Federal agents searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday as part of a federal investigation into allegations that he removed classified White House documents when he left office, two people familiar with the matter said. with the search.
Trump did not say why the agents appeared to be on his Florida property, but added in an emailed statement that “this unannounced raid on my home was neither necessary nor appropriate.”
Trump is under investigation by the Justice Department for expunging presidential records from the White House and store them at Mar-a-Lago for up to a year, a potentially serious violation of the law if the records were classified. Trump has denounced that investigation, saying he had a right to take the records.
Plus: What’s going on at Trump’s house in Mar-a-Lago? Was the FBI there? Answers to your questions
Trump also claimed agents searched his safe, but gave no further details. “They even broke into my safe,” he said in his statement.
Trump and many of his associates they are also under scrutiny by the FBI, Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Service, and other federal and state agencies for alleged wrongdoing during his four-year administration and related to its various business entities.
Federal law enforcement officials had no immediate comment on whether the agents were at Mar-a-Lago and, if so, for what reason.
Searches and probable cause
Under the law, any search would have to be authorized by a judge after finding probable cause evidence that a crime has been committed, “and that there is probable cause to believe that evidence of crime exists at the location to be searched.” . said David Kelley, former Acting United States Attorney and Deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.
“For a judge to be determining probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and there is evidence of it in the president’s own safe, that’s pretty significant,” Kelley told USA TODAY.
What we don’t know: The FBI’s search of the former president’s home is big news. Now what?
Kelley said legal protocol would be to wait for someone to open the safe, even if Trump had to designate a representative to do so if he wasn’t on the premises during the search.
“You’re saying your safe was broken into. If they wanted to get into a safe and he wasn’t worried about what’s inside, why wouldn’t he just say, ‘Okay, go ahead and get into my safe,’” Kelley asked.
The Justice Department declined to comment Monday.
FBI and ‘unprecedented’ raid
Speaking on FOX News, Trump’s son Eric called the search “more political persecution of Donald J. Trump. They can’t stand that Americans love him.”
“The idea that the FBI or any other law enforcement agency is raiding the home of a former president is shocking, full stop, and unprecedented. Even for Trump,” said Matthew Dallek, a longtime presidential historian who has written extensively on modern-day politics and presidents.
“If the FBI or any other federal agency is raiding the former president’s home, I’m assuming it’s for a very active criminal investigation or investigations,” Dallek told USA TODAY. “The FBI typically raids homes for hardened criminals and mobsters. It is an iconic image that dates back decades. If a former president’s home is surrounded by FBI agents or other federal agents, that’s certainly an even more iconic image.”
More about MAL: Justice Department plans to investigate handling of White House records sent to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort
The FBI notified the Secret Service ahead of the police action, saying they had a search warrant for the property, a person familiar with the action said.
The official who is not authorized to comment publicly said the Secret Service facilitated the FBI’s entry into the property but was not involved in the search. The source did not characterize the police action as a raid, emphasizing that officials were notified before the FBI arrived.
As unprecedented as such an action is at the home of a former president, Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney, said Trump’s handling of documents justified the search.
“Nobody, not even Donald Trump, is above the law,” he says. “Properly marked classified documents were brought to Mr. Trump’s personal residence after he left office and were stored insecurely for months. That is a clear violation of the law.”
Last month, it was revealed that federal prosecutors had been questioning witnesses about the former president’s conduct as part of an investigation into an effort to nullify the 2020 election, a person familiar with the matter said.
The move is part of a more aggressive review of attempts by the former president’s allies to interfere in the election by substituting fake voters to skew the vote in key states and pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of the election. PresidentJoe Biden.
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While the source said prosecutors recently questioned witnesses about Trump, the person declined to describe the inquiries in detail.
Justice Department Approval of FBI Raid
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN late Monday that the search warrant issued for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence would have been “planned, re-evaluated and legally reviewed” at the highest levels. the FBI and the Department of Justice.
“I can’t stress enough how important this would have been within the Justice Department and the FBI,” McCabe said. “This is not, you know, a couple of officers showing up at a judge’s door in the middle of the night to get an emergency warrant.”
“This is something that would have been planned, reassessed and legally examined from every possible angle by the entire leadership structure (of) both organizations,” he said.
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Explaining the process of obtaining a federal search warrant, McCabe said any prosecutor would have to go before a judge “and convince that judge that there is probable cause to believe that a federal crime has been committed and that the evidence of that offense is contained within the space you have described in your warrant application.”
McCabe, who is now a CNN law enforcement analyst, was fired by Trump in 2018 shortly before he planned to retire from the FBI. He denounced that the dismissal was politically motivated.
The examination of Trump’s actions in the run-up to the January 6 insurrection was revealed for the first time. by the Washington Post, which cited four people familiar with the matter.
Garland on Trump and January 6
Attorney General Merrick Garland, in an NBC News last month, did not exempt Trump from federal scrutiny in the Jan. 6 investigation, saying federal prosecutors will go after “anyone who is criminally responsible.”
Attorney General: Garland promises to press charges against “anyone” criminally responsible for January 6 when pressed on Trump
“We seek justice without fear or favor,” Garland told NBC when asked if that might include Trump. “I’m going to say again that we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the … legitimate and lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”
“President Trump did not properly handle the classified documents. I witnessed it,” former Trump White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told USA TODAY. “I saw him on, I don’t know, how many times tearing up documents, throwing some on the floor, tearing up some and putting them in his pocket, not tearing up some and putting them in his pocket.”
Grisham watched as Trump mishandled the documents as they traveled together on a plane from Mar-a-Lago to Washington en route to the Middle East.
“Those could have been classified, or maybe they weren’t. I don’t know,” she said. “But it is still a mishandling of documents. Anything the president handles technically is considered sensitive.”
Last month, federal investigators searched the house from former Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, who drafted a letter to officials in six states to overturn their election results. And authorities seized the cellphone of John Eastman, one of Trump’s personal lawyers who developed a plan for then-Vice President Pence to single-handedly turn away voters in states Joe Biden won. Pence refused to carry out such a plan.
Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, acknowledged that he had testified before a federal grand jury.
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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy accused the Justice Department of reaching “an intolerable state of armed politicization.”
“When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned.” he tweeted. “Attorney General Garland, keep your documents and clear your calendar.”
Several former Trump officials appeared on FOX News to denounce the search as partisan and unwarranted.
“Unfortunately, it has crossed the Rubicon to a certain point where previous administrations are now being investigated … by the next administration,” Matthew Whitaker, Trump’s former acting attorney general, told FOX News. “It’s something (found) in a banana republic. It’s not the United States of America.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump: FBI Searches Mar-a-Lago Home, Opens Safe in Document Investigation