The seizure of secret US government documents from Donald Trump’s sprawling Mar-a-Lago retreat highlights ongoing national security concerns about the former president and the house he dubbed the Winter White House, some security experts say.
Trump is under investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it unlawful to spy for another country or to mishandle US defense information, including giving it to people who are not authorized to receive it, a search warrant shows .
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As President, Trump sometimes shared information, regardless of sensitivity. Earlier in his presidency, he spontaneously gave top-secret information to the Russian foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation while he was in the Oval Office, US officials said at the time. But it was in Mar-a-Lago, where well-heeled members and guests attended weddings and benefit dinners and lounged on a breezy seafront terrace, that US intelligence seemed particularly vulnerable.
The Secret Service said when Trump was president that he didn’t control who gets access to the club, but did physical screening to make sure nobody was bringing in prohibited items and further screening for guests close to the president and other beneficiaries.
The Justice Department search warrant raises national security concerns, said former DOJ officer Mary McCord.
“Obviously they were very serious about getting these materials back into secure space,” McCord said. “Even the mere keeping of top-secret documents in improper custody — particularly in light of Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there and others who may have ties to foreign governments and foreign agents — poses a significant threat to national security.”
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Trump said in a statement on his social media platform the recordings were “all declassified” and “kept secure.”
However, McCord said she sees no “plausible argument that with each of them he made a conscious decision to release them before leaving”. After leaving office, she said, he did not have the authority to release information.
FBI agents Monday’s seizure of multiple sets of documents and dozens of boxes, including information about US defenses and a reference to the “French President,” poses a scary scenario for intelligence experts.
“It’s a nightmarish environment for the careful handling of top secret information,” said a former US intelligence officer. “It’s just a nightmare.”
The DOJ has not provided specific information about how or where the documents and photos were stored, but the club’s general vulnerabilities have been well documented.
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In a high-profile example in 2017, Trump huddled around an outdoor dining table with Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while guests hovered nearby, listening and snapping photos they later posted to Twitter.
The dinner was interrupted by a North Korean missile test, and guests listened while Trump and Abe considered how to respond. After Trump made a statement, he stopped by at a wedding reception at the club.
“What we saw was that Trump was so lax about security that he had a sensitive meeting on a potential war issue where non-US government personnel could observe and take pictures,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney who is specializes in national security cases. “It would have been easy for someone to also have a device that heard and recorded what Trump said.”
White House press secretary at the time of Abe’s visit, Sean Spicer, later told reporters that Trump was briefed on the North Korean launch in a safe room in Mar-a-Lago. He downplayed the scene on the patio.
“At that time, apparently, a photo was taken where everyone jumped to conclusions about what should and shouldn’t be discussed. There was just a discussion about the press logistics of where the event should be held,” he said.
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It was in the Mar-a-Lago security room where, in April 2017, Trump decided to launch airstrikes against Syria over the use of chemical weapons.
After the decision was made, Trump headed out to dinner with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Over a chocolate cake dessert, Trump briefed Xi on the airstrikes.
In 2019, a Chinese woman who passed through the club’s security checkpoints with a USB stick encoded with “malicious” software was arrested for entering a restricted property and providing false information to officials, authorities said at the time.
Then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attempted to try to limit access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but efforts foundered when Trump refused to cooperate, aides said at the time.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Heather Timmons, William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)
https://globalnews.ca/news/9058394/trump-mar-a-lago-classified-documents-security/ Secret documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago raise security concerns: experts – National