Trump’s claim that FBI “stole” his three passports turns out to be “nothing like what Trump said”

DOJ discovered the passports and returned them before Trump even made his claim to attack law enforcement

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published August 16, 2022 9:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump on Monday suggested that the FBI intentionally "stole" his three passports even though the Justice Department returned them after finding the documents among the boxes of materials seized from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump and his allies have offered shifting defenses for the top-secret documents found at Trump's Palm Beach home, suggesting that the FBI may have "planted" evidence during the raid before moving away from that narrative to push claims that Trump issued a standing order declassifying documents that his national security adviser was completely unaware of existing and that the former president could declassify documents just by "standing over" them and saying they're declassified. For the most part, Trump and his allies have focused on attacking the FBI and DOJ, accusing them of political persecution.

"Wow! In the raid by the FBI of Mar-a-Lago, they stole my three Passports (one expired), along with everything else," Trump wrote on his Twitter knockoff Truth Social on Monday. "This is an assault on a political opponent at a level never seen before in our Country. Third World!"

A search warrant from the raid showed that Trump is being investigated under the Espionage Act and a property receipt showed that agents collected 11 boxes of materials, including some that were marked "top secret." The FBI also seized Trump's expired passports and his diplomatic passport in the raid.

Trump attorney Christina Bobb dismissed the idea that the seizure of Trump's passports was a "simple mistake."

"I don't give them a pass that this was a simple mistake. I think it goes to show how aggressive they were. How overreaching they were," Bobb told Fox News. "They were willing to go past the four corners of the warrant and take whatever they felt was appropriate or what they could take. And then go back and look through and go 'Whoops! Maybe we went too far,' and then negotiate the return of it."

To back up their claims, Trump's team released an email from Jay Bratt, the counterintelligence chief of the DOJ's National Security Division, showing that the DOJ had already informed his lawyers that a "filter" team found two expired passports and an active diplomatic passport and said they will return them before Trump made his claim.

A DOJ official told NBC News that Trump's passports were already returned on Monday.

The FBI did not comment on the claim.

"In executing search warrants, the FBI follows search and seizure procedures ordered by courts, then returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes," an FBI spokesperson told NBC.

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"As suspected, the story was nothing like what Trump said," tweeted Robert Maguire, research director at the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Two of the passports were expired. One was a diplomatic passport. And the DOJ alerted him when the filter team found it. It wasn't taken intentionally."

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissman, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, accused Trump of seeking to distract the public from his documents scandal by pointing fingers at the FBI.

"Donald Trump is very good at creating distractions that cause us to go off on tangents when he hasn't answered why did he have the documents there?" Weissmann told MSNBC. "Why didn't he return them? And what was he planning to do with them? Instead, he's talking about passports."

Trump also sought to move the goal posts after the DOJ released the search warrant and property receipt in the case, calling for the release of the "completely Unredacted Affidavit" backing the search warrant signed by a federal judge.

The DOJ on Monday asked the judge who approved the warrant to keep the affidavit sealed to protect witnesses and the investigation, according to NBC News. Federal prosecutors said that the affidavit should not be made public to "protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security."

"Disclosure at this juncture of the affidavit supporting probable cause would...cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation," DOJ lawyers said in a court filing on Monday.

Prosecutors wrote that they did not oppose the release of other documents in the probe but the affidavit could "compromise" their investigation.

"If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps," they wrote.

The FBI and DOJ have come under increasing threat from Trump's supporters who believe his claim that the investigation is the result of political persecution, not his decision to take classified documents to his home and mislead investigators about documents he kept after handing over 15 boxes of materials to the National Archives earlier this year. Even Trump's allies on Fox News have urged him to tamp down the "violent rhetoric" amid his verbal assault on the FBI.

"If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that," Trump told Fox News on Monday, before again accusing the FBI of "witch hunts" and breaking into his home. "Whatever we can do to help — because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn't, terrible things are going to happen," Trump said, adding that people "are not going to stand for another scam."

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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