top of page

A Journey Into Trump's Investigation By The FBI

Editorial Assistant Nilab Siddiqi takes you on a (not so) top secret ride into the FBI’s investigation on Donald Trump.


On 8 August 2022, FBI agents seized 20 boxes of material evidence from Donald Trump’s home. [1] The former U.S. president is currently under criminal investigation for three major criminal violations: apparent violation of the ‘Espionage Act’, obstruction of justice, and the destruction of government records, as outlined by the search warrant. [2]


The ‘Espionage Act’ strictly outlaws any retention of unauthorised national security information which could either directly harm the United States, or aid an adversary. This means that the FBI is under the suspicion that Trump has taken unclassified documents and records from the White House to his residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. The search of his home revealed that Trump had kept records so sensitive in nature that they were exempt from the inventory detailing what was taken from the home. [3] Further reports from the BBC indicate that some of these taken records contain national secrets so sensitive that they would cause extreme damage to the U.S. national security if revealed.


Why exactly is it so dangerous for Trump to have these records?


There are three different levels of classification of materials: confidential, secret and top secret. These labels are given depending on how much damage the material would do to national security if they were revealed to the general public. [4] There are various rules surrounding the handling of these materials, with only certain individuals who have passed relevant security vetting having the permission to view them.


There are also rules determining where the documents can be handled and read. Accordingly, documents which have been marked as “Top Secret” are only to be viewed in secure rooms, known as “sensitive compartmented information facilities”. The 11 records taken from Trump’s home were generally classified as “various classified/top secret/sensitive compartmented information”. When considering that these documents were kept in the basement storage area of his home, it seems that there is a clear violation of law. [5]


While it is certainly in the power of both the president and certain senior officials to declassify these materials, documents cannot be declassified simply by word-of-mouth; there must be a record of them doing so. Typically, a drafted written memo clearly signed by the president would be followed by a consultation process with relevant agencies. If a decision was made to declassify the materials, the document would state that it was declassified and on a certain date. [6] The issue at hand is that it is unclear in the present whether Trump followed this declassification process with the records which were seized from his home.


There has been minimal clarity offered by Trump himself, however, he claims that all the records which were seized were declassified. This claim has been met with much suspicion as the documents have no markings of declassification, which would have been dealt with during the official declassification process. [7]


That being said, it may not be relevant to the case whether the documents were classified or declassified as the ‘Espionage Act’ doesn’t actually distinguish between the two. Unauthorised retention of any documents which are relevant to the statute is a crime, punishable up to 10 years in federal prison. [8]


What were the ramifications?


Following the press coverage of this case, there have been concerning reactions from followers of the Republican party. Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have seen a spike in violent threats being posed to them online following the search. [9] The nature of the threats have been varied, with some threatening to place a bomb in front of the FBI HQ and some suggesting targeted killings of judicial, law enforcement and government officials associated with the search warrant. [10]


For example, at 9am on 12 August 2022, an armed man attempted to breach an FBI building in Cincinnati, Ohio. The gunman, 42-year-old Ricky Shiffer, later died from wounds inflicted during an exchange of gunfire with officers. It is believed that the gunman was in Washington at the time of the insurrection on January 6, 2021, and is suspected to have been at the Capitol on the day of the attack. [11] Federal officials are now tracking a variety of concerning threats to the FBI.


Trump and his allies, including Republicans in Congress, have responded to the situation in anger, inciting more unrest among his supporters. The former president’s allies are also calling him to release the CCTV footage of the raid in hopes that it would encourage and motivate followers of the Republican party. However, some close allies have stated that releasing the footage could have the opposite effect, inciting distaste in viewers at the sight of the sheer amount of material taken from the estate instead. [12]


At time of writing, there is no definitive conclusion to the case.



[1] Evans, Gareth. “What we do and don’t know about the FBI search of Trump’s home.” BBC, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62528709.

[2] Lowell, Hugo. “Trump under investigation for potential violations of Espionage Act, warrant reveals.” The Guardian, 2022, https://www. theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/12/fbi-agents-trump-search-mar-a-lago-documents.

[3] Evans, Gareth. “What we do and don’t know about the FBI search of Trump’s home.” BBC, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62528709.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lowell, Hugo. “Trump under investigation for potential violations of Espionage Act, warrant reveals.” The Guardian, 2022, https://www. theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/12/fbi-agents-trump-search-mar-a-lago-documents.

[6] Evans, Gareth. “What we do and don’t know about the FBI search of Trump’s home.” BBC, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62528709.

[7] Lowell, Hugo. “Trump under investigation for potential violations of Espionage Act, warrant reveals.” The Guardian, 2022, https://www. theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/12/fbi-agents-trump-search-mar-a-lago-documents.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Riga, Jessica. “The FBI has warned of a spike in violent threats after their search of Donald Trump’s home. Here’s what we know.” ABC New, 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-15/fbi-homeland-security-warn-of-threats-after-donald-trump-raid/101333242.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Armed man who tried to ‘breach’ FBI office in Ohio killed in standoff with US police.” ABC News, 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/ news/2022-08-12/armed-man-tries-breaching-fbi-ohio-office/101326026.

[12] Orr, Gaby et al. “Trump considering releasing surveillance footage of FBI Mar-a-Lago search.” CNN Politics, 2022, https://edition.cnn. com/2022/08/17/politics/trump-release-surveillance-footage-fbi-mar-a-lago/index.html.

Comentarios


bottom of page