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Takeaways from the affidavit in Trump Mar-a-Lago search


It's been nearly three weeks since the FBI searched former President Trump's Florida home. We're still learning new things about what they were searching for. Yesterday, the Justice Department released a heavily redacted version of the affidavit used to justify the search. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been covering this and joins us. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So as we've often noted, a lot of this affidavit is redacted, but there are still bits of new information which peek out between all the black mark-throughs. What have we learned?

LUCAS: Right. There are entire pages of this document that are blacked out - more than half of it in total, actually. But you're also correct that there are new nuggets of info in there. And we knew that the FBI opened its investigation after the National Archives recovered 15 boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago in January. But the affidavit explains in greater detail what was in those boxes. It says that there were news articles, magazines, photos, printouts, personal papers, but there were also a lot of classified documents just mixed in with all of it.

There were 184 classified documents in all, in fact, according to the affidavit. Ninety-two of them were classified at the Secret level, 25 at the Top Secret level. And some of them, the affidavit says, related to clandestine human sources, intelligence assets - that means spies. Others related to signals intelligence, so the American government snooping on foreigners' communications. And these are all very closely guarded U.S. government secrets. The affidavit says no part of Mar-a-Lago was authorized to store classified materials. And this all points to why the Justice Department was so concerned about these items being down there.

SIMON: Why was so much blacked out, shielded from view of the American public?

LUCAS: Well, the Justice Department, remember, didn't want any of this released. And affidavits usually aren't released until someone has been charged, and that, of course, hasn't happened in this investigation. And it may not happen. But because of the intense public interest in the Mar-a-Lago search, a federal judge ordered the department to release this redacted version.

The court also unsealed another Justice Department document that explains the redactions, although I will say that two had significant redactions. But it spelled out certain categories of information that were blacked out and why. And that includes any information about government witnesses, their identities. That was blacked out to ensure their safety. Interestingly, the document also said that there are, and I quote here, "a significant number of civilian witnesses." And that could be how the Justice Department came to believe that more documents were still at Mar-a-Lago and why searching the property was necessary.

SIMON: And help us understand the concern behind protecting the investigation at this point.

LUCAS: Well, the department described the affidavit as a roadmap to its investigation, and it said that releasing the affidavit untouched could compromise the very investigation that's underway. And so details about the scope and the direction of the investigation were redacted in the version that was released. So for example, in a section about the probable cause for believing that classified documents and government records were still at Mar-a-Lago, pretty much the whole section on that was blacked out, page after page.

SIMON: And what does Donald Trump say?

LUCAS: Well, he struck much the same chord as he did when he was president. He's going after people in institutions. He lashed out at the Justice Department and the FBI on his social media platform. He attacked a judge who ordered the affidavit be released. That said, Trump had publicly urged that the affidavit be released.

But, look, this investigation is still active. It's still ongoing. It puts Trump in legal jeopardy. The affidavit tells us what was in the documents turned over in January. But remember, we still don't know in great detail what the FBI recovered in its search this month - the documents that Trump hadn't turned over. So there is still a lot to be learned here.

SIMON: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.