One of the enduring mysteries of the ongoing investigation into Donald Trump's theft of scores of classified national security documents is why the FBI conducted a search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home and resort, a search that turned up highly classified documents that Trump and his lawyers had repeatedly asserted did not exist, but has not conducted similar searches of Trump's other homes and properties.
That mystery has only deepened, now that we know that the FBI had a recording of Trump showing off some of those national security documents inside his Bedminster, New Jersey, club, and that the specific document he was caught on tape describing has not yet been found. And the FBI knows, for an absolute fact, that Trump has taken multiple steps to hide classified documents so that the government could not take them back. There's no question that Trump and his lawyers would lie about there being no documents left to find in Bedminster; those lies are precisely why Trump and Walt Nauta, one of his aides, have now been booked on federal Espionage Act charges.
A brand new Guardian story clears up the mystery not one damn bit. The Guardian reports that prosecutors were, "within weeks" of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, already "alarmed" by the evidence that Trump had taken some of the most sensitive documents to Bedminster. We can probably take that to mean that the FBI already was aware of the incident in which Trump showed two ghostwriters who'd trekked to Bedminster classified military plans for an Iran strike.
The Justice Department's response? Just weeks after the FBI search found classified documents in Mar-a-Lago, prosecutors requested that Trump's legal team conduct their own search of Bedminster and Trump's other properties. From The Guardian:
Whether to acquiesce with the request split the Trump legal team. Trump in-house counsel Boris Epshteyn and Trump lawyer Chris Kise were uneasy about being ordered around by the government, while the other Trump lawyers Tim Parlatore and Jim Trusty suggested a cooperative approach.
This team of legal schmeagles eventually agreed to the request, and you'll note, not for nothing, that both Parlatore and Trusty are now no longer working on Trump's team, leaving the buffoonish crime magnet Epshteyn more firmly in charge of such things. But the Trump team hired "contractors" to search Bedminster. The contractors dutifully reported that they did not find any classified documents—we do not, of course, know what rooms they were even allowed to look inside—and that of course left the prosecutors "uneasy" since they already had evidence that documents were there. Because, once again for the record, Trump's lawyers had already just tried to get away with lying their asses off about not being able to find classified documents that the FBI then had to go and "find" themselves.
And the Bedminster dodge must have looked, to prosecutors, almost exactly like the Mar-a-Lago dodge Trump and his lawyers had just tried to pull. The Guardian reports that prosecutors asked Trump's legal team for a signature attesting that no such documents were found, via a legal custodian of records, and Trump's legal team refused to provide such a statement. That refusal lead prosecutors to pursue new contempt proceedings.
What didn't happen, though, is what happened at Mar-a-Lago when investigators became quite sure Trump was lying about turning over the classified documents he had instead hidden even from his own lawyers. There was no FBI search of Bedminster, and that remains an even more baffling decision now than it was then.
The absence of classified documents at Bedminster led prosecutors to suspect that Trump treated it like a vacation home, where he took boxes of things away from Mar-a-Lago at the start of the summer, and then returned with all of his things to Mar-a-Lago at the end of the season, the people said.
This is absolute nonsense, and surely even The Guardian's sources know it. Whether or not Trump treats Bedminster as a "vacation home" has nothing to do with whether he might be intentionally hiding even more national security documents there, because Trump is already indicted for hiding classified documents in places even his own lawyers don't have access to. Prosecutors know classified documents were moved to Bedminster. They know that some of the documents they've been looking for are still missing, like the document Trump showed off at Bedminster. They know that whatever Trump's legal team did or didn't do, they were not willing to do what they had just done in Florida: putting a lawyer's signature to a piece of paper attesting that the search had been conducted and that nothing was found.
And the Department of Justice's takeaway from all of that, with nuclear and national security secrets on the line, is to take that Trump team's word for it and conclude that Bedminster was merely a "vacation home," somewhere that Trump might take classified documents to but not someplace he would leave them?
Yeah, that's bullshit. There's definitely some reason that prosecutors are balking at forcibly searching the last known location of national security documents, but it isn't because Boris Epshteyn and the ragged remnants of Trump's legal team have been deemed just so damn trustworthy that such a search is no longer needed. The Trump team undoubtedly haven't done any truly unrestricted search through the property at all. If that team isn't willing to even provide a signature claiming they did, then it's because they themselves know Trump might have squirreled things away in places their team wasn't allowed to look.
The biggest mystery of Trump's indictment remains, then. There's been no search of Trump's other properties for the missing documents, and no restrictions on Trump that might keep him from spiriting off still-hidden documents to new hiding places. Despite Trump owning his own private 757 and being a known brownnoser of numerous anti-American regimes worldwide that would be quite happy to host him in exchange for things, prosecutors aren't even willing to concede that the orchestrator of an attempted coup might indeed be a flight risk.
That's not how other people indicted for Espionage Act crimes get treated. There are national security secrets on the line, Trump has already been indicted for obstructing the government's efforts to get them back, he's booked and is awaiting trial, and the Justice Department is still giving such broad deference to Trump that they're not willing to pursue the most obvious leads as to where still-missing documents might be.
The very worst explanation is also the most likely one. A recent story from The Washington Post described a culture of near-cowardice inside the Justice Department that left Trump's role in attempting an overthrow of our elected government largely uninvestigated for over a year while DOJ leadership instead insisted on a bottom-up approach that would see individual Jan. 6 insurrectionists charged for violence while, for the most part, evading the investigation of how all those seditionist conspirators happened to be there in the first place. We've already seen the same reluctance in the ploddingly timid investigation into Trump storing nuclear secrets in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom and publicly accessible storage closet. The short of it is that the Justice Department bent over backwards to avoid investigating Trump's role in either case until Trump was caught doing something so all-encompassingly stupid that there was no way to not prosecute him.
The man was caught hiding classified national security documents from the government and his own lawyers, for no better reason than he wanted to keep and use them as he saw fit. It's the sort of thick-headed stupidity that Trump is both famous for and that even the most gutless of federal appointees can't plausibly pretend not to see, and so here we are.
There may be some slightly more legitimate reason why the FBI hasn't searched Bedminster and Trump Tower even after Trump got himself indicted for hiding classified national security secrets in various places around his own property. Perhaps every room in Bedminster has been bugged for a year now thanks to a counterespionage operation we don't know about, and listening FBI agents know damn well what has or hasn't happened there. Perhaps the FBI has security camera footage of Trump's comings and goings, enough to have actually counted the boxes going in and going out to make sure they match. Perhaps there's somebody or multiple somebodies who have been working with the FBI this whole time, multiple low-level rats who have been absolutely giddy about selling out their abusive crooked boss, and the FBI trusts them even if nobody trusts Trump's legal team any farther than they can throw them.
But all of those are still very weak reasons for not searching a location in which you already know your Espionage Act-indicted perp has stashed classified documents in the past. Not conducting the search has been a massive hole in the investigation since the day the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago and found what they expected to find, and there hasn't been a single truly plausible explanation for why investigators aren't covering that gap.
The notion that indicted criminals don't get their "vacation homes" searched, though? That's complete nonsense and everybody knows it. There's going to have to be a better explanation than that.
Trump showed off secret Iran attack plans inside Bedminster resort
Prosecutors don't consider Trump, the coup-attempting friend of world dictators, a 'flight risk'
The Iran document Trump talked about on tape is missing
Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is North Carolina Rep. Wiley Nickel, the first member of Congress to appear on the show! Nickel gives us the blow-by-blow of his unlikely victory that saw him flip an extremely competitive seat from red to blue last year, including how he adjusted when a new map gave him a very different district and why highlighting the extremism of his MAGA-flavored opponent was key to his success. A true election nerd, Nickel tells us which precincts he was tracking on election night that let him know he was going to win—and which fellow House freshman is the one you want to rock out with at a concert.