Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort Source of Unusual Security Problems, Experts Say

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The seizure of classified U.S. government documents at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property highlights the ongoing national security concerns raised by the former president, as well as the home he dubbed the Winter White House, according to security experts.

Trump is under federal investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it illegal to spy for another country or mishandle the country’s defense information, including sharing it with people not authorized to receive it, a search warrant shows.

As president, Trump sometimes shared information, no matter how sensitive. Early in his term, he spontaneously delivered highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation while in the Oval Office, US officials said at the time.

Yet it was at Mar-a-Lago, where his associates and wealthy guests attended weddings and fundraising dinners and lounged on a breezy ocean patio, that US intelligence seemed especially at risk.

The Secret Service said when Trump was president that it didn’t decide who was allowed into the club, but it did do physical checks to make sure no one brought prohibited items, as well as an additional check for guests who were in close proximity to the president and others. protected.

The Justice Department search warrant raises national security concerns, former Justice Department official Mary McCord said.

“Clearly they thought it was vital to put these materials back in a secure space,” McCord said. “Even the mere retention of highly classified documents in improper storage — especially given Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there, and others who might have connections to foreign governments and foreign agents — creates a significant national security threat.” “.

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

McCord claimed, however, that he saw no “plausible argument that he had made a conscious decision about each of them to declassify them before he left.” After leaving office, he pointed out, he had no power to declassify information.

The seizure Monday by FBI agents of multiple sets of documents and dozens of boxes, including information on the US defense and a reference to the “French president,” poses a frightening scenario for intelligence professionals.

“It’s a nightmare environment for the careful handling of highly classified information,” said a former 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.

In one high-profile example, Trump hung out with Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an outdoor dinner in 2017 as guests hovered nearby, listening and taking photos that they later posted on Twitter (NYSE: TWTR ).

Dinner was interrupted by a North Korean missile test, and guests listened as Trump and Abe pondered their responses. After issuing a statement, Trump stopped by a wedding party at the club.

“What we saw was Trump being so lax on security that he was having a sensitive meeting regarding a possible war issue where people outside the US government could watch and take photos,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in criminal cases. National security. “It would have been easy for someone to also have a device that would listen and record what Trump was saying.”

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The White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, told the media afterward that Trump had reported on the North Korean launch from a secure room at Mar-a-Lago. He downplayed the scene in the courtyard.

“At that time, apparently a photo was taken, that everyone drew dire conclusions about what can or can’t be discussed. There was just a discussion about the logistics of the press, about where to hold the event,” he said.

It was in the Mar-a-Lago security room that Trump decided to launch airstrikes against Syria over its use of chemical weapons in April 2017.

Once the decision was made, Trump returned to dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was visiting the country. Over dessert, Trump briefed Xi on the airstrikes.

In 2019, a Chinese woman who passed security checkpoints at the club carrying a hard drive encoded with “malicious” software was detained for trespassing on restricted property and making false statements to officials, authorities said at the time.

Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly tried to limit Trump’s access at Mar-a-Lago, but the effort fizzled when the president refused to cooperate, aides said at the time.

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