Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is among those expressing continued concern about the handling of highly sensitive government documents taken to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s southern Florida resort, as the former president’s time in office ended.
In comments recently posted to Twitter, Schiff spotlighted portions of a Justice Department court filing from a dispute over a request from Trump for the selection of a so-called special master to take over some of the process of dealing with what was seized from Mar-a-Lago in a recent raid. (A special master would essentially be a third-party expert appointed by the court.) FBI agents descended on the Florida Trump property in connection to a broader criminal investigation into the handling of those materials, and agents discovered items including information evidently connected to gathering intelligence from clandestine human sources stored in a Trump office on the premises. As others have pointed out, even if Trump declassified some or all of what authorities have recovered over the past year, serious risks could remain. Why should some of the government’s most highly guarded secrets, the release of some of which could potentially endanger lives, get declassified on a whim?
“The government’s brief is devastating,” Schiff remarked. “The legal arguments are compelling, but what is most striking are the facts outlining how the former president and his team knowingly put our national security at risk… The government found classified papers in multiple locations throughout Mar-a-Lago, a public hotel. Considering the secret markings, this is reckless in the extreme. Even after being subpoenaed, Trump’s team was withholding more documents than they turned over. And most damning of all, Documents so sensitive, so protected that senior FBI agents and DOJ attorneys couldn’t even initially review them, were kept at a public resort. Potentially available to God knows who. It’s clear DOJ acted on the facts and that Trump’s team was dangerously irresponsible.”
During a Friday interview on Fox, former Attorney General Bill Barr, who served in Trump’s administration up until a post-2020 election but pre-Inauguration Day departure, also undercut arguments from Trump. “I frankly am skeptical of this claim that ‘I declassified everything,’” Barr remarked, referring to the allegation that documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago weren’t actually classified anymore because of action Trump took while in office. “Because frankly, I think it’s highly improbable, and second, if in fact he sort of stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them, and said, ‘I hereby declassify everything in here,’ that would be such an abuse and show such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents.”
Notably, the potential offense of obstruction, which was already cited in the course of the Justice Department’s probe, doesn’t hinge on whether materials reclaimed from the former president were still classified. No conclusive, real-world evidence has emerged indicating Trump actually declassified the documents while still in power. The federal government noted in the court filing Schiff referenced that neither Trump lawyer who was present brought up a claim of declassification during a June gathering at Mar-a-Lago that followed a grand jury subpoena demanding the return of classified materials.