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A federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to release a redacted document that justified the FBI's search of Donald Trump's home in Florida. National security attorney Mark Zaid joined John Yang to discuss what may or may not be revealed.
Two-and-a-half weeks after the FBI's search of former President Donald Trump's home in Florida, a federal magistrate judge ordered today that the Department of Justice must release a redacted document that justified that search.
John Yang has more.
Amna, it's not clear just how much of that document we will actually see after the redactions, but more information about the classified documents that Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago emerged this week.
Mark Zaid is an attorney who focuses on national security issues.
Mark, thanks for being with us.
Given the information that the magistrate judge said needs to be protected, the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents and uncharged parties, the investigation's strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods and grand jury information, how much are we likely to see in this document tomorrow? And could we still glean some hints, some clues from it?
Mark Zaid, National Security Attorney:
Well, I think the general public, based on just what you described from the order to unseal, is going to be probably very disappointed in what is in this unredacted, partially unredacted affidavit.
I'm hopeful that those of us who have experience with federal criminal investigations, classified information and the like may be able to glean some nuances from it. It's probably going to reflect more about the information that's already been released, such as in the acting archivist's letter to the Trump lawyers that was just released early earlier this week that gives us a chronological understanding of the discussions that happened between the Trump team and the Justice Department and the National Archives.
I want to ask you about that letter.
And in it, it was disclosed that some 700 pages of classified documents, some as high as top secret, were returned to the Archives from Mar-a-Lago in January. What context does that give to that search, the FBI search?
Well, there's two things on that.
One, that letter, which was released by the — essentially the Trump team, not necessarily the lawyers, but by the supportive team, actually was quite damning to him. It showed the efforts that the U.S. government underwent to bend over backwards to be patient with the Trump team about gaining access to the documents.
And that was harmful, I think, to the — Trump's interests and to their legal argument. Now, the search and seizure itself, which was able to retrieve yet additional multiple boxes of classified information, up to what we call the TS/SCI level of sources and methods, possible informants and agents around the world and analysis of operations, that — that showed right there that the search warrant application was justified.
So I think, the more information that comes out, contrary to what the Trump team is saying and encouraging it to happen, is actually undermining their own legal arguments and public policy posture.
Trump allies say these are personal papers. What do you say to that?
Look, obviously, we don't know exactly what's in there. And I'm not going to say that there might not be some personal paper of some doodle perhaps the president did.
But he, as a former president, has no executive privilege to continue to assert. That is held by the current administration. And if any information is classified, he has no authority to retain that information. He might not have even had, as president, the authority to declassify it if it dealt with information classified under the Atomic Energy Act.
So I could understand they may have some legal defenses to make later on, especially if a criminal case transpires. But, at this stage, the basis was to get the documents back to the U.S. government. And, in fact, as is in that acting archivist's letter, the Trump team has the ability, if they can get cleared personnel, cleared lawyers, like I am, to go and review exactly what was seized.
This week, we also got the unredacted report that was sent to then-Attorney General William Barr that led him to the conclusion that there was no evidence of obstruction of justice in the Mueller report.
What did we learn from that?
Well, that was a document that is absolutely favorable to the president and his allies. It's a legal analysis, right?
I mean, I litigate cases against the federal government all the time. I file a brief and I say, this is what I think. They file a brief and they say something to the opposite.
The Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department sets policies for the U.S. government, but they are lawyers arguing legal analysis. Sometimes, those decisions are overturned by successive administrations of the same political party.
So what lawyers are going to now have to do is analyze the legal analysis to see if they believe it is of something different. But if the attorney general, Garland, wants to reverse that — those findings in that document, he certainly has that ability to do so.
But it was basically a legal document that made the decisions that there was no basis for a prosecution, at least under obstruction of justice.
National security lawyer Mark Zaid, thank you very much.
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John Yang is a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
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