FBI Brought Props To Stage Infamous Trump Crime Scene Photo

(U.S. National Archives)

Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
Font Size:

The FBI brought props to its raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for classified documents that were pictured in an infamous photo taken at the alleged crime scene, according to court documents.

Jay Bratt, the lead Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor now assigned to special counsel Jack Smith’s team, admitted in a recent court filing that FBI agents brought cover sheets reading “top secret” to the raid of Mar-a-Lago to use as placeholders in their gathering of classified documents. The classified documents, however, now appear to be out of order following their seizure, both Trump’s defense attorney and the special counsel have admitted, according to court documents first reported by Declassified with Julie Kelly.

The crime scene photo of classified documents allegedly found at Mar-a-Lago, complete with the bright red “classification” cover sheets, went viral in the weeks after the raid. Corporate media outlets breathlessly reported on the photo and the cover sheets as proof that Trump had been storing classified documents at his Florida property.

“[If] the investigative team found a document with classification markings, it removed the document, segregated it, and replaced it with a placeholder sheet. The investigative team used classified cover sheets for that purpose,” Bratt wrote in a recent filing.

In a May filing, defense attorneys for Trump c0-defendant Waltine Nauta wrote that the placeholders which the FBI brought to the scene to mark classified documents in stacks were out of place.

“Following defense counsel’s review of the physical boxes…and the documents produced in classified discovery, defense counsel has learned that the cross-reference provided by the Special Counsel’s Office does not contain accurate information,” the attorneys wrote, according to Kelly.

“[Thirteen] boxes or containers contained documents with classification markings, and in all, over one hundred unique documents with classification markings…were seized. Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status. (Emphasis added.) See, e.g., Attachment F (redacted FBI photograph of certain documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ‘45 office’),” Bratt wrote in an August 2022 court filing.

Kelly writes that Bratt’s original filing did not explain where those classified document sheets had come from, though later he admitted that the sheets were in fact brought to the scene by FBI agents.

“In other words, in their zeal to stage a phony photo using official classified cover sheets, FBI agents might have failed to accurately match the placeholder sheet with the appropriate document. This is a potentially case-blowing mistake, particularly if the document in question is one of the 34 records that represents the basis of espionage charges against Trump,” Kelly reported.

In response to Nauta’s filing, Bratt admitted that the placeholders had been rearranged, and that not all of them had been properly matched with the right placeholder sheet, according to a court document.

“In many but not all instances, the FBI was able to determine which document with classification markings corresponded to a particular placeholder sheet,” Bratt wrote in response to the defense attorney’s request for more time.

While Trump is being charged for mishandling classified documents, President Joe Biden had a special counsel of his own investigate him for his handling of similarly classified documents. Despite the FBI seizing documents from Biden’s Delaware home, the photo of the raid showed the president’s documents in boxes, rather than sprawled out with “top secret” placeholders. (RELATED: Robert Hur Fends Off Attacks From Democrats, Trump Allies In Marathon House Hearing)

Special Counsel Robert Hur did not recommend bringing charges against Biden.