FBI searches Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home as inquiry into former president intensifies

·5 min read
Damon Higgins/AP

FBI agents on Monday searched the Florida home of former President Donald Trump, an extraordinary development in what sources say is an investigation into the Republican leader’s handling of classified documents.

Experts called it one of the most significant actions in the law enforcement agency’s history — and one that immediately ignited a political firestorm nationwide.

In a statement Monday, Trump said that his home at Mar-a-Lago, a sprawling resort owned by Trump and located in Palm Beach, was “under siege,” and “occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”

Trump, who has been the subject of several investigations, said he had been “cooperating with the relevant Government agencies.” He did not elaborate.

Federal prosecutors have been investigating Trump’s handling of classified information, as well as his role in the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, according to a source familiar with the matter.

A second source close to the investigation confirmed the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Monday.

The source said FBI agents obtained a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach to gather dozens of boxes containing alleged classified materials that President Trump had taken with him when he left the White House in January 2021.

Federal agents were able to establish probable cause for the warrant because Trump and his lawyers had already turned over some classified documents that had been sought by the National Archives and Records Administration, the source said. Agents suspected that Trump was unlawfully holding other classified documents from his presidency in his private club and residence at Mar-a-Lago, which is the crux of the investigation led by the FBI and Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

During Monday’s raid, FBI agents worked in “taint” teams while gathering and separating the alleged classified materials to ensure that none was privileged correspondence between Trump and his lawyers, which would be off limits to investigators and prosecutors.

READ MORE: Mar-a-Lago becomes a popular spot after FBI raids former President Trump’s home

The FBI raid focused only on Trump’s possession of boxes containing alleged classified materials and was unrelated to the ongoing Jan. 6 federal grand jury investigation of right-wing extremists who assaulted the U.S. Capitol. The grand jury is also probing the former president and some in his inner circle for their possible roles in conspiring to incite the insurrection and stop Congress’ certification of the Electoral College votes that put Joe Biden in the White House.

Unprecedented

The FBI’s surprise presence in the Republican leader’s home Monday was another extraordinary moment for Trump — who has recently indicated he wants to launch a new run for the presidency for 2024 — and the country writ large, which has traditionally watched former presidents recede from the spotlight after leaving the White House. Instead, the dual investigations into Trump raise the possibility of prosecution against the former president even as he remains an active political figure.

“We have never seen a scene like this in presidential history,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted Monday.

An FBI official declined to comment on the raid. A Justice Department official also declined to comment.

If the raid was related to the former president’s handling of presidential records, it is likely that the records in question were important, said Norm Eisen, ethics czar under former President Barack Obama and co-counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment in 2020.

“This search warrant would not have been approved at the highest levels of the FBI and Department of Justice, and sanctioned by a federal judge, for minor transgressions or even for bad conduct,” Eisen said. “We’re very likely looking at an extraordinary volume and scope and intentionality of document removal.”

Independent experts familiar with the FBI said few actions in the law enforcement agency’s history compare to what happened Monday.

“This raid is surely one of the most significant the FBI has ever undertaken,” said Jonathan Shaub, a former attorney adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice now at the University of Kentucky’s Rosenberg College of Law. “It would likely have been approved at the highest levels of the FBI and Justice Department.”

The FBI is run by Christopher Wray, who was appointed in 2017 by then-President Trump. The attorney general and head of the Justice Department is Merrick Garland, appointed in 2021 by President Biden.

The White House did not know about the FBI’s action ahead of time, according to a White House official, who referred all additional questions to the DOJ.

Trump called the raid “prosecutorial misconduct.”

“I stood up to America’s bureaucratic corruption, I restored power to the people, and truly delivered for our Country, like we have never seen before,” he said in his statement. “The establishment hated it. Now, as they watch my endorsed candidates win big victories, and see my dominance in all polls, they are trying to stop me, and the Republican Party, once more. The lawlessness, political persecution, and Witch Hunt must be exposed and stopped.”

Republicans back Trump

National Republicans reacted harshly to news of the FBI raid, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis saying it made the country into a “banana Republic.”

“The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves,” tweeted the governor, who himself is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024.

The FBI’s action comes after a series of closely watched hearings this summer in Congress about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which lawmakers said the former president played a key role in instigating. The former president has yet to concede that he lost the 2020 election, instead insisting — without evidence — that the race was stolen from him.

Trump has attempted to recruit a litany of candidates running in the 2022 midterm elections, including the GOP’s gubernatorial nominees in Arizona and Pennsylvania, who agree that the election was stolen in 2020.

The nearly century-old Mar-a-Lago was a frequent destination for Trump when he held office, often used as a weekend getaway for the former president. During his presidency, Trump declared a domicile on the grounds of the resort as his primary place of residence.

Miami Herald staff writer Omar Rodriguez Ortiz contributed to this story.