Expert: Report that search missed “hidden” room at Mar-a-Lago suggests “insider tipped the FBI off”

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has questioned several witnesses about a “hidden room” and a closet that the FBI did not check while searching former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in 2022, sources told ABC News.

Some investigators after the search came to believe that the closet, which was locked during the search, should have been checked, sources told the outlet. Investigators later learned that Trump allegedly had the closet lock changed while his attorney was searching for classified documents in a basement storage room, according to the report. One former maintenance worker described the request as “unusual,” sources told the outlet.

Trump’s efforts to conceal the classified documents from his own attorney were part of the indictment brought by Smith. The questioning suggests Smith’s team is still “trying to determine if there might be more classified documents there,” ABC News reports.

Jordan Strauss, a former Justice Department national security official and prosecutor, said the failure by the FBI to search the closet is a “bit astonishing” given how “especially thorough” the agents were.

“You’re searching a former president’s house. You [should] get it right the first time,” he told ABC News.

Agents were unable to unlock the closet door because they could not find a key and were told the space behind the door went nowhere so agents decided not to break it open, sources told the outlet.

Agents also decided that they felt they had been at Mar-a-Lago long enough, sources said, but a senior FBI official pushed back.

“Discussions took place that day about additional areas of the property and it was determined that actions already taken met the parameters of the search warrant,” the official said.

Strauss questioned the FBI’s decision.

“[The FBI] is almost notorious for their relentlessness and follow-through,” Strauss said.

The FBI also failed to search a so-called “hidden room” connected to Trump’s bedroom, sources told the outlet. Smith’s team was later told that some Trump employees heard that the FBI missed at least one room at Mar-a-Lago. Unlike the closet, the FBI was unaware of the “hidden room” at the time of the search, sources said.

A senior FBI official told ABC News that agents focused on areas they believed might have government documents.

“Based on information gathered throughout the course of the investigation, areas were identified and searched pursuant to the search warrant,” the official said.

It’s unclear whether prosecutors or Trump’s lawyers were aware of the unexamined spaces and whether Smith considered seeking another search warrant to search Mar-a-Lago for additional documents.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign called the investigations into the former president “desperate attempts at election interference … to stop the presumptive Republican nominee for President.”

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller’s team, tweeted that the report suggests that “an insider has tipped the FBI off,” suggesting “another cooperating witness” in the case.  

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Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance on her Substack blog called the FBI’s failure to search the closet and hidden room “troubling.”

“It’s inexplicable that agents didn’t insist on being provided with a key or break the lock in order to look into the space. Important national secrets were at risk, and they were authorized to look into any space within Trump’s control where they could be stored,” Vance wrote.

Though investigators did not appear to seek a second search warrant, it “doesn’t mean this evidence couldn’t prove to be useful,” she noted.

“The meat of the case against Trump is his effort to obstruct the investigation and to keep classified material from being recovered by the government, even after his own lawyers advised him he was required to return it,” she wrote. “If Jack Smith’s team has come up with evidence that Trump, for instance, changed the lock on his closet and stored documents there to conceal them from the government, that would be powerful when the case goes to trial.”

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