In his sharpest critique of his former boss, former attorney general William Barr said there is no reason classified documents should have been inside Donald Trump’s personal residence in Florida after he was no longer president.

“No, I can’t think of a legitimate reason why they could be taken out of government, away from the government, if they are classified,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News which aired Friday. Barr’s comment comes after federal officials entered Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and home last month with a court-issued warrant to retrieve classified documents, a move Trump said was improper and politically motivated.

Attorney General William Barr Charlie Riedel/Associated Press, file

“People say this was unprecedented,” Barr said Friday, “but it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, OK?”

Barr also dismissed the explanation advanced by Trump and his allies that the former president had declassified entire batches of the documents.

“If in fact he sort of stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them, and said ‘I hereby declassify everything in here,’ that would be such an abuse and show such recklessness that it’s almost worst than taking the documents,” Barr said.

“What people are missing,” Barr told Fox News, is that documents, regardless of whether they were classified, “still belong to the government and go to the archives.” The other documents that were seized, like news clippings, were, Barr said, “seizable under the warrant because they show the conditions under which the classified information was being held.”


Barr also said the government had gone to extraordinary lengths to work cooperatively with Trump’s team before entering his Florida home.

“They jawboned for a year. They were deceived on the voluntary actions taken,” he said, referring to false assertions made by Trump’s lawyers that all necessary material had been handed over. Then the government “went and got a subpoena. They were deceived on that, they feel, and the record, the facts are starting to show that they were being jerked around.”

“And so,” Barr asked rhetorically, “how long do they wait?”

Though Barr also said “it is clearly foolish what happened, and inexplicable,” he added that it was not clear whether the actions should be criminally prosecuted, considering, among other things, the documents were ultimately recovered.

The latest court filing Friday showed that Trump intermingled classified and unclassified materials in boxes at his Florida residence and had dozens of empty folders that bore a “classification” marking, according to an inventory list that described in more detail what FBI agents recovered when they searched Mar-a-Lago last month.

Barr’s comments on Fox News – one of the outlets Trump is known to watch closely – represents an escalation of Barr’s condemnation of his former boss’s behavior. Barr faced a backlash from Trump after telling him there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. That created a deep rift between the nation’s top law enforcement officer and the president and ultimately led Barr to abruptly leave the administration. Since then, Trump and his allies have attacked Barr for not doing more to overturn the election results.

Later, Barr gave damning testimony to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who tried to stop the certification of the presidential election. Barr testified that Trump was “detached from reality” and obsessed with fantastical notions of voter fraud.

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