Press "Enter" to skip to content

Serious Threat to National Security: Trump Document Stash May Have Violated Espionage Act

According to the search warrant and inventory released by the Department of Justice yesterday, the FBI removed 11 sets of classified documents from Donald Trump’s Florida resort on Monday. Far from the political attack Trumpists alleged was taking place, it appears the FBI was acting to prevent documents with the most sensitive information imaginable from falling into the wrong hands and facilitating an attack on our national security:

The documents, unsealed after the Justice Department sought their public disclosure amid relentless attacks by Trump and his GOP allies, underscore the extraordinary national security threat that federal investigators believed the missing documents presented. The concern grew so acute that Attorney General Merrick Garland approved the unprecedented search of Trump’s estate last week [Betsy Woodruff Swan, Kyle Cheney, and Nicholas Wu, “FBI Search Warrant Shows Trump Under Investigation for Potential Obstruction of Justice and Espionage Act Violations,” Politico, 2022.08.12].


There are three primary levels of classification for sensitive government materials: Top secret, secret and confidential.

“Top secret” is the highest level, reserved for the most closely held US national security information. Such documents usually are kept in special government facilities because disclosure could gravely damage national security.

FBI agents on Monday collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, it was disclosed on Friday. Agents were revealed to have collected a set of documents labeled “classified/TS/SCI documents,” a reference to top secret and sensitive compartmented material [“FBI Seized Top Secret Documents at Trump’s Home; Espionage Act Cited,” Euractiv and Reuters, 2022.08.12].

The FBI acted and a judge approved this action out of concern that the improper handling of these sensitive documents violates the Espionage Act. Had Trump been showing off these purloined papers and pictures to visitors at Mar-a-Lago, he would literally have been betraying his country, like spies we’ve put to death:

“These are serious crimes,” Barbara McQuade, the former top federal prosecutor in Detroit, told VICE News on Friday. “The Espionage Act can be violated in a number of ways, with prison ranging from no prison time to death, depending on the nature of the information and the person’s intent. This was the statute used to prosecute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were put to death for giving secrets to the Soviets.”

The World War I-era Espionage Act has been used to go after leakers of classified information, and it was used to target Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a large batch of files about secret U.S. surveillance programs and then fled to Russia. The law applies both to actual spies and also to government employees who disseminate documents they’re not supposed to.

“In layman’s terms, the Department of Justice is alleging that Donald Trump is a traitor,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia who has worked on national security issues. “They proved probable cause to the satisfaction of a judge that Donald Trump was going to use this top-secret classified information to harm the United States” [Greg Walters, “Trump Is Being Investigated for Potentially Violating the Espionage Act,” Vice, 2022.08.12].

No, this is no joke, and it is no political game. We are talking about the once-highest government official violating in perhaps the gravest way his oath to protect the country:

Prosecutors said they were searching for evidence of violations of three specific federal criminal laws: 18 USC 793, which is part of the Espionage Act and makes it a crime to remove or misuse information related to national defense; 18 USC 2071, which makes it a crime to hide, damage, or destroy government records; and 18 USC 1519, which makes it a crime to falsify, destroy, or cover up records to obstruct or interfere with a federal investigation or “proper administration of any matter” under the jurisdiction of an agency.

Ryan Goodman, professor of law at New York University, said that the Espionage Act is the “most serious federal offense anyone can imagine.” There are limits to what the president can do unilaterally and this “signals an order of magnitude even above what the president can do alone,” said Goodman.

“It raises the stakes enormously in terms of the pending criminal investigation,” he said [Zoe Tillman, Mark Niquette, and Mario Parker, “Trump’s Seized Documents Point to Probe into Handling of Secrets,” Bloomberg Law, 2022.08.12].

In what seems to further demonstrate Trump’s disregard for the danger posed by mishandling sensitive information, Trump appears to have released an unredacted copy of the search warrant to Brietbart, which published the document with the names of the FBI agents who executed the search warrant, thus subjecting those agents to threats from rabid Trump backers. The FBI removed those agents’ names from the warrant it released.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-08-13 07:19

    It’s impossible the Obama Administration didn’t know Donald Trump was being installed through a vast white wing conspiracy. But the Speaker of the House doesn’t need to be an incumbent member of Congress so if the Republicans regain the House of Representatives they could elect Trump as Speaker then assassinate POTUS Biden and VPOTUS Harris and Trump would become Chief Executive. But unless the whole Trump crime fam-damily abdicates to Saudi Arabia or a Black Sea resort Attorney General Merrick Garland is going to make their lives Hell on Earth.

  2. sx123 2022-08-13 08:07

    I’m still sticking with my “how is this even possible” stance.

    It should not be possible for top secret documents to leave a hardened facility without extreme tracking and protocol; or the documents weren’t that top secret; or the documents aren’t really top secret anymore; or we have a much deeper problem with national security that needs to be fixed.

  3. Donald Pay 2022-08-13 08:56

    How is this even possible? Well, the how is pretty easy to figure out. If you elect a criminal as president all of the laws and norms that all of us law-abiding folks follow go out the window. Also part of the “how” is who did the heavy lifting. I can’t envision that Trump would get his tiny hands dirty purloining secrets, packing them into boxes and carrying the boxes down to the U-Haul. I’m sure he had his crime family involved. I suspect the Justice Department investigation will dig deeply into exactly how this happened, and put all the perps in prison. Maybe they have a few of them squealing.

    It’s the “why” that I want to know. Was Trump selling or trying to sell the secrets to Putin or the Saudis or whoever would pay the highest price? For all we know he’s already farmed out some of the secret documents, or copies of them.

  4. O 2022-08-13 09:18

    sx123, we DO have a much deeper problem with our national security: we elected a person who has NO regard for the rule of law and sees himself above the law. Trump apologists continue to point to the system and claim that it must be broken in some way to explain the out-of-the-norm (if not criminal) actions of Donald Trump when in fact the answer is now and always has been that you elevated a narcissist to the highest office in the nation and seem surprised by the results of that.

    There should have been an armed guard at the gate when Trump’s moving truck was leaving with these documents in the first place. That was the lapse in security — treating this man as anything more than a common shoplifter as he left office.

  5. RST Tribal Member 2022-08-13 09:50

    RINO Thune and No Where Around Rounds backed this guy twice in the removal process of impeachment. Irrelevant Johnson was quick to vote against impeachment following the party of ineptness and inbreeding without regards to country or Constitution. Grabbing female for his own pleasure was ok. Running the country like a mafia Donnie was ok.

    Now explain how holding secret country harming documents is ok. Look long and hard at the Fox News talking points for that 1 nugget of sensibility. Most inept inbred Republicans will talk and talk hoping a justification comes out of noise maker.

    Inept inbred Republicans are out on the loose in SD and DC. Most are still on the visitor’s list to see their god almighty leader to get themselves re-elected. There is a slim change of hope come November… very slim.

  6. leslie 2022-08-13 09:53

    sx, come on! Squirming like a worm on a hook, you now say there might be a:

    “deeper problem with national security that needs to be fixed.”

    Imagine getting rid of Trump and crass Republican leaders! That is a start in this fix you seek!

    “Nothing to kill or die for

    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man

    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world”

    Remember when McConnell prevented 2016 voters from knowing Russia was hacking the election for the boy you are defending? When he packed SCOTUS?

    Very likely the Jan 6 Commission will produce the solution despite the propaganda you are pushing.

    Perhaps you should wait until we have all the facts. Until then, STFU, as a courageous Federal Judge once said!

  7. Alan F 2022-08-13 11:21

    Lock Him Up.

  8. 96Tears 2022-08-13 12:12

    I understand where sx is coming from. And to learn the lesson taught to idiots/felon protectors Rounds, Thune and Noem this week, be careful about jumping to conclusions beyond the citing of the three federal statutes in the warrant. I agree that Trump did not act alone. When you consider that he spent a lot of quality time with criminals Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone, and maintained the business relationships with felon Paul Manafort and felon Steve Bannon, there are plenty of people actively involved with motives and knowledge on how to steal “classified/TS/SCI documents” and make sure the wrong people obtain copies. How they got to Mar-A-Lago isn’t that much of a mystery.

    The Trump White House was the definition of the Upside Down World. If Trump didn’t get what he wanted from people, he fired them and berated them hard enough and long enough that staff got used to ignoring protocols and principles to satisfy Trump’s urges. Consider, also, what we’ve learned about the widespread disappearance of Secret Service data, Trump had plenty of helpers to get what he and his fellow thugs wanted.

    One thing is clear. Donald Trump doesn’t read and is completely incurious about documents unless they have monetary or political power attached to them. Otherwise, what possible value would Trump have for 15 boxes of classified materials? I think Team Garland knows the answers and all will soon enough be revealed. Garland has played his cards like a true master, but he has now revealed that the primary focus of the search is Trump and his inner circle of jet-setting thugs. I’m guessing he has a grand jury lined up and we will see indictments by Labor Day.

    Exciting times.

  9. W R Old Guy 2022-08-13 12:15

    I am a retired member of the military whose job required me to have a “Secret” security clearance.

    Classified materials must be logged out of and into their respective storage areas. The log contains the date, time and person dispensing the materials as well as the recipient of the materials. The process is reversed when the materials are returned.

    I suspect the investigation is also looking for the logs and the the people named in the logs. Somewhere the process of protecting the materials was bypassed. I’ll bet there are more revelations coming.

  10. John 2022-08-13 12:37

    sx123, or is it Doubting Thomas?
    When folks work daily, hourly with highly classified information and documents they can exhibit the human tendency to become blase’ about the documents and their classification. A former, early trump White House staffer recalled on a Friday news interview, that she found a highly classified document in a woman’s bathroom in the White House – with no one else in the room. She recoiled, then returned the document to a security officer. Her other point was that in the trump White House, much of the staff followed trump’s example of being loose with classifications and classified documents. It’s highly probable, more likely than not, that all the worst inferences of espionage will be true beyond a reasonable doubt. What other president buddied up to Putin, Orban, Xi, Kim Jong-un, or made gobs of money off the US government while pretending to act like the US president?

    I had jobs whereby I was surrounded by classified documents the entire work day for months on end, for the duration of the job. Fortunately, I never worked in DC.

    The record of the trump White House is one of being loosely run, to be charitable.

  11. Francis Schaffer 2022-08-13 14:47

    Is it likely there was a secure room for documents at mar lago during his presidency and he failed to return
    all the documents when his term ended? I would have to believe the law states a private citizen may not have certain documents and if that private citizen has said documents that person will be arrested and tried. I also firmly believe that none of this was accidental or inadvertent. Certainly a violation of the oath of office. He certainly had enablers in this misadventure.

  12. O 2022-08-13 15:24

    Francis, I remember reports, pictures showing President Trump viewing classified documents at Mar Lago within view of foreign leaders — certainly not in secure rooms.

    Trump did not pack his own boxes. Again, he is the useful idiot. Trump is the circus tent that the (yet undisclosed) brains of the outfit used to get documents out of the White House. This MAY (buy not necessary will) also be the convenient fall guy (or line of fall guys) that we will soon hear Trump wailing about to save his own skin. None of that absolves Trump of responsibility or accountability.

  13. mike from iowa 2022-08-13 15:56

    Francis- By David A. Fahrenthold and
    Karen DeYoungFebruary 13, 2017
    It was Saturday night, and Palm Beach’s tony Mar-a-Lago Club was packed. There was a wedding reception in the ballroom. There was a full house for dinner on the terrace.

    And at one table on the terrace, there was the president and the leader of a major U.S. ally, hashing out a national security problem in the open air.

    “Someone opened up a laptop, and at the table . . . a group of Japanese people stood around the prime minister and Donald, and they were all looking at the laptop,” said Jay Weitzman, a member of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and founder of the Pennsylvania-based parking management company Park America. He was sitting three tables away from Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday evening.

  14. mike from iowa 2022-08-13 16:01

    Leave us not forget drumpf pointed out and identiufied the military man assigned the nukular football, containing launch codes to his guests at drumpf dump South, aka mara whatever the heck it is.

  15. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-13 16:34

    No doubt a felony, at least one, which puts everyone in national politics in some jeopardy. It is unprecedented to charge an ex-President with a felony for a deed done in office or in the transition period yet it is obvious, combining this situation with the January 6 Riot, that Trump can be charged with a raft of felonies. The Republican Party, almost to a person, is standing on it’s head to defend him. If he is charged by the Democrats, it sets up many Congressional “now or never” elections for the Republicans and Democrats. The 2024 election is fraught with danger, should Trump be renominated. If Biden is nominated we have an 80 plus year old candidate with visible health problems against a 78 year old candidate under indictment assuming he can go 2 years without going to court and receiving a guilty verdict. The Democrat alternative is a talented African American-Asian woman. 2024 will be the most controversial campaign since Wilson-Taft-or Teddy in 1912 or the four way race won by Lincoln in 1860.

  16. P. Aitch 2022-08-13 20:46

    Don Trump isn’t unique by any account. Someone who’s been in trouble with the law all his life and seems to demand it. Hmmm …
    – Histrionic personality disorder is characterized by constant attention-seeking, emotional overreaction, and seductive behavior. People with this condition tend to overdramatize situations, which may impair relationships and lead to depression.

  17. jerry 2022-08-14 05:17

    Traitor trump has had lots of help including traitor Thune, the spy who went to Russia on the 4th of July along with several other traitors. Lock them up and ship them to Gitmo.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-14 07:28

    SX, there may indeed be deeper security problems to be fixed. Trump has demonstrated that we have to watch out for an outgoing President who might endanger national security out of his own childish desire to keep really cool souvenirs.

    But the fact that we may not have taken enough steps to prevent a crime does not change the fact that Donald Trump committed a grave crime, that we need to act immediately to prevent damage from that crime, and that we need to prosecute Trump for that crime. Even if the cops were asleep, Trump should still go to prison for stealing the donuts.

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-14 07:31

    O, good point about the packers. Given his short attention span, it seems reasonable for the FBI to inquire about accomplices. Given the sensitivity of the documents in question, it seems absolutely necessary to find out who all touched or saw those documents. I’m sure the FBI closely documented every agent involved in the search for and removal, transportation, and filing of those documents back at HQ.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-14 07:44

    Like John and WROG, I’ve worked with sensitive documents. Education records are protected by federal law. When I was working with student transcripts, if people came into my office, I would flip or cover paper transcripts on my desk and close or hide windows on my computer to make sure people didn’t catch an unauthorized glimpse of student info. If was doing a video call, I made sure the computer screen behind me wasn’t showing any student data. This wasn’t even national security data; in many cases, letting slip the fact that Suzie got a D in Religion last fall might not matter to anyone, even to Suzie (Yeah, says Suzie with a sheepish grin, I spent time with beer than books that semester). But letting that information slip could have led to action against my job and my employer.

    Excusing Donald Trump’s endangerment of national security ignores the sort of basic accountability expected of lots of us working folks in our daily occupations.

  21. Donald Pay 2022-08-14 09:43

    Cory, I, too, have worked with federally protected information of clients under HIPAA. We had annual training on our duty to protect client privacy and under what conditions information can be disclosed to others. We were tested on our understanding of these requirements. I have to assume such training or briefing has to be the case for the kind of state secrets that Trump was accused of handling. There is no excuse for Trump’s illegal behavior.

  22. OldtimerDon 2022-08-14 16:10

    Hopefully, before 2024 election starts, Congress and the courts will make a lot of decisions. The only good thing what DJT, his cronies and has done is make responsible folks painfully aware of how this country has depended on “norms” to function as a republic has been a mistake. Perhaps we should be thanking them.
    College professors once administered tests on the “honor” system. Those same professors, sadly, learned that there is a small percentage of people who will cheat. I recall an experiment that as conducted. Put a five dollar bill on on the table in an unattended area and it will soon disappear. People like Trump are part of that minority. We are devolving into minority control. If you like that feeling, then there is no need of reading the remainder of my missive.
    Many movies and TV shows made dishonesty and cheating the norm and getting caught the crime. Our society somehow has lost the norms and values that made our experiment a real success. Unfortunately, greed and avarice are prevalent in many of our religious and educational institutions. Politics has been well known to bring those tendencies out.

    Where am I going with this–Take the money out of politics and elect people on the basis of desire to serve, Change the way elections are funded. Change term definitions, including the court system. As of today I am 77 years old and still fairly functional. Am I as productive as I was 10 years ago–nope (define productive I guess) . Can I think as clearly and effectively as I once did–yes-slower and more thoughtful , but with with greater clarity with the added benefit of wisdom and experience.
    Perhaps before holding a high office (state/ federal for sure) , those people need to pass a series of tests, ranging from mental and physical health, intelligence, character and general fitness for the vocation. Many of the most successful organizations in the world do this–why not do it in the worlds most powerful democracy?
    Yes, it may seem a bit wacky, just think about it.

  23. jerry 2022-08-15 04:41

    Why did traitor trump have these in the first place at his house? They are not his property, never was.

  24. leslie 2022-08-15 08:22

    The FBI and the judge who signed the warrant have been deluged with threats from Trump supporters. These people aren’t acting like maniacs because they want to make sure Trump has a box of valuable information he could sell on the black market. They are telling themselves a story about how Trump is some great MAGA hero that is being persecuted by the deep state. The QAnon folks are clinging to this bizarre hope that Trump is about to expose an international pedophilia ring and that’s why the FBI is going after him. Some of these people know that their cause is fascist. Some are just delusional. But none of them are facing up to the fact that the number one “cause” that Trump is using them to protect is his own sorry ass. Trump wants what he wants, often for petty and selfish reasons, and doesn’t care how many of his followers he has to feed into the gunfire to get his way.

    Amanda Marcotte, Salon 8.12.22

  25. John 2022-08-16 07:36

    Peter Wehner wrote, “Now They’re Calling for Violence” – yes, the former law and order party is now the cult of trump.
    Rightwing nut politician after politician is debasing US law enforcement and US institutions on behalf of a serial liar and conman. Apparently all in the “hope” that there is something in it for them. Bluntly, trump, noem, thune, rounds, johnson, and the rest of them ought to move to Moscow.

    “If political violence comes, the Republican Party will be its authors and finishers. In his 1838 Young Men’s Lyceum speech, in which he warned about mob violence and people who disrespected America’s laws and courts, Abraham Lincoln said, “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Today it is Lincoln’s party that wants America to die by suicide.”

  26. BobJ 2022-09-02 08:59

    Elect a criminal to the highest office in the land: expect criminal activity.
    I’m actually amazed at how easily and thoroughly Trump corrupted every agency in the government.
    I am amazed at how many formerly respected government officials, were so easily and completely corrupted by this inept con man.
    I am amazed at how many people were convinced to throw their own integrity and career away for this despot.
    I am amazed at how close they came to over throwing the government in a coup, for this con man.
    I am amazed he is not locked up and scheduled for execution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.