Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have executed a search warrant at former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home at his Mar-a-Lago club, the ex-president said in a statement on Monday evening.
Mr Trump, who according to a source close to him who spoke to The Independent was not present at his Florida residence, said the mansion-turned-private-club where he spends his winters was “currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents” who, among other things, “broke into” a safe belonging to him.
The ex-president, whose push to overturn the 2020 election is currently under investigation by multiple federal grand juries in the District of Columbia, claims to have been “working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies” and called the raid “not necessary or appropriate”.
He also claimed, without offering evidence, that the raid on his Palm Beach residence was “prosecutorial misconduct” and “the weaponisation of the justice system” meant to keep him from running for president the 2024 election.
“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,” said the twice-impeached ex-president, who asked what the difference was between the FBI executing a search warrant on his home (which requires the approval of a federal judge upon a finding that there is probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found at the location to be searched) and the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by a group of burglars working for then-president Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign.
The news that FBI agents have executed a search warrant at the former president’s residences come on the heels of a series of developments in the Justice Department’s probe into Mr Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election and the events leading up to the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters.
In June, federal agents searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, the former head of the DOJ civil division who Mr Trump briefly considered installing as acting attorney general so Mr Clark could throw the department’s weight behind his false claims of election fraud.
Multiple ex-Trump administration officials have also testified before Washington, DC grand juries investigating the January 6 attack and a scheme by Trump allies to submit fake electoral college certificates to the National Archives.
Neither the Department of Justice nor the FBI immediately responded to requests for comment from The Independent. But according to The New York Times, the raid on Mr Trump’s part-time home was carried out as part of an ongoing investigation into the ex-president’s alleged theft of classified materials during the presidential transition.
In February, then-Archivist of the United States David Ferriero told the House Oversight Committee that the National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) had “identified items marked as classified national security information” within 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago nearly a year after Mr Trump’s term as president expired.
In a letter to Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney, Mr Ferriero said Nara officials had been “in communication with the Department of Justice” because unauthorised possession of classified materials violates US criminal law.
Bradley Moss, a veteran Washington, DC lawyer who specialises in national security law, told The Independent at the time that Mr Trump lost any authorisation he might have had to possess classified materials at noon on 20 January 2021 — the moment President Joe Biden was sworn in as his successor.
Other American presidents have faced legal issues following the conclusion of their terms in office. The late 37th president, Richard Nixon, resigned to avoid being impeached and removed from office as a result of the Watergate scandal and could have been indicted for multiple federal crimes but was instead pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.
And former president Bill Clinton — the third US chief executive to face impeachment — could have been indicted for obstructing justice or perjury as a result of his making false statements during the long-running Whitewater independent counsel investigation.
But a raid on a former president’s private home is unprecedented in US history.
Richard Painter, a former head of the Office of Government Ethics under the George W Bush administration, told The Independent that a search warrant on an ex-president would not necessarily require approval from Attorney General Merrick Garland. But he added that such a step would almost certainly be approved by someone in leadership given the sensitivity of the case.
“Under Justice Department policy, a prosecutor would go to a judge for a search warrant and the FBI can get a search warrant from a judge and so can a federal prosecutor,” he said. “I believe that probably in the Justice Department, they would want to get approval for something this significant from someone fairly high up. It wouldn’t have to be Attorney General”.
But Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Mr Trump’s first impeachment, said Mr Garland likely knew, noting how in May, he had issued a memo saying that the Department of Justice must get approval before launching investigations into presidential candidates or their staff.
“It is true that the Attorney General wouldn’t necessarily need to know, that’s correct,” he said. “But I don’t believe in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department that FBI agents and prosecutors, who surely are involved, would have taken such a momentous step without consulting with the Attorney General.”
Asked whether President Biden or anyone in the West Wing was informed of the raid on Mr Trump’s home in advance, a White House official told The Independent: “We did not have notice of the reported action and would refer you to the Justice Department for any additional information.”
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