Experts are sounding the alarm about the danger of leaving classified and even top-secret U.S. government documents unattended and unprotected at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and golf resort — for months.
The sensitive papers could have been accessed by club members, staff and scores of unscreened guests at wedding receptions, parties and fundraisers — at least until they were ordered locked up in June by U.S. officials.
Some of the retrieved boxes of information that all legally should have been held by the National Archives and Records Administration since Trump left office were reportedly kept in a storage room near a club pool regularly used for club events.
In 2019, when security was far stricter during Trump’s presidency, a Chinese national loaded down with several phones and other electronic equipment was arrested at the club. She bypassed security by saying she was going to the pool.
“Just the retention of highly classified documents in improper storage — particularly given Mar-a-Lago [with] the foreign visitors there and others who might have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents — creates a significant national security threat,” former Department of Justice official Mary McCord told Reuters.
A former U.S. intelligence officer told the wire service: “It’s a nightmarish environment for a careful handling of highly classified information. It’s just a nightmare.”
FBI agents on Monday removed 20 boxes of documents with 11 sets of classified information and some top-secret information from Mar-a-Lago, according to the warrant and property receipt used by the FBI to conduct the search.
The top-secret information is supposed to be held only in a secure government facility. The Washington Post reported that some of the classified documents involved information about nuclear weapons, which was a key reason for the urgent search.
In light of his cache of government documents, Trump is under investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, which prohibits Americans from spying or mishandling defense information, including sharing it with those not authorized to receive it, according to the warrant.
Trump has a reputation for being sloppy about handling sensitive information. He blurted out highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a meeting in the Oval Office early in his presidency.
U.S. officials told The Washington Post that Trump’s disclosure jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
Trump also examined intelligence reports and openly discussed a response to a reported North Korean missile test while dining outdoors at Mar-a-Lago with Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2017 — while fans used their cellphones to take photos
“What we saw was Trump be so lax in security that he was having a sensitive meeting regarding a potential war topic where non-U.S. government personnel could observe and photograph,” Mark Zaid, a lawyer who specializes in national security cases, told Reuters. “It would have been easy for someone to also have had a device that heard and recorded what Trump was saying as well.”
Trump’s former White House chief of staff John Kelly told The Washington Post in an article Saturday that Trump was disdainful of the system of classified security secrets.
“His sense was that the people who are in the intel business are incompetent, and he knew better,” Kelly said. “He didn’t believe in the classification system.”