Understanding the Mar-a-Lago warrant: Yahoo News Explains

On Friday, the Department of Justice unsealed the warrant associated with the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home earlier in the week. The records reveal that the FBI recovered numerous classified documents from the Mar-a-Lago estate and indicated that the former president is under investigation for several potential crimes, including possible violations of the Espionage Act. Kel B. McClanahan, head of the nonprofit public law firm National Security Counselors, explains what the warrant means — and why some defenses may not hold water.

Video Transcript

- The Mar-a-Lago search warrant has been unsealed.

- The records reveal that the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified records, including some documents labeled top secret.

KEL MCCLANAHAN: There are three levels of classification-- confidential, secret, and top secret. And each one is based on the damage that the release of the information would do to national security. And top secret is exceptionally grave damage. SCI, or sensitive compartmented information, is a step beyond that. So if you're TS, top secret, SCI, that means that not only will it cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security, but only certain people can see it.

- The former president is under investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act and possible obstruction of justice charges.

KEL MCCLANAHAN: I mean, these are felonies. These are severe felonies. The Espionage Act is what we prosecute spies under. It's what we prosecute leakers under when they leak sensitive and classified information to the media.

- What's important about this is that they're using specific laws that could inoculate their investigation from what we expect to be the surefire Donald Trump defense, which is I declassified everything. I-- you know, by saying so, I automatically declassified things.

- This is from President Trump's office. It just came in a few minutes ago. As we can all relate to, everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time. American presidents are no different. President Trump, in order to prepare the work for the next day, often took documents, including classified documents, to the residence. He had a standing order-- there's the word I've been looking for-- that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them.

KEL MCCLANAHAN: Even if he did wave his wand and declassify everything and then just hadn't gotten around to changing the markings on it, that doesn't change his legal liability because the Espionage Act does not require that the information be classified. It requires that it be related to the national defense, whether it's classified or not.

- The idea that a president would simply bring some work home from the office and just keep it in a basement in a golf club in Florida is really kind of ludicrous.

KEL MCCLANAHAN: As wealthy as he is and as secure as I'm sure he has made his home, as a very important person who used to be president, his home is not the White House or CIA headquarters or someplace like that that is protected not only against someone coming in with a gun, but someone using a high-tech laser surveillance system to look at documents through walls. That's why these things are kept where they're kept.

I think that if this were anybody not named Trump, they would already be indicted. There would be a grand jury convened today based on the results of this search. The only consideration that is stopping that, in my opinion, is the fact that it is Donald Trump and that he is the former president and that he will rile up a significant portion of the population and the Congress if he is arrested. You know, this is a man who clearly had no concept of records belonging to the people and the government, and not him.