An investigation into the origins of the FBI's probe into ties between Russia and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign has finally been concluded, with the prosecutor leading the inquiry submitting a much-awaited report that found major flaws. The report, the culmination of a four-year investigation into possible misconduct by U.S. government officials, contained withering criticism of the FBI but few significant revelations. Nonetheless, it will give fodder to Trump supporters who have long denounced the Russia investigation, as well as Trump opponents who say the Durham team's meager court record shows their probe was a politically motivated farce. Also Read: Jury finds Trump liable for sexual abuse, awards accuser $5M A look at the investigation and the report: WHO IS JOHN DURHAM? Durham has spent decades as a Justice Department prosecutor, with past assignments including investigations into the FBI's cozy relationship with mobsters in Boston and the CIA's destruction of videotapes of its harsh interrogations of terrorism subjects. He was appointed in 2019 to investigate potential misconduct by U.S. government officials as they examined Russian election interference in 2016 and whether there was any illegal coordination between the Kremlin and Trump's presidential campaign. Despite skimpy results — one guilty plea and two acquittals — that failed to live up to Trump's expectations, Durham was able to continue his work well into the Biden administration, thanks in part to William Barr appointing Durham as a Justice Department special counsel shortly before Barr's 2020 resignation as attorney general. WHY DID THE TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT THINK SUCH AN APPOINTMENT WAS NECESSARY? The appointment came weeks after a different special counsel, Robert Mueller, wrapped up his investigation of possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. That probe produced more than two dozen criminal cases, including against a half-dozen Trump associates. Though it did not charge any Trump aide with working with Russia to tip the election, it did find that Russia interfered on Trump's behalf and that the campaign welcomed, rather than discouraged, the help. From the start, Barr was deeply skeptical of the investigation's foundation, telling Congress that “spying did occur” on the campaign. He enlisted an outside prosecutor to hunt for potential misconduct at the government agencies who were involved in collecting intelligence and conducting the investigation, even flying with Durham to Italy to meet with officials there as part of the probe. WERE THERE PROBLEMS WITH THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION? Yes, and a Justice Department inspector general inquiry already identified many. The watchdog report found that FBI applications for warrants to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, contained significant errors and omitted information that would likely have weakened or undermined the premise of the application. The cumulative effect of those errors, the report said, was to make it “appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.” Still, the inspector general did not find evidence that investigators acted with political bias and said there was a legitimate basis to open a full investigation into potential collusion, though Durham has disagreed. WHAT CRIMINAL CASES DID HE BRING AND WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME? Durham brought three prosecution during his tenure, but only one resulted in a conviction — and that was for a case referred to him by the Justice Department inspector general. None of the three undid core findings by Mueller that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election in sweeping fashion. A former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty in 2020 to altering an email related to the surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide. He was given probation. But two other cases, both involving alleged false statements to the FBI, resulted in acquittals by jury. Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign, was found not guilty of lying to the FBI during a meeting in which he presented computer data information that he wanted the FBI to investigate. A different jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, a Russian-American analyst, of charges that he lied to the FBI about his role in the creation of a discredited dossier about Trump. WHAT SPECIFICALLY DID DURHAM FIND? Durham found that the FBI acted too hastily and relied on raw and unconfirmed intelligence when it opened the Trump-Russia investigation. He said at the time the probe was opened, the FBI had no information about any actual contact between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials. He also claimed that FBI investigators fell prone to “confirmation bias,” repeatedly ignoring or rationalizing away information that could have undercut the premise of their investigation, and he noted that the FBI failed to corroborate a single substantive allegation from a dossier of research that it relied on during the course of the probe. “An objective and honest assessment of these strands of information should have caused the FBI to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political or other purposes,” the report said, using the FBI's code name for the Trump-Russia probe. “Unfortunately, it did not.” HOW DID THE FBI RESPOND? The FBI pointed out that it had long ago made dozens of corrective actions. Had those measures been in place in 2016, it says, the errors at the center of the report could have been prevented. It also took pains to note that the conduct in the report took place before the current director, Christopher Wray, took the job in fall 2017. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? It didn't take long for Republicans in Congress to react. Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he had invited Durham to testify on Capitol Hill next week. Trump, too, sought to seize on the report, claiming anew in a post on his Truth Social platform that the Durham report had found “the crime of the century” and calling the Russia investigation the “Democrat Hoax.” Though the FBI says it's already taken some steps to address the problems cited in the report, Durham did say it's possible more reform could be needed. One idea, he said, would be to provide additional scrutiny of politically sensitive investigations by identifying an official who would be responsible for challenging the steps taken in a probe. He said his team had considered but did not ultimately recommend steps that would curtail the FBI's investigative authorities, including its use of tools under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to eavesdrop on suspected spies or terrorists.
The court-ordered release of a trove of government photos, videos, maps and other documents involving the FBI's secretive search for Civil War-era gold has a treasure hunter more convinced than ever of a coverup — and just as determined to prove it. Dennis Parada waged a legal battle to force the FBI to turn over records of its excavation in Dents Run, Pennsylvania, where local lore says an 1863 shipment of Union gold disappeared on its way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. The FBI, which went to Dents Run after sophisticated testing suggested tons of gold might be buried there, has long insisted the dig came up empty. Parada and his advisers, who have spent countless hours poring over the newly released government records, believe otherwise. They accuse the FBI of distorting key evidence and improperly withholding records in an apparent effort to conceal the recovery of a historic, extremely valuable gold cache. The FBI defends its handling of the materials. Parada's dispute with the FBI is playing out in federal court, where a judge overseeing the case must decide whether the FBI will have to release its operational plan for the gold dig and other records it wants to keep secret. The judge could also order the FBI to keep looking for additional materials to turn over to the treasure hunter. “We feel we were double-crossed and lied to,” Parada said in an interview at his cramped, wood-paneled office, where huge drill bits and high-end metal detectors compete for space with rusty miners' picks, Civil War-era cannon parts and other odds and ends he's dug up over the years. “The truth will come out,” said Parada, co-founder of the treasure-hunting outfit Finders Keepers. Solving the mystery is not his only goal — he had hoped to earn a finder’s fee from the potential recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold. An FBI spokesperson declined to answer questions about the agency’s gold dig records or respond to the coverup allegations, citing the ongoing litigation. Last year, the FBI released a statement publicly acknowledging for the first time that it had been looking for gold in Dents Run. The statement said the FBI did not find any, adding the agency “continues to unequivocally reject any claims or speculation to the contrary.” There is little evidence in the historical record to suggest that an Army detachment lost a gold shipment in the Pennsylvania wilderness — possibly the result of an ambush by Confederate sympathizers — but the legend has inspired generations of treasure hunters, Parada among them. He and his son spent years looking for the fabled gold of Dents Run, eventually guiding the FBI to a remote woodland site 135 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh where they say their instruments identified a large quantity of metal. The FBI brought in a geophysical consulting firm whose sensitive equipment detected a 7- to 9-ton mass suggestive of gold. Armed with a warrant, a team of FBI agents came in March 2018 to dig up the hillside. An FBI videographer was on hand to document it, at one point interviewing a Philadelphia-based agent on the FBI’s art-crime team who explained why the FBI was in the woods of one of Pennsylvania's most sparsely populated counties. “We’ve identified through our investigation a site that we believe has U.S. property, which includes a significant sum of base metal which is valuable ... particularly gold, maybe silver,” the agent said on the video, his face blurred by the FBI to protect his privacy. Calling it a “155-year-old cold case,” he said the FBI had corroborated Parada’s information about the location of the reputed gold through "scientific testing." He stressed the test results did not prove the presence of gold. Only a dig would help law enforcement “get to the bottom of this story once and for all,” the agent said. Parada obtained the video and other FBI records through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, hoping they would help answer lingering questions about what took place at Dents Run five years ago. Parada was mostly kept away from the dig site while the FBI did its work. He suspects the agency conducted a clandestine, overnight dig between the first and second days of the court-authorized excavation, found the gold, and spirited it away. Residents have previously told of hearing a backhoe and jackhammer overnight — when the dig was supposed to have been paused — and seeing a convoy of FBI vehicles, including large armored trucks. The FBI has denied it conducted an overnight dig. Parada and a consultant, Warren Getler, have focused on a handful of FBI photos and an accompanying photo log that have them questioning the FBI's official gold dig timeline. At issue is the presence or absence of snow in the images and the timing of a storm that briefly disrupted operations. For example, an FBI image that was supposed to have been taken about an hour after the squall does not show any snow on a large, moss-covered boulder at the dig site. That same boulder is snow-covered in a photo that FBI records indicate was taken the next morning — some 15 hours after the storm. They accuse the FBI of altering the sequence of events to conceal an overnight excavation. “We have compelling evidence a night dig took place, and that the FBI went to some large effort to cover up that night dig,” said Getler, co-author of “Rebel Gold,” a book exploring the possibility of buried Civil War-era caches of gold and silver. There are other seeming anomalies in the records, according to Finders Keepers' legal motion. Among them: — The FBI initially turned over hundreds of photos, but rendered them in low-resolution, high-contrast black-and-white, making it impossible to tell the time of day they were taken or even, in some cases, what they show. The treasure hunters went back and requested several dozen of the photos in color, which the FBI provided. — The agency did not provide any video of the second and final day of the dig. Nor did it produce any photos or video showing what the FBI’s own hand-drawn map described as a 30-foot-long, 12-foot-deep trench — which the treasure hunters claim could have only been dug overnight. Government lawyers acknowledged these gaps in the photo and video record but did not elaborate in a court filing last week. — The consulting firm hired by the FBI to assess the possibility of gold produced a report on its findings, but the version given to the treasure hunters seems to be missing key pages. — The FBI did not provide any of its agents' travel and expense invoices, which could shed further light on the dig timeline. The records released so far “cast doubt on the FBI’s claim to have found nothing and raise serious and troubling questions about the FBI’s conduct during the dig and in this litigation, where it has gone to great lengths to distort critical evidence,” Anne Weismann, a lawyer for Finders Keepers, wrote in a legal filing that seeks records, including the FBI’s operational plan, that she says were improperly withheld. The Justice Department did not address the treasure hunters’ most explosive claims of a possible coverup in its latest legal filing. The government instead told a federal judge in Washington, D.C., that the FBI had satisfied its legal obligation to the treasure hunters to search for its records of the dig, and asked for the case to be closed. The judge has yet to rule. Parada said he will keep asking questions until he gets satisfactory answers. “I will stick at this until the end, until I know everything that happened to that gold,” he said. “How much, where it went to, who has it now. I gotta know.”
The FBI searched President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday and located six additional documents containing classified markings and also took possession of some of his notes, the president’s lawyer said Saturday. The president voluntarily allowed the FBI into his home, but the lack of a search warrant did not dim the extraordinary nature of the search. It compounded the embarrassment to Biden that started with the disclosure Jan. 12 that the president’s attorneys had found a “small number” of classified records at a former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington shortly before the midterm elections. Since then, attorneys found six classified documents in Biden’s Wilmington home library from his time as vice president. Though Biden has maintained “ there’s no there there,” the discoveries have become a political liability as he prepares to launch a reelection bid, and they undercut his efforts to portray an image of propriety to the American public after the tumultuous presidency of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Read more: Biden on classified docs discovery: 'There's no there there' The documents taken by the FBI spanned Biden's time in the Senate and the vice presidency, while the notes dated to his time as vice president, said Bob Bauer, the president’s personal lawyer. He added that the search of the entire premises lasted nearly 13 hours. The level of classification, and whether the documents removed by the FBI remained classified, was not immediately clear as the Justice Department reviews the records. “We found a handful of documents were filed in the wrong place,” Biden told reporters Thursday in California. “We immediately turned them over to the Archives and the Justice Department.” Biden added that he was “fully cooperating and looking forward to getting this resolved quickly.” The president and first lady Jill Biden were not at the home when it was searched. They were spending the weekend at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It remains to be seen whether additional searches by federal officials of other locations might be conducted. Biden's personal attorneys previously conducted a search of the Rehoboth Beach residence and said they did not find any official documents or classified records. The Biden investigation has also complicated the Justice Department’s probe into Trump’s retention of classified documents and official records after he left office. The Justice Department says Trump took hundreds of records marked classified with him upon leaving the White House in early 2021 and resisted months of requests to return them to the government, and that it had to obtain a search warrant to retrieve them. Read more: Biden: Americans should 'pay attention' to MLK's legacy Bauer said the FBI requested that the White House not comment on the search before it was conducted, and that Biden's personal and White House attorneys were present. The FBI, he added, “had full access to the President’s home, including personally handwritten notes, files, papers, binders, memorabilia, to-do lists, schedules, and reminders going back decades." The Justice Department, he added, “took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials, some of which were from the President’s service in the Senate and some of which were from his tenure as Vice President." Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed former Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert Hur as a special counsel to investigate any potential wrongdoing surrounding the Biden documents. Hur is set to take over from the Trump-appointed Illinois U.S. Attorney John Lausch in overseeing the probe. “Since the beginning, the President has been committed to handling this responsibly because he takes this seriously,” White House lawyer Richard Sauber said Saturday. “The President’s lawyers and White House Counsel’s Office will continue to cooperate with DOJ and the Special Counsel to help ensure this process is conducted swiftly and efficiently.” The Biden document discoveries and the investigation into Trump, which is in the hands of special counsel Jack Smith, are significantly different. Biden has made a point of cooperating with the DOJ probe at every turn — and Friday's search was voluntary — though questions about his transparency with the public remain. For a crime to have been committed, a person would have to “knowingly remove” the documents without authority and intend to keep them at an “unauthorized location.” Biden has said he was “surprised” that classified documents were uncovered at the Penn Biden Center. Generally, classified documents are to be declassified after a maximum of 25 years. But some records are of such value they remain classified for far longer, though specific exceptions must be granted. Biden served in the Senate from 1973 to 2009.
Fourteen of the 15 boxes recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate early this year contained classified documents, many of them top secret, mixed in with miscellaneous newspapers, magazines and personal correspondence, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday. No space at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was authorized for the storage of classified material, according to the court papers, which laid out the FBI’s rationale for searching the property this month, including “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.” The 32-page affidavit — heavily redacted to protect the safety of witnesses and law enforcement officials and “the integrity of the ongoing investigation” — offers the most detailed description to date of the government records being stored at Mar-a-Lago long after Trump left the White House. It also reveals the gravity of the government’s concerns that the documents were there illegally. The document makes clear how the haphazard retention of top secret government records, and the apparent failure to safeguard them despite months of entreaties from U.S. officials, has exposed Trump to fresh legal peril just as he lays the groundwork for another potential presidential run in 2024. “The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” an FBI agent wrote on the first page of the affidavit. Documents previously made public show that federal agents are investigating potential violations of multiple federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations. Trump has long insisted, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he fully cooperated with government officials. And he has rallied Republicans behind him by painting the search as a politically motivated witch hunt intended to damage his reelection prospects. He repeated that refrain on his social media site Friday, saying he and his representatives had had a close working relationship with the FBI and “GAVE THEM MUCH.” The affidavit does not provide new details about 11 sets of classified records recovered during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago but instead concerns a separate batch of 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved from the home in January. The Archives sent the matter to the Justice Department, indicating in its referral that a review showed “a lot” of classified materials, the affidavit says. The affidavit made the case to a judge that a search of Mar-a-Lago was necessary due to the highly sensitive material found in those 15 boxes. Of 184 documents with classification markings, 25 were at the top secret level, the affidavit says. Some had special markings suggesting they included information from highly sensitive human sources or the collection of electronic “signals” authorized by a special intelligence court. And some of those classified records were mixed with other documents, including newspapers, magazines and miscellaneous print-outs, the affidavit says, citing a letter from the Archives. Douglas London, a former senior CIA officer and author of “The Recruiter,” said this showed Trump’s lack of respect for controls. “One of the rules of classified is you don’t mix classified and unclassified so there’s no mistakes or accidents,” he said. The affidavit shows how agents were authorized to search a large swath of Mar-a-Lago, including Trump’s official post-presidential “45 Office,” storage rooms and all other areas in which boxes or documents could be stored. They did not propose searching areas of the property used or rented by Mar-a-Lago members, such as private guest suites. The FBI submitted the affidavit, or sworn statement, to a judge so it could obtain the warrant to search Trump’s property. Affidavits typically contain vital information about an investigation, with agents spelling out the justification for why they want to search a particular location and why they believe they’re likely to find evidence of a potential crime there. The documents routinely remain sealed during pending investigations. But in an acknowledgment of the extraordinary public interest in the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the department by Friday to make public a redacted version of the affidavit. In a separate document unsealed Friday, Justice Department officials said it was necessary to redact some information to “protect the safety and privacy of a significant number of civilian witnesses, in addition to law enforcement personnel, as well as to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.” The second half of the affidavit is almost entirely redacted, making it impossible to discern the scope of the investigation or where it might be headed. It does not reveal which individuals might be under investigation and it does not resolve core questions, such as why top secret documents were taken to Mar-a-Lago after the president’s term ended even though classified information requires special storage. Trump’s Republican allies in Congress were largely silent Friday as the affidavit emerged, another sign of the GOP’s reluctance to publicly part ways with the former president, whose grip on the party remains strong during the midterm election season. Both parties have demanded more information about the search, with lawmakers seeking briefings from the Justice Department and FBI once Congress returns from summer recess. Though Trump’s spokesman derided the investigation as “all politics,” the affidavit makes clear the FBI search was hardly the first time federal law enforcement had expressed concerns about the records. The Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, for instance, visited Mar-a-Lago last spring to assess how the documents were being stored. Read:Trump CFO’s plea deal could make him a prosecution witness The affidavit includes excerpts from a June 8 letter in which a Justice Department official reminded a Trump lawyer that Mar-a-Lago did not include a secure location authorized to hold classified records. The official requested that the room at the estate where the documents had been stored be secured, and that the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago “be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.” The back-and-forth culminated in the Aug. 8 search in which agents retrieved 11 sets of classified records. The document unsealed Friday also offer insight into arguments the Trump legal team is expected to make. It includes a letter from Trump lawyer M. Evan Corcoran in which he asserts that a president has “absolute authority” to declassify documents and that “presidential actions involving classified documents are not subject to criminal sanction.” Mark Zaid, a longtime national security lawyer who has criticized Trump for his handling of classified information, said the letter was “blatantly wrong” to assert Trump could declassify “anything and everything.” “There are some legal, technical defenses as to certain provisions of the espionage act whether it would apply to the president,” Zaid said. “But some of those provisions make no distinction that would raise a defense.” In addition, the affidavit includes a footnote from the FBI agent who wrote it observing that one of the laws that may have been violated doesn’t even use the term “classified information” but instead criminalizes the unlawful retention of national defense information.
The FBI recovered “top secret” and even more sensitive documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to court papers released Friday after a federal judge unsealed the warrant that authorized the sudden, unprecedented search this week. A property receipt unsealed by the court shows FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from the estate during a search on Monday. The seized records include some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. interests. The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain. The warrant says federal agents were investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations. The property receipt also shows federal agents collected other potential presidential records, including the order pardoning Trump ally Roger Stone, a “leatherbound box of documents,” and information about the “President of France.” A binder of photos, a handwritten note, “miscellaneous secret documents” and “miscellaneous confidential documents” were also seized in the search. Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, who was present at Mar-a-Lago when the agents conducted the search, signed two property receipts — one that was two pages long and another that is a single page. In a statement earlier Friday, Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified,” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked. While incumbent presidents generally have the power to declassify information, that authority lapses as soon as they leave office and it was not clear if the documents in question have ever been declassified. And even an incumbent’s powers to declassify may be limited regarding secrets dealing with nuclear weapons programs, covert operations and operatives, and some data shared with allies. Read: Jan. 6 panel deepens probe to Trump Cabinet, awaits Thomas Trump kept possession of the documents despite multiple requests from agencies, including the National Archives, to turn over presidential records in accordance with federal law. The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home earlier this year. The Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records. It remains unclear whether the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant simply as a means to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation or attempt to prosecute the former president. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information, with both criminal and civil penalties, as well as presidential records. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the same judge who signed off on the search warrant, unsealed the warrant and property receipt Friday at the request of the Justice Department after Attorney General Merrick Garland declared there was “substantial public interest in this matter,” and Trump said he backed the warrant’s “immediate” release. The Justice Department told the judge Friday afternoon that Trump’s lawyers did not object to the proposal to make it public. In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents ... I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.” The Justice Department’s request was striking because such warrants traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the department appeared to recognize that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and felt that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home. “The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday. The information was released as Trump prepares for another run for the White House. During his 2016 campaign, he pointed frequently to an FBI investigation into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information. To obtain a search warrant, federal authorities must prove to a judge that probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home. In this case, according to a person familiar with the matter, there was substantial engagement with Trump and his representatives prior to the search warrant, including a subpoena for records and a visit to Mar-a-Lago a couple of months ago by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the documents were stored. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. FBI and Justice Department policy cautions against discussing ongoing investigations, both to protect the integrity of the inquiries and to avoid unfairly maligning someone who is being scrutinized but winds up ultimately not being charged. That’s especially true in the case of search warrants, where supporting court papers are routinely kept secret as the investigation proceeds. In this case, though, Garland cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions. The Justice Department under Garland has been leery of public statements about politically charged investigations, or of confirming to what extent it might be investigating Trump as part of a broader probe into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The department has tried to avoid being seen as injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Clinton regarding her handling of email — and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails. The attorney general also condemned verbal attacks on FBI and Justice Department personnel over the search. Some Republican allies of Trump have called for the FBI to be defunded. Large numbers of Trump supporters have called for the warrant to be released hoping they it will show that Trump was unfairly targeted. “I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.” Earlier Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office in Ohio, then fled and was later killed after a standoff with law enforcement. A law enforcement official briefed on the matter identified the man as Ricky Shiffer and said he is believed to have been in Washington in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol and may have been there on the day it took place.
For much of the year, small cracks in Donald Trump’s political support have been growing. Dissatisfied Republican primary voters began to consider new presidential prospects. GOP donors grappled with damaging revelations uncovered by the Jan. 6 committee. S everal party leaders pondered challenging Trump for the party’s 2024 nomination. But after the FBI executed a search warrant at his Florida estate, the Republican Party unified swiftly behind the former president. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who likely represents Trump’s strongest potential primary challenger, described the Biden administration as a “regime” and called Monday’s Mar-a-Lago search for improperly taken classified documents “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” The GOP push to portray Trump as the victim of a politicized Justice Department ignored the potential criminal misconduct that justified the search in the eyes of a federal judge. It overlooked Trump’s role in hiring now-vilified FBI Director Chris Wray, who also served as a high-ranking official in a Republican-led Justice Department. The Biden White House, meanwhile, said it had no prior knowledge of the search. But the robust defense serves as a fresh reminder of the former president’s enduring grip on the GOP, driven by an ability to use a sense of grievance among many Republican voters toward government and other institutions. Trump tapped into that animosity to overcome two impeachments and the fallout from an insurrection. His allies said Tuesday that the FBI search would only strengthen his position again. “The sooner he kicks off his campaign, the better,” Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks, the chair of the Republican Study Committee, said in an interview. Banks was among about a dozen Republican lawmakers who spent several hours Tuesday evening with Trump at his summer home in Bedminster, New Jersey. During a meal that included steak, scallops, mashed potatoes, salad and a Trump cookie, the group talked about the upcoming midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race, Banks said. The former president told the lawmakers “his mind is made up” about a 2024 campaign and “we’ll all be happy with his decision.” The FBI search seemed to trigger a shift among Trump’s advisers, who had been privately urging him to wait until after the midterm elections to announce his intention to seek the presidency again. Suddenly, some of those same advisers were urging him to launch his campaign before the November elections. Trump stoked such speculation in the hours after the search by posting a campaign-style video on social media. “The best is yet to come,” he said. He followed up with a fundraising appeal, making it personal by declaring “it’s important that you know that it wasn’t just my home that was violated — it was the home of every patriotic American who I have been fighting for.” In Columbia, South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he spoke with Trump and felt sure another campaign was coming. “One thing I can tell you,” Graham said. “I believed he was going to run before. I’m stronger in my belief now.” As Republicans rallied behind Trump, Democrats pushed back against GOP claims of political interference, without evidence. Some accused the GOP of a departure from its longstanding commitment to “law and order.” “The FBI director was appointed by Donald Trump,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Asked if the raid might hurt Democrats in the November elections, she said: “You’re talking about if the Justice Department decides to have a warrant to go in because they suspect something is justified, it’s going to have an impact on the election? No, no, no, no, no.” Some of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics still shied away from embracing the former president. And it was unclear how rank-and-file Republican voters and independents frustrated by Trump’s divisive leadership might be moved by the new developments. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor and one of many Republicans considering a 2024 presidential bid, noted Tuesday that a federal judge had to sign off on the warrant. “The former president is presumed innocent,” Christie said in an interview. “On the other hand, we can’t immediately impugn the motives of the prosecutors just because they’re from another political party.” “It’s an extraordinary action. And there better be some pretty extraordinary facts to underlie it. If there are, then they have every right to do it.” And some other Republican officials seemed to express continued concerns about Trump by refusing to weigh in at all. The relatively short list of those GOP leaders who remained silent Tuesday afternoon was led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has privately encouraged his party to move past Trump. But the Kentucky Republican eventually weighed in, saying: “The country deserves a thorough and immediate explanation of what led to the events of Monday. Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should already have provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately.” The overwhelming majority — from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to DeSantis, accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing” the Justice Department and ignored any potential wrongdoing by Trump. “The GOP now fully embraces the notion that Trump should, indeed, be above the law, and that Trump 2.0 will be a bonfire of vengeance,” wrote Republican commentator Charlie Sykes, a frequent Trump critic. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is gearing up for a presidential run of his own, said he shared “the deep concerns of millions of Americans” over the search of Trump’s private residence. He stopped short of attacking the FBI, however. Instead, he said Attorney General Merrick Garland should “give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken and he must do so immediately.” Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri aggressively condemned the Justice Department on Trump’s behalf. Hawley called the search “an unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law.” He called for Garland’s resignation or impeachment and the removal of FBI Director Wray. Cotton said Garland had “weaponized” the Justice Department against his political enemies. “There will be consequences for this,” he warned. Also from Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, still another Republican weighing a 2024 run, called the search “unprecedented and alarming.” But like Pence, he added, “We must see the probable cause affidavit before making a judgment.” The search intensified the months-long probe into how classified documents ended up in boxes of White House records located at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year. A separate grand jury is investigating efforts by Trump and allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In late June, long before the latest development, 48% of U.S. adults said that Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Views on Trump’s criminal liability broke down predictably along party lines, with 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans saying Trump should be charged. Still, the fact that nearly half the country believed he should be prosecuted represents a remarkable position for the former president, pointing to the difficulties he could face in another White House run. Former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg said Monday’s FBI search would almost certainly strengthen Trump’s standing among Republican primary voters, especially those Republicans who had begun to lean toward DeSantis or another fresh face. But if Trump is ultimately indicted for a federal crime related to the search, as Nunberg said he expects, the former president’s ability to win over a broader group of voters in the 2024 general election could take a major hit. “Despite the fantasies of everyone from Sean Hannity to Steve Bannon, I can promise you that someone under indictment isn’t going to get elected president of the United States,” Nunberg said. But on Tuesday, at least, the Republican Party was squarely behind Trump, its undisputed leader. One of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, almost seemed to thank the Justice Department for bringing her party together. “I’ve talked a lot about the civil war in the GOP and I lean into it because America needs fearless & effective Republicans to finally put America First,” she tweeted. “Last night’s tyrannical FBI raid at MAR is unifying us in ways I haven’t seen.”
The FBI has seized the electronic data of a retired four-star general who authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. New federal court filings obtained Tuesday outlined a potential criminal case against former Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan before being tapped in 2017 to lead the influential Brookings Institution. It’s part of an expanding investigation that has ensnared Richard G. Olson, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan who pleaded guilty to federal charges last week, and Imaad Zuberi, a prolific political donor now serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges. The court filings detail Allen’s behind-the scenes efforts to help Qatar influence U.S. policy in 2017 when a diplomatic crisis erupted between the gas-rich Persian Gulf monarchy and its neighbors. Read: Biden evacuated after plane entered airspace near beach home “There is substantial evidence that these FARA violations were willful,” FBI agent Babak Adib wrote in a search warrant application, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Allen also misrepresented his role in the lobbying campaign to U.S. officials, Adib wrote, and failed to disclose “that he was simultaneously pursuing multimillion-dollar business deals with the government of Qatar.” The FBI says Allen gave a “false version of events” about his work for Qatar during a 2020 interview with law enforcement officials and failed to produce relevant email messages in response to an earlier grand jury subpoena, the affidavit says. The 77-page application appears to have been filed in error and was removed from the docket Tuesday after The Associated Press reached out to federal authorities about its contents. Allen declined to comment on the new filings. He has previously denied ever working as a Qatari agent and said his efforts on Qatar in 2017 were motivated to prevent a war from breaking out in the Gulf that would put U.S. troops at risk. Allen spokesperson Beau Phillips told AP last week that Allen “voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter.” The Brookings Institution, one of the most influential think tanks in the U.S., did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar has long been one of Brookings’ biggest financial backers, though the institution says it has recently stopped taking Qatari funding. Read: Doctor, nurses stabbed at California hospital; man arrested Olson was working with Zuberi on another matter involving Qatar when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries announced a blockade of the gas-rich monarchy over Qatar’s alleged ties to terror groups and other issues in mid-2017. Shortly after the blockade was announced, then-President Donald Trump appear to side against Qatar. The court papers say Allen played an important role in shifting the U.S.’s response. Specifically, authorities say Allen lobbied then National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to have the Trump administration adopt more Qatar-friendly tone. In a June 9 email to McMaster, Allen said the Qataris were “asking for some help” and wanted the White House or State Department to issue a statement with specific language calling on all sides of the Gulf diplomatic crisis to “act with restraint.” Federal law enforcement officials say then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did what Allen told McMaster the Qataris wanted done two days later, issuing a statement that “shifted away from earlier statements by the White House.” Tillerson’s statement called on other Gulf countries to “ease the blockade against Qatar” and asked “that there be no further escalation by the parties in the region.”
The FBI late Saturday released a newly declassified document related to logistical support given to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The document details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the U.S. but does not provide proof that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the plot. Released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the document is the first investigative record to be disclosed since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view. The 16-page document is a summary of an FBI interview done in 2015 with a man who had frequent contact with Saudi nationals in the U.S. who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks. Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review and release what documents they can over the next six months. He had encountered pressure from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that Saudi government officials supported the hijackers. READ: From 9/11′s ashes, a new world took shape. It did not last. The heavily redacted document was disclosed on Saturday night, hours after Biden attended Sept. 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia. Victims’ relatives had earlier objected to Biden’s presence at ceremonial events as long as the documents remained classified. The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all.” The embassy said that any allegation that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false.” The trove of documents are being released at a politically delicate time for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have forged a strategic — if difficult — alliance, particularly on counterterrorism matters. The Biden administration in February released an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding a direct punishment of the crown prince himself. Victims’ relatives cheered the document’s release as a significant step in their effort to connect the attacks to Saudi Arabia. Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, said the release of the FBI material “accelerates our pursuit of truth and justice.” READ: 9/11 artifacts share ‘pieces of truth’ in victims’ stories Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims’ relatives, said in a statement that “the findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. “This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how (al-Qaida) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government,” he said. That includes, he added, Saudi officials exchanging phone calls among themselves and al-Qaida operatives and then having “accidental meetings” with the hijackers while providing them with assistance to get settled and find flight schools. Regarding Sept. 11, there has been speculation of official involvement since shortly after the attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida at the time, was from a prominent family in the kingdom. The U.S. investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., according to documents that have already been declassified. Still, the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks that al-Qaida masterminded, though it noted Saudi-linked charities could have diverted money to the group. Particular scrutiny has centered on the first two hijackers to arrive in the U.S., Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar and support they received. In February 2000, shortly after their arrival in southern California, they encountered at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi who helped them find and lease an apartment in San Diego, had ties to the Saudi government and had earlier attracted FBI scrutiny. Bayoumi has described his restaurant meeting with Hazmi and Mihdhar as a “chance encounter,” and the FBI during its interview made multiple attempts to ascertain if that characterization was accurate or if it had actually been arranged in advance, according to the document. The 2015 interview that forms the basis of the document was of a man who was applying for U.S. citizenship and who years earlier had repeated contacts with Saudi nationals who investigators said provided “significant logistical support” to several of the hijackers. Among his contacts was Bayoumi, according to the document. The man’s identity is redacted throughout the document, but he is described as having worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Also referenced in the document is Fahad al-Thumairy, at the time an accredited diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles who investigators say led an extremist faction at his mosque. The document says communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call in 1999 from Thumairy’s phone to the Saudi Arabian family home phone of two brothers who became future detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison. Both Bayoumi and Thumairy left the U.S. weeks before the attacks.
The former employee who shot and killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis was interviewed by FBI agents last year, after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop,” the bureau said Friday. Coroners released the names of the victims late Friday, a little less than 24 hours after the latest mass shooting to rock the U.S. Four of them were members of Indianapolis’ Sikh community. The attack was another blow to the Asian American community a month after six people of Asian descent were killed in a mass shooting in the Atlanta area and amid ongoing attacks against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. The Marion County Coroner’s office identified the dead as Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jaswinder Kaur, 64; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74. The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said. Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally. “There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.” McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital. Also read: Police ID gunman in FedEx shooting as young male in 20s “You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said. “(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added. Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. ... I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night. Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years. President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S. Also read: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.” A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession. “I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.” Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned. McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting. Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members. The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.” Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.” Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.” FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.” “This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees. The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.
The Justice Department has charged a Swiss hacker with computer intrusion and identity theft, just over a week after the hacker took credit for helping to break into the online systems of a U.S. security-camera startup.