FBI raid Trump's house:
An fbi raid on August 8th at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of Donald Trump, indicates that an investigation into his activities since he left the presidency has escalated dramatically. The unprecedented intrusion into the residence of a former president—who is also mulling a third run—has provoked outrage from Mr Trump and his supporters, who will seek to gain political advantage from it.
The inquiry apparently involves documents Mr Trump may have illegally brought with him from the White House to Florida after leaving office. It appears to be separate from a host of other legal tangles he faces: an investigation by the Department of Justice (doj) into Mr Trump’s attempts to thwart his electoral loss in 2020; civil lawsuits directed at his business practices in New York; and a criminal inquiry into election fraud in Georgia.
With no word from the fbi (headed by Christopher Wray, whom Mr Trump appointed in 2017) or the doj, the main source of information on this development is the subject of the investigation himself. “My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida” Mr Trump wrote on Monday evening, “is currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of fbi agents.” Mr Trump was in New York at the time. His son, Eric, had informed him of the raid and told Fox News that the fbi had a search warrant for presidential records. Mr Trump said federal authorities’ sweep through his home included prising open his safe (which, according to his son, was empty).
The legal risks for toting classified documents out of the White House are high. An investigation has been under way for months concerning 15 boxes of documents found at Mar-a-Lago that should have been turned over to the National Archives. The Presidential Records Act, a law passed in 1978, requires presidents to transfer all notes, memos, emails and related papers to the National Archives upon leaving office. While the act lacks an enforcement mechanism, related laws have teeth. Criminal statutes prohibiting the mutilation, concealment or depredation of government property carry penalties including fines and imprisonment.
The doj’s aggressive approach suggests the inquiry is at a fairly advanced stage. To conduct the sweep of Mr Trump’s home, agents had to persuade a federal magistrate judge that it contained, in accordance with the Fourth Amendment, evidence suggesting “probable cause” that a specific federal crime has been violated. Merrick Garland
, the attorney-general, has made no statement regarding the investigation—in keeping with the doj’s usual practice of keeping mum until charges are filed.
For now, there are only clues as to which documents the fbi was after, and why. It is notable that Mr Garland decided to press forward with a search warrant—and the surprise raid it authorised—as opposed to the slower path of issuing a subpoena for the documents. According to Andrew Weissmann, a former doj lawyer who was general counsel for the fbi, Mr Garland’s tactics strongly suggest “he believed there would be obstruction—that those documents would not be produced or would disappear” if Mr Garland had opted for a more deliberate process. The historic first of raiding a former president’s home is “not a step you take lightly”, he told msnbc, and Mr Trump himself, rather than his advisers or associates, “is clearly the target” of the investigation.
The raid is not, in itself, proof that the doj will ultimately bring charges against Mr Trump or anyone else. But Mr Weissmann suggests that discussions about the allegedly mishandled documents between the doj and the former president may have culminated in an incomplete return of papers. If Mr Trump retained classified documents after promising to send them all back to Washington, Mr Wasserman says, he could be subject to charges of theft of government property and making false statements.
Republicans have reacted with fury (and perhaps a little glee). The most common line among elected officials and on sympathetic media, such as Fox News, echoed Mr Trump’s statement, in which he claimed the raid was the sort of thing that happens in “broken, third-world countries”. Rick Scott, a Floridian senator, said exactly that, as did his colleague, Marco Rubio, who added “Marxist” for good measure. Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the party in the House of Representatives, threatened to investigate the doj for what he called “weaponised politicisation”. Talking to Sean Hannity on Fox News, Eric Trump said for the first time that he hopes his father will run again. On the conspiracist far right of the party, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of Congress from Georgia, and Paul Gosar, one from Arizona, called for the fbi to be defunded or destroyed, as did Laura Ingraham, a Fox News presenter. On pro-Trump forums, anonymous internet trolls called for “civil war” and for militias to step in to start one.
But so far, with the exception of a few dozen unarmed people who congregated outside Mar-a-Lago, there is little evidence of Trump supporters responding in real life to the call of the internet.
After a noted silence, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the party in the Senate, has also demanded that the doj provide an immediate explanation for the raid. The party seems sure to keep talking about it—not least as a fund-raising strategy. Mere hours after the news broke, the Republican National Committee sent out texts with links to WinRed, a Republican fund-raising network, seeking money to “stop Joe Biden”.
The political turbulence stirred by the raid is exactly what, historically, the doj has sought to avoid in conducting its business. In keeping with the department’s long-standing wariness of being perceived as partisan, Mr Garland reminded his associates in May to stay “neutral and impartial” when undertaking investigations with political overtones. Bill Barr, Mr Trump’s second attorney-general, released a similar memo in 2020 regarding “certain sensitive investigations”. To uphold the doj’s “reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship”, he wrote, prosecutors should approach potential election crimes with “sensitivity and care” and without giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.
Republicans might interpret the events of August 8th as a sign that the doj has abandoned this discretion. But Mr Garland’s long-earned reputation for circumspection—which some on the left have lamented as excessive—suggests the opposite. He is not one for taking bold steps on a whim. The doj is likely to have taken this extraordinary measure, despite the political firestorm that would ensue, for a straightforward reason: because it has a very strong suspicion that evidence of a federal crime was lurking in Mr Trump’s Florida home.