones are tapped, or even if one of his buddies could be 'wearing a wire,'" according to Rolling Stone.

"He has asked me and others, 'Do you think our phones are tapped?' Given the sheer volume of investigations going on into the [former] president, I do not think he's assuming anything is outside the realm of possibility," a source close to Trump told the outlet. "He's talked about this seriously [in the past few months], but I know of one time when he made a joke that was something like, 'Be careful what you say on the phone!'"

On "at least a couple occasions" since May, Trump has wondered aloud whether any Republicans visiting his golf clubs may be "wearing a wire," another source close to Trump told Rolling Stone, amid worries about a potential "mole."

Some in Trump's inner circle have stoked his paranoia, warning him not to trust certain individuals and to investigate them for potential contact with investigators, according to the report.

"I'm getting a lot of messages saying [things like], 'This guy must be the informant,' and others…calling for the [former] president to start doing phone-checks of his staff," a Trump adviser told the outlet. "To be honest, a lot of it feels like people trying to screw over the ones they don't like [in Trumpworld.]"

Ultimately, the raid followed months of discussions between the Justice Department and Trump's legal team. Investigators had discussed the remaining documents with Trump's lawyers and in June the Justice Department's counterintelligence chief traveled to the resort to view the boxes, instructing Trump's team to install a stronger lock on the basement room where they were held. The FBI was ultimately able to convince a federal magistrate judge that a crime had likely occurred and obtained a warrant to seize the documents.

Aides to Trump told the Wall Street Journal that they had cooperated with the DOJ and responded quickly to the request to secure the room. The Trump Organization also complied with a request to turn over surveillance footage from cameras to Mar-a-Lago in June, according to the report.

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FBI agents who seized the boxes on Monday prevented Trump attorney Christina Bobb from viewing the search, she said, as is standard in such operations. But Trump, his lawyers and his loyalists have seized on the revelation to peddle a baseless conspiracy theory that the FBI may have "planted" evidence during the search. Multiple insiders told Rolling Stone that Trump and his allies "do not have any evidence" that the FBI planted evidence.

Rolling Stone also reported that since leaving the White House, Trump has had a habit of "flaunting trophies" from his time in the White House and guests at Mar-a-Lago have "at times witnessed the ex-president brandishing certain objects or papers, claiming they were mementos from his stint in the White House as he gave informal tours."

"It reminded me of how he'd give tours of the bathrooms and the toilets when he lived in the White House," a source told the outlet. "He likes to show off…even if he isn't supposed to have those things, evidently."

Trump's paranoia is not new and was a constant during his White House tenure, former White House press secretary and communications director Stephanie Grisham told Rolling Stone.

"When I worked for him," she said, "it was an everyday obsession [about] who was leaking, who was cooperating with what. He'd regularly ask me and others, 'Do you think I can trust this person?' or 'Do you trust this person?' or tell me to 'go find the leaker.'"

Grisham, who later fell out of favor with Trump, said she actually feels "bad for the guy today."

"Trump demands total loyalty, and yet he turns on people at a moment's notice. And he's now in this situation where he and his people are wondering who among them could be giving some of his most closely held information to the FBI," she said. "I mean, who can he trust? It's just a shitty, sad way to live."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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