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Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a security ‘nightmare’ that housed classified documents

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WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) – The seizure of classified U.S. government documents from Donald Trump’s sprawling Mar-a-Lago retreat spotlights the ongoing national security concerns presented by the former president, and the house he dubbed the wintertime White House, some security experts say.

Trump is under federal investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, that makes it unlawful to spy for a different country or mishandle U.S. defense information, including sharing it with people not authorized to get it, a search warrant shows. read more

As president, Trump sometimes shared information, no matter its sensitivity. Early in his presidency, he spontaneously gave highly classified information to Russias foreign minister in regards to a planned Islamic State operation while he was in the Oval Office, U.S. officials said at that time.

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Nonetheless it was at Mar-a-Lago, where well-heeled members and folks attended weddings and fundraising dinners frolic on a breezy ocean patio, that U.S. intelligence seemed especially at an increased risk. While Secret Service provided physical security for the venue while Trump was president and afterward, they’re not in charge of vetting guests or members.

The Justice Departments search warrant raises concerns about national security, said former DOJ official Mary McCord.

Clearly they thought it had been very serious to obtain these materials back to secured space, McCord said. “Even just retention of highly classified documents in improper storage – particularly given Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there among others who may have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents – creates a substantial national security threat.”

Trump, in a statement on his social media marketing platform, said the records were “all declassified” and put into “secure storage.”

McCord said, however, she saw no “plausible argument he had made a conscious decision about every one of these to declassify them before he left. After leaving office, she said, he didn’t have the energy to declassify information.

Monday’s seizure by FBI agents of multiple sets of documents and a large number of boxes, including information regarding U.S. defense and a mention of the “French President,” poses a frightening scenario for intelligence professionals.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

“It is a nightmarish environment for a careful handling of highly classified information,” said a former U.S. intelligence officer. “It’s only a nightmare.”

The DOJ hasn’t provided specific information regarding how or where in fact the documents and photos have been stored, however the club’s general vulnerabilities have already been well documented.

In a higher profile example, Trump huddled in 2017 with Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a patio dining room table while guests hovered nearby, listening and taking photos they later posted on Twitter.

The dinner was disrupted by way of a North Korean missile test, and guests listened as Trump and Abe determined what things to say in response. After issuing a statement, Trump dropped by way of a marriage party at the club.

“What we saw was Trump be so lax in security he was having a sensitive meeting regarding a potential war topic where non-U.S. government personnel could observe and photograph,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney who focuses on national security cases. “It could have been possible for someone to likewise have had a tool that heard and recorded what Trump was saying aswell.”

White House aides did setup a secure room at Mar-a-Lago for sensitive discussions. That has been where Trump made a decision to launch airstrikes against Syria for the usage of chemical weapons in April 2017.

Your choice made, Trump repaired to dinner with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Over a dessert of chocolate cake, Trump informed Xi concerning the airstrikes.

In 2019, a Chinese woman who passed security checkpoints at the club carrying a thumb drive coded with malicious software was arrested for entering a restricted property and making false statements to officials, authorities said at that time.

Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly launched an attempt to attempt to limit who had usage of Trump at Mar-a-Lago, however the effort fizzled when Trump refused to cooperate, aides said at that time.

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Reporting By Steve Holland and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Heather Timmons and William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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