There’s a reason why hoarding classified documents is a crime

The National Archives and the Department of Justice gave too much deference to Trump and for far too long.

If someone had told me during my FBI career that I would eventually spend five years on national television explaining the complexities of foreign counterintelligence and violent domestic terrorism, I’d have wondered “Why?” If they had said I’d be doing so because of the actions of one individual, I’d have wondered “Who?” Those questions were long ago answered. Now, since the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, and the supporting affidavit has been released, I’m being asked to explain the subtleties of document classification, which has many Americans asking “What?” As in, what do the government’s various classification labels mean, and what is at stake if there are boxes of highly classified documents stored in an unauthorized place by an unauthorized person?

We’ve learned that months before the Mar-a-Lago search, in the January transfer of documents from Donald Trump’s golf resort to the National Archives, 150 classified documents were recovered. Those documents contained about 700 pages of classified information, including “special access program” data. We also know that after a subsequent recovery and the FBI search, the total number of classified documents rose to 300. After the search, FBI agents handed a list – called a “return” – to a Trump attorney, documenting the nature of the seized items. That return revealed seizure of four sets of Top Secret documents, three sets of Secret documents and three sets of Confidential documents. Importantly, FBI agents noted that they found documents marked “Sensitive Compartmented Information” or SCI. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, The Washington Post reported that FBI agents during the Mar-a-Lago search were looking for nuclear secrets.