Here’s what we know about the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago
The FBI on Monday searched the Mar-a-Lago estate of former President Trump, a dramatic step that has increased speculation about the former president being in legal jeopardy.
The search, which reportedly focused on the retention of classified material, comes as Trump is under scrutiny in a flurry of investigations related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, his pressure campaign against election officials in Georgia and his business dealings in New York.
It also comes against the backdrop of Trump considering a White House bid in 2024.
Here’s what we know about the search.
What the FBI was doing
The FBI entered Mar-a-Lago after securing a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge after demonstrating probable cause supporting their suspicion of criminal activity.
While Trump did not detail what the warrant sought, he complained agents who searched his property “even broke into my safe.”
The search in part appears to be in connection with Trump’s failure to turn over some presidential records at the end of his term, instead taking them to his Florida home.
Authorities previously retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, a tranche that included classified materials.
The Justice Department referred the case to the FBI earlier this year after receiving a request from the National Archives to investigate the matter.
What Trump is saying
Trump was not at Mar-a-Lago at the time of the FBI search, as he typically spends summers at his Bedminster, N.J., property. But he decried the action as politically motivated in order to deter him from running for president again in 2024.
“Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before. They even broke into my safe!” Trump said in a statement Monday night.
Trump has for years framed federal investigators as politically biased and out to get him, and he likened Monday’s search to the investigation into ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign.
Eric Trump said his father had an ‘open-door policy.’
Eric Trump, the son of the former president, confirmed on Fox News that the search was related to document retention, but he downplayed any potential wrongdoing by his father.
“My father saves clippings and things like that. So he had boxes, right, when he moved out of the White House,” Eric Trump said. “And he was very collaborative. You want to search for anything, if you think anything — like, you know, come right ahead. I mean, it was an open-door policy. And all of a sudden, 30 agents descend upon Mar-a-Lago?”
Former Trump administration officials have said the former president often disregarded protocols for maintaining classified documents.
How the GOP is reacting
Top Republicans erupted with anger at the search, and vowed retaliation.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement that the Justice Department “has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and that should Republicans take the chamber after the November midterms, the House would investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland and the department.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, on Fox News Monday night called on Garland and FBI Director Christopher Way to come testify on Friday.
Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the head of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo that FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Biden each need to give a press conference on the FBI’s search of Trump’s property and that all three need to “take all questions” to explain why the FBI conducted the search. “This should scare every American,” he said. “Until we get answers, you should have unbelievable concern.”
Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has some tension with the former president as both men angle for potential 2024 presidential bids, called the search “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.”
Some prominent voices are absent.
Republicans lobbed intense fury at the Department of Justice over the raid, but some top GOP voices were notably absent from the wave of anger and promises of investigation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other top Senate Republicans had not commented on the search as of Tuesday morning.
A number of Republicans are calling on the DOJ to explain the move
Republicans pressured the Department of Justice to explain its rationale for executing the search warrant.
House GOP leaders already skeptical of DOJ criticized the search and called it politically motivated.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), House GOP Conference Chair, called the raid a “dark day in American history” and accused President Biden’s administration of “weaponizing this department against their political opponents.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Wray requesting a briefing on the warrant.
“I am unaware of any actual or alleged national security threat posed by any information, data, or documents in the possession of former President Trump,” Turner wrote. :Congress deserves immediate answers from you as to the actions you ordered.”
What it means for the Jan. 6 probe
It’s not clear what the search means for the Justice Department’s broader investigation into the Capitol riot, but its probe is rapidly accelerating following months of complaints from lawmakers of stagnation when it comes to Trump.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department has been focusing on Trump’s efforts to remain in power through a false elector scheme, transmitting what campaign officials referred to as “fake” election certificates in order to reverse the 2020 election in key states won by President Biden.
That includes convening a federal grand jury and sitting down with a number of former White House officials, including advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence.
Last week, Trump’s former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, was reportedly called to testify before a federal grand jury, as was his deputy Patrick Philbin.
Earlier this summer, the Justice Department also seized the phone of John Eastman, who crafted memos for the campaign detailing the false elector strategy as well as a plan for Pence to buck his ceremonial duty to certify the election results. And it also searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, an assistant attorney general whom Trump weighed installing as attorney general so he could forward an investigation into his baseless claims of election fraud.
What it means for Trump running for reelection
It could advance Trump’s timeline to announce.
Trump has openly floated running for president again in 2024, saying in an interview last month it was more a matter of whether he should announce before or after the November midterms.
Some pundits speculated that Trump could use the FBI search to announce his candidacy at a time when Republicans are rallying in his defense and when it would allow him to maximize the argument that any investigations are politically motivated.
The FBI search is likely to solidify support for Trump among his base voters, who already believe the Justice Department is biased against conservatives in the wake of the Russia probe.
But the search and any resulting evidence that becomes public could make a comeback bid more difficult for Trump in a general election.
Polls show narrow Biden edge in a hypothetical match-up.
Multiple polls in recent weeks have found roughly half of Americans already believe Trump should face criminal charges for his actions around the Jan. 6 riot.
A New York Times poll released last month found that despite Biden’s approval ratings sinking to 33 percent, he still led Trump in a hypothetical 2024 match-up, 44 percent to 41 percent.
What it means for Trump running for reelection
When the White House learned of the raid
The White House said on Tuesday that President Biden learned of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago through public reports while stressing that the Department of Justice (DOJ) operates independently of the West Wing.
“The president and the White House learned about this FBI search from public reports. We learned just like the American public did yesterday and we did not have advance notice of this activity,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Jean-Pierre refused to comment on the DOJ investigation of Trump.
“The Justice Department conducts investigations independently and we leave any law enforcement matters to them. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on any ongoing investigation,” Jean-Pierre said.