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Judge unseals the warrant the FBI used to search Trump's Florida residence

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A judge has unsealed the warrant that the FBI used to search the property of former President Trump. Now, the unprecedented search at the Mar-a-Lago resort on Monday has been shrouded in mystery. And now we know a little bit more about what the Justice Department collected. To talk more about that, we're joined now by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who has been closely following this story. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so first things first. What do these new documents tell us about the basis - the legal basis for the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago?

JOHNSON: Sure. We have a set of documents now. First, we have the search warrant, which was approved by a judge who found that probable cause - there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. And the second thing we have is a property receipt. That's kind of a list of things the FBI seized from former President Trump's office and basement in Florida this week. The FBI wrote that it took documents at top-secret level. That's a very high level of classification. They also took a grant of clemency to Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to former President Trump, and some information about the president of France. Federal agents also took other secret papers and a binder of photos but nothing much more specific than that.

CHANG: OK. And to be very clear here, Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But holding onto classified documents is against the law, right, Carrie?

JOHNSON: There are a number of criminal statutes that could come into play here that were mentioned in these court documents, including laws against obstructing federal investigations, another law that makes it a crime to conceal, remove or mutilate government documents. And there's also a section of the Espionage Act that involves gathering, transmitting or losing sensitive information related to the national defense. But to stress here, there's no criminal case against the former president right now. And indicting a former president would be an enormous step for the justice system and for the whole country.

CHANG: Absolutely. OK. Now, I know there's a whole lot more that remains under seal, including an affidavit that would explain why the Justice Department decided to take action. When do you think we might see that affidavit?

JOHNSON: Yeah, hard to say right now. A number of media organizations have asked the court to release that affidavit, which would explain the reason why the FBI thought there was probable cause and thought they would find that evidence at Mar-a-Lago. In typical cases, the public doesn't see this kind of stuff until someone's charged with a crime and then is then challenging the basis for the search.

CHANG: Right.

JOHNSON: But at this stage, the DOJ doesn't usually say anything. Attorney General Merrick Garland explained why this case is different in a short statement on Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERRICK GARLAND: The department filed the motion to make public the warrant and receipt in light of the former president's public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances and the substantial public interest in this matter.

JOHNSON: Attorney General Garland asked the judge to make these pages public, and Trump did not object, which is why we're seeing them now.

CHANG: Right. OK. And just catch us up. What has Trump been saying about this search so far?

JOHNSON: Trump's been all over the map this week. First, he claimed, without evidence, the FBI had planted evidence in Florida. And then he posted on social media the idea of this whole matter is a hoax, like the probe of Russian election interference in 2016, which was not a hoax. And earlier today Trump said former President Obama took materials when he left the White House, and Trump alleged some of those documents were classified. That prompted the National Archives to put out a statement refuting those claims. The archive says it worked closely with Obama and has millions of pages of documents and more classified documents, but none of them are in Obama's control. They're all under the archive's control, unlike these materials found at Mar-a-Lago this week.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.