John Ratcliffe says nothing visible in affidavit justified “extreme” Mar-a-Lago search

John Ratcliffe says nothing visible in affidavit justified “extreme” Mar-a-Lago search

John Ratcliffe, the former director of national intelligence under former President Donald Trump, said nothing he saw in the heavily redacted affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search warrant justified what seemed like an “extreme” approach by the FBI and Justice Department.

Ratcliffe made the comments in a Friday interview with CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge.

“Well, as expected, it was heavily redacted in places,” Ratcliffe said, giving his reaction to the redacted affidavit’s release Friday. “You know, I think it provided a general recitation of the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice believed that there were classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. But I didn’t really see anything in the affidavit that justified what still seems like an extreme approach by the FBI and the Department of Justice to retrieve those documents if in fact they were classified.”

The affidavit stated that there was “probable cause” that evidence of obstruction would be found at Mar-a-Lago, and that “probable cause exists to believe that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 793(e), 2071, or 1519 will be found at the PREMISES.”

Trump had urged for the release of the affidavit, and multiple media organizations, including CBS News, filed a request for its release. Ratcliffe, who served as Trump’s DNI from 2021 to 2021, said nothing he saw will help ease the nation’s tension.

“I mean, I think there’s nothing in there that is really going to tamp down the tensions that are running so high in this country with the American people about whether or not this was justified,” Ratcliffe told Herridge. “I think one of the unfortunate things about the FBI and the Department of Justice approach here, Catherine, is if you set out to deepen divisions between, you know, Americans, and to increase a level of skepticism or distrust of the FBI and the Department of Justice, then they succeeded in going in with a raid of the former president based on ambiguous statutes that have been unevenly applied in the past, or never interpreted at all before to a former president who is clearly entitled to have classified intelligence as the president.”

As CBS News has previously reported, a former president is required to hand over all presidential records to the National Archives and Records Administration by the time his term is up, according to the Presidential Records Act. That includes classified documents.

On Aug. 8, FBI agents executed a search on Mar-a-Lago, approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland. They seized 11 sets of classified documents, according to the unsealed search warrant.

In the interview, Ratcliffe also addressed the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ratcliffe said intelligence revealed more than he can address publicly, but that he had a “high degree of confidence” that the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“Well, the intelligence showed a lot more than I’m allowed to still talk about publicly, because, you know, when it comes to, we talk about protecting sources and methods, it’s still somewhat limited when it comes to our intelligence capabilities against the Chinese Communist Party,” Ratcliffe said. “And so I want to continue to preserve that … But let me just say this. As the person that had the most access to the most intelligence, you know, in the intelligence community, we talk about degrees of confidence, low degree of confidence, moderate degrees of confidence, high degrees of confidence. I had a high degree of confidence that the origins of COVID-19 were in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Now I was the top intelligence official. That was my opinion.”

In August 2021, the U.S. intelligence community was inconclusive in its assessment about the origin of the virus, after a three-month investigation ordered by President Biden. An unclassified version of the report said the intelligence community was divided over whether the virus came from a lab leak, or whether it was transmitted from animals to humans naturally.

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital based in Washington, D.C.