The CCTV footage was so tightly held that the former president’s aides don’t know if he saw it all himself, a person close to Trump said.
“I don’t think it was shared by anyone outside of lawyers,” that person said.
Yet when asked earlier this week by Fox’s Sean Hannity if the footage would be released, Trump’s son Eric replied, “Absolutely Sean, at the right time.”
Some of Trump’s aides and allies have encouraged the former president to make some of the footage available to the public, believing it could send a jolt of energy through the Republican Party base. A person familiar with the conversations said there had been talk of featuring the August images in campaign-style ads, believing the images could bolster Trump’s claims of political persecution.
Another person close to Trump said it was not a question of if the former president and his team released images, but when, noting that they could be released before he made a campaign announcement. .
“It’s one thing to read a bunch of numbers on an inventory list, it’s quite another to see law enforcement officers carrying more than a dozen boxes out of President Trump’s home in knowing that they probably contain sensitive material. I don’t see how that helps,” said the person, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly.
Trump could also spend the next few months simply raising the specter of the images being released for use as a political weapon without ever actually doing so.
CNN has contacted the FBI and the Justice Department for comment.
Federal prosecutors have revealed in recent days that the investigation “involves highly classified material” and that their work is continuing, potentially leading to criminal charges.
While it’s unclear exactly what the surveillance footage might show, Trump and his attorneys say they recorded the Aug. 8 search by federal investigators even after officers asked them to turn off security cameras. Jay Bratt, the head of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department who visited Mar-a-Lago in June, is the official who made the specific request on the day of the search , a source familiar with CNN told CNN.
The Department of Justice had previously subpoenaed surveillance footage of the club as part of its ongoing investigation, including outside the room where the documents were kept.
On Tuesday, Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform that FBI agents “demanded that all security cameras be turned off…We said no!” It is not uncommon for the FBI to try to ensure that no cameras capture a search of this nature when there are classified documents involved.
As the former president and his team weigh whether and when to release any of the surveillance footage, his impending announcement of the 2024 presidential campaign could be a factor in this moment, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked anonymity to discuss closely related issues. The former president is widely expected to run for office again, although he is still deciding when to officially launch his campaign.
“If anyone can persuade him that it’s somehow good for him and bad for his enemies, he will,” said Ty Cobb, a former White House lawyer under Trump. “He doesn’t have the lawyers to help him sort these things out strategically and is really figuring it out on his own.”
Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, declined to comment on the filing.
Among Trump’s allies clamoring for him to release the surveillance footage in full or curated form is former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who told CNN in an interview that he favors the release. release of the footage, saying “Red-Pill the Nation” in an apparent reference to “The Matrix” movie.
A second Trump ally who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity also encouraged the former president’s team to release the footage, telling CNN he would “drive the base f—ing bananas” to seeing FBI agents “moving around Mar-a-Lago while President Trump was out of town.” (The former president was at Trump Tower in New York when the search took place last week.)
Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed on social media that Republicans are enjoying renewed enthusiasm among grassroots voters who believe the Justice Department abused its authority by executing a search warrant at the residence of the former president.
But the release of the tapes could neutralize some of the most conspiratorial excuses for research that MAGA figures have aired in recent days, including the baseless notion that the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago – a claim which the former president himself has repeated and there is no supporting evidence, especially after Trump’s own attorney signed the FBI seizure receipts at the end of the search.
Before revealing that he kept his surveillance cameras on at Mar-a-Lago, Trump also claimed that “no one” was allowed to watch the FBI conduct their search of his home.
“I think the people of New York – President Trump and his family – probably had a better view than me. Because they had CCTV, they were able to watch,” Bobb told the right-wing network Real America’s Voice. last Thursday. Days later, Bobb told right-wing commentator Tomi Lahren that she misunderstood the situation and didn’t know who had seen the surveillance footage – live or recorded.
Trump’s former lawyer, Cobb, said he was skeptical of Trump’s release of the footage.
“If something problematic happened, like someone showed evidence or something, then it would be really explosive,” Cobb said. “That’s the main reason I doubt they’ll make it public because I’m sure it doesn’t show them the evidence in place and it takes this crazy claim off the table.”
Use it as leverage
As Trump contemplates a third presidential campaign, the most politically powerful move for him may be to continue teasing the existence of security footage without ever making it public. It would be a familiar strategy for Trump, who regularly promised to provide exculpatory evidence in the face of sexual harassment allegations during his 2016 presidential campaign, but rarely followed through.
“It loses its leverage once out,” Cobb said.
Trump has already pushed to release the warrant that led FBI agents to search his Palm Beach estate last week and the list of items they seized while on the property – both of which have were unsealed last Friday at the request of the DOJ. The former president also urged Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to release the underlying affidavit that was essential for federal agents to obtain a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago.
Writing on Truth Social Monday, Trump said, “In the interest of TRANSPARENCY, I call for the immediate release of the completely unredacted affidavit regarding this horrible and shocking BREAK-IN.”
The Justice Department responded this week to oppose the media’s request to unseal the affidavit, arguing that doing so could jeopardize its ongoing investigation and discourage future witnesses from cooperating.