The FBI’s Monday raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort sent shock waves around Washington as it marked a significant escalation of the ongoing investigations into actions surrounding his presidency.
Trump confirmed the story himself in a lengthy statement posted on Truth Social, the social media website he founded after getting kicked off Twitter. The “siege” by FBI agents was tantamount to a “weaponization of the Justice System” by “Radical Left Democrats,” Trump wrote.
“They even broke into my safe!” he exclaimed.
A law enforcement raid on a former president is unprecedented. But so, too, were Trump’s attempts to overthrow his duly elected successor ― and whether or not he will face criminal charges for that effort or any other is still a hot question.
Here’s what you need to know.
What were they looking for?
The search warrant itself has not been made public, and the full scope of it is not yet known.
But the Justice Department is known to have been investigating Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents when he decamped to Florida from the White House. Several outlets reported that Monday’s raid is related to that probe, citing unnamed sources.
Eric Trump also said as much on Fox News.
“The purpose of the raid was, from what they said, was because the National Archives wanted to corroborate whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession,” Eric told Fox host Sean Hannity on Monday night. “And my father has worked so collaboratively with them for months.”
It’s important to note that we don’t know what kind of information might have been contained in any of these allegedly mishandled documents, and what impact, if any, they could have on national security.
Eric said the FBI sent “20 cars and 30 agents” to the resort, where they went about “ransacking an office” and “ransacking a closet.” He claimed his father didn’t have anything in the safe.
The National Archives acknowledged in February that it had recovered more than a dozen boxes of documents improperly kept at Mar-a-Lago in violation of the Presidential Records Act, which stipulates that all presidential records have to be preserved by the Archives for posterity.
In June, a small group of investigators went to Mar-a-Lago seeking more information from Trump’s lawyers on the materials he took from the White House, according to CNN, suggesting the former president could have been holding onto additional classified information. According to Eric, one such lawyer was “shocked” that the raid happened. It is believed to have come with no notice.
Trump has a known history of tearing up notes and documents. Before becoming president, he preferred to make people who worked for him sign non-disclosure agreements in order to prevent unflattering or legally troublesome information from leaking out.
How did they get the authority to make this happen?
To get a warrant, federal investigators would have needed to prove to a judge that there was evidence a crime had likely been committed and they knew where to find it ― in this case, at Mar-a-Lago. (Possibly in an office. Or a closet, if Eric can be believed.)
Legal observers believe that the spectacle of sending in criminal investigators to a former president’s home meant that the raid would have had to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Given that the Justice Department could have issued a subpoena for the information it sought, there appears to be reason to believe that the information was in danger of being lost somehow, hence the rush to nab it.
Critics were quick to paint the raid as an anti-Trump political stunt rather than the inevitable result of a balanced investigation. But observers also point out that the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, was appointed by Trump and is a member of the hard-right Federalist Society, suggesting that whatever evidence the FBI has on Trump is substantial enough to warrant such a high-profile search that will undoubtedly come under heavy scrutiny.
The Justice Department has not publicly commented on the situation.
The White House, for its part, has told news outlets it did not have advance notice of the raid.
What happens next?
The stakes are pretty high. We don’t know whether Trump will be criminally charged for anything he’s done, though.
It’s possible that purposefully hiding or destroying government documents could lead to charges, but it is not clear whether that would ultimately bar Trump from running for president again, The New York Times says. Basically, there is a law against taking government materials out of turn, and the law says you can’t run for office if you’re guilty. But there is debate over whether that could prevent someone from running for the highest office, since the Constitution determines who is allowed to do that.
Garland has made no promises as attorney general. He responded in vague terms when asked whether Trump would face criminal consequences for any of his actions, saying simply that “no one is above the law.”
“We have to hold accountable every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn a legitimate election, and we must do it in a way filled with integrity and professionalism,” Garland said at a press conference in July.
It’s important to emphasize that allegedly mishandling classified information is just one of many possibly illegal things Trump is accused of doing. The former president’s alleged misconduct ranges from tax evasion to an attempted coup, and several investigations are ongoing, including the work of the House select committee probing the Capitol attack.
While Trump has been living at his South Florida golf resort, he was reportedly not there at the time of the search due to one of those other legal problems. He was instead staying at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he was preparing for a deposition with the New York state attorney general about a financial matter, according to The New York Times.
How are Republicans taking all of this?
They’re having a normal one.
Some have spun 180 degrees on their stance against defunding the police, calling for the FBI and the Justice Department to be defunded in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid. It’s an idea that Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) floated over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but now he’s been joined by the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for his part, directly threatened Garland, telling him to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” in the event Republicans gain control of the House after midterms.
“When Republicans take back the House,” McCarthy tweeted, “we will conduct immediate oversight of this department” and “leave no stone unturned.”