House Democrats want "damage assessment" on classified docs recovered from Trump

Reps. Adam Schiff and Carolyn Maloney request "classified briefing" on documents Trump stashed at Mar-a-Lago

Published August 15, 2022 5:30AM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) listens during the third hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) listens during the third hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

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Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked federal intelligence officials on Saturday to immediately review the top secret documents that FBI agents retrieved during last week's search of former Donald Trump's resort in Florida and to provide a classified briefing on their findings as soon as possible.

"Former President Trump's conduct has potentially put our national security at grave risk," Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, and Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

"The facts that are now public make clear that a damage assessment is appropriate," the chairs added.

The unsealed warrant authorizing the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago last Monday shows that the Department of Justice is investigating Trump for potential violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and the unlawful removal of government records.

The Washington Post reported last Thursday that the DOJ was seeking to recover classified information related to nuclear weapons. It remains unclear whether such documents were among the 27 boxes of material that FBI agents took from Trump's Palm Beach offices on Monday.

As Maloney and Schiff summarized:

The recovered materials span 45 categories, including 11 sets of classified documents ranging from "Confidential" to "Secret" to "Top Secret" and "TS/SCI documents." The unauthorized disclosure of Top Secret information would cause "exceptionally grave damage to the national security." In addition, at least one report indicates that FBI's investigation focused in part on highly classified documents "relating to nuclear weapons," which are among our nation's most closely guarded secrets. If this report is true, it is hard to overstate the national security danger that could emanate from the reckless decision to remove and retain this material.

"If you have not already done so," the lawmakers wrote to Haines, "we request that you instruct the National Counterintelligence Executive, in consultation with the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community and other inspectors general as appropriate, to conduct a damage assessment."

"In addition, we ask that you commit to providing an appropriate classified briefing on the conduct of the damage assessment as soon as possible," Maloney and Schiff continued. "Even as the Justice Department's investigation proceeds, ensuring that we take all necessary steps to protect classified information and mitigate the damage to national security done by its compromise is critically important."

As the two members of Congress pointed out, the committees they lead "have conducted oversight of issues presented by the apparent mishandling of government records, both during and after the Trump administration."

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"In February," the letter notes, "Chairwoman Maloney wrote to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) expressing serious concerns that records 'appear to have been removed from the White House in violation of the Presidential Records Act' and that reports indicated that 'President Trump repeatedly attempted to destroy presidential records.'"

"While the former President returned 15 boxes of records to NARA earlier this year, recent developments show he continued to retain sensitive and classified materials belonging to the U.S. government," adds the letter.

The New York Times reported last Thursday that the DOJ sent Trump a subpoena for the documents in question this spring and only asked a federal judge to approve a search warrant after he refused to comply.

At least one member of Trump's legal team "signed a written statement in June asserting that all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area [at Mar-a-Lago] had been returned to the government," the Times reported Saturday.

Trump has claimed that the material he took to Florida "was all declassified," but that's unlikely to have any bearing on the possible charges against him.

Last week's recovery of additional classified documents suggests that the former president's lawyer was untruthful and may explain why the DOJ, in seeking the search warrant, cited criminal statutes related to concealment of public records and obstruction of justice, in addition to espionage.

In a statement posted to his Truth Social platform on Friday, Trump claimed that the material he took to Florida "was all declassified," even though legal experts question whether he used the formal process required and say that is unlikely to have any bearing on the charges that may be brought by the DOJ. (None of the laws potentially violated directly have to do with classification status of documents.)

Meanwhile, amid heightened threats against federal law enforcement personnel and facilities, congressional Republicans on Sunday stepped up their calls for the DOJ to release the affidavit in support of the warrant, which so far has not been made public in order to protect the ongoing investigation, sources and classified information.

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., explained Friday on Twitter, "That disclosure may come later, if Trump litigates the search, or to the defendant if/when someone is charged with an offense in this matter."

"Federal search warrant applications and affidavits are ordinarily not made public (a) to protect [the] reputations of uncharged persons and (b) to protect witnesses and [the] integrity of [an] investigation," Whitehouse (himself a former federal prosecutor) continued. "Lawsuits challenging a search as illegal and motions to suppress evidence as wrongly seized are the usual ways where applications and affidavits are made public."

"These policies protect individual liberties, so it ordinarily takes affirmative act by [an] individual — like [a] lawsuit or motion to suppress — for materials to become public," he added.

By Kenny Stancil

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Adam Schiff Aggregate Carolyn Maloney Democrats Donald Trump Fbi Mar-a-lago