FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home for classified nuclear weapons documents – report

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<span>Photograph: James Devaney/GC Images</span>
Photograph: James Devaney/GC Images

FBI agents were looking for secret documents about nuclear weapons among other classified material when they searched Donald Trump’s home on Monday, it has been reported.

The Washington Post cited people familiar with the investigation as saying nuclear weapons documents were thought to be in the trove the FBI was hunting in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. They did not specify what kind of documents or whether they referred to the US arsenal or another country’s.

The former US president on Friday denounced the investigation as “a hoax”, while asking for the warrant issued in the search to be released – even though a copy of that and of the list of property taken by the federal government are already in the possession of his legal team, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.

Related: DoJ has asked court to unseal Trump search warrant, Merrick Garland says

The report came hours after the attorney general, Merrick Garland, said on Thursday that he had personally authorised the government request for a search warrant and revealed that the justice department had asked a Florida court for the warrant to be unsealed, noting that Trump himself had made the search public.

The DoJ motion referred to “the public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred in its contents”.

Trump later released a statement saying he would not oppose but rather was “encouraging the immediate release of those documents” related to what he called the “un-American, unwarranted, and unnecessary raid and break-in … Release the documents now!”

Early on Friday morning, Trump further stated, via his social media platform Truth Social, that he believes the “nuclear weapons issue is a hoax”, comparing it to other investigations he has called hoaxes in the past, including the Mueller investigation into allegations of collusion between his 2016 election campaign and the Russian government and his historic double impeachment.

“Some sleazy people involved,” he said, adding “planting information, anyone?”

Garland’s announcement followed a furious backlash to the search from Trump supporters who portrayed it as politically motivated. On Thursday a man who tried to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati office was shot and killed by police after he fled the scene.

The court told the government to present its motion to Trump’s lawyers and to report back by 3pm on Friday on whether Trump objected to the warrant being unsealed.

Several US national media outlets, including the New York Times, CBS, the Washington Post, CNN and NBC have asked the court to unseal everything related to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.

Nancy Pelosi condemned the attacks by Trump and other Republicans on the FBI, whose agents Garland hailed as patriotic public servants.

Speaking at a press conference before the speaker was to preside over the House vote on her party’s landmark climate legislation, Pelosi also reacted to the Thursday attack on an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, by a man who may have been present at the January 6 insurrection.

“You would think there would be an adult in the Republican room that would say just calm down, see what the facts are and let’s go for that instead of again instigating assaults on law enforcement,” Pelosi said.

Donald Trump is known to be mulling whether to announce another campaign for president at an early date, potentially before the November midterm election, and immediately began a fundraising push after announcing the FBI search, which he described as a break-in although his Secret Service agents were given notice and the federal agents were escorted into the compound.

“President Donald Trump is Joe Biden’s most likely political opponent in 2024 and this is less than 100 days from critical midterm elections. The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority,” said Elise Stefanik, the number-three House Republican, at a press conference.

The suspected presence of nuclear weapons documents at Mar-a-Lago could explain why Garland took such a politically charged and unprecedented step as ordering FBI agents into a former president’s house.

Trump was particularly fixated on the US nuclear arsenal while he was in the White House, and boasted about being privy to highly secret information.

In the summer of 2017 he told US military leaders he wanted an arsenal comparable to its cold war peak, which would have involved a tenfold increase, a demand that reportedly led the then secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, describe him as a “fucking moron”. Trump publicly threatened to obliterate both North Korea and Afghanistan.

An aerial view of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate
An aerial view of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

In his book on the Trump presidency, Rage, Bob Woodward quoted the former president as telling him: “We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody – what we have is incredible.”

Woodward said he was later told the US did indeed have an unspecified new weapons system, and officials were “surprised” that Trump had disclosed the fact.

Cheryl Rofer, a chemist who worked on nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos national laboratory said there were varying classification levels applying to different kinds of documentation.

“Information about the design of nuclear weapons is called Restricted Data and is ‘born classified’. That means it is assumed to be classified unless declassified,” Rofer, who writes a blog titled Nuclear Diner, wrote on Twitter. But she added: “There’s no reason for a president to have nuclear weapons design information that I can see.”

Among the nuclear documents that Trump would routinely have had access to would be the classified version of the Nuclear Posture Review, about US capabilities and policies. A military aide is always close to the president carrying the “nuclear football”, a briefcase containing nuclear strike options, but it would be unusual for those documents to be taken out of the football.

Another possibility Rofer pointed to is that Trump could have retained his nuclear “biscuit”, a piece of plastic like a credit card with the identification codes necessary for nuclear launch. Those codes would have been changed however the moment Biden took office at noon on 20 January 2021.