We’re learning more about yesterday’s FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, home to former President Donald Trump. Trump’s son, Eric, told Fox News the search had to do with an investigation over classified records that the former president took with him after leaving office.
FBI conducted an authorized search of the Mar-a-Lago club and residence
We know that the FBI conducted a court-authorized search beginning in the morning yesterday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence. It’s a search that took many hours, and it appears as though this is part of an investigation into the possible mishandling of government secrets. We know that top-secret papers were found at Mar-a-Lago. The National Archives and Records Administration has said that more than a dozen boxes of White House records and other items were there. These are things that should have gone to the National Archives when Trump left office but instead wound up back at Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department is investigating how that happened. And it’s important to remember here that mishandling classified documents is a crime, and people have faced charges over that in the past.
This isn’t something that the FBI can just kind of pop off and do on its own. This is something that’s court authorized. What that means is that the FBI is going to have to go to a federal judge and demonstrate probable cause, one, that a crime has been committed, and two, that evidence of that crime is at the location that they wanted to search. In this instance, that would, of course, be Mar-a-Lago. And then, if a judge is convinced that there’s probable cause for that, the judge will sign off on that warrant. So there is an independent check to ensure that this is being done according to to form and it’s not just some agent saying, hey, this is what we want to do.
No precedent for searching a former president’s residence
Technically, there is no higher bar to conduct a search warrant at a former president’s house. But of course, we all know that the stakes on this are incredibly high. The attention is going to be incredibly high. So it’s very likely that something of this nature would be signed off on at the highest levels of the Justice Department, including, perhaps, by the attorney general himself, Merrick Garland.
Unprecedented sort of has become the word of the Trump-era with everything that this – with the former president has done, whether it’s post-presidency or during his presidency. And, you know, we’ve seen Republicans really rally around the former president when, you know, a lot of people might have thought that, you know, they wouldn’t necessarily do so. And we’re hearing now that it’s potentially possible that he could be doing the political calculations in his head and thinking maybe he needs to move up the timeline of trying to get into the 2024 presidential race. So, you know, I think all of the things that people think they thought they knew or would know – don’t be shocked by anything that happens in Trump-world.
Investigation in mishandling of classified information and Mar-a-Lago began late winter
And a lot of people first found out about this raid from the former president himself in announcing it.
We do not have a good answer as to why this is happening now. We know that the investigation into the potential mishandling of classified information and Mar-a-Lago began earlier this year in the late winter. But, you know, we have not seen the search warrant. We don’t know exactly what they were looking for. We don’t know what exactly is driving this. It’s a question that, certainly when we get a chance to ask senior Justice Department officials, it’s something that we’ll be looking for, although this is something that they are going to be very tight-lipped on, knowing the fire that they’re coming under from the political right.
I mean, Trump himself has talked about this in the statement that he put out last night announcing this FBI search, saying that this is the weaponization of the Justice Department. It’s a theme that we’ve heard from him repeatedly over his time in office and certainly since he’s left office as well. And so the political atmosphere around this is actually more charged now, I think, than it’s been before, even though we knew that, you know, his actions on January 6 are under scrutiny as well.
Trump should release the search warrant
I mean, the president himself could put out the search warrant and make it public. So for all of the things that, you know – the allegations that they want to throw out and the speculation about what this search was actually about, they could make it public themselves if they wanted to. All I know, all we know is that we are in a situation that is completely unprecedented. You’ve never had a former president of the United States, a sitting president of United States, anyone at that level of government have their home searched because of an FBI search.
One of the things that I think is going to be important to bear in mind here, because there’s been a lot of churn in the past 24 hours about what this means, is that just because the FBI conducted a search of Trump’s house does not mean that he’s on the verge of being charged. It also does not mean, necessarily, that he ever will be charged. This is part of an investigation, so I’m cautioning people not to jump to the conclusion right now that Trump is somehow going to be charged in this investigation.
Congressional Republicans furious over Mar-a-Lago FBI search
Well, I would say most congressional Republicans are really outraged and sort of lashing out at the Department of Justice, at the FBI, you know, demanding a briefing on what led to this, promising investigations if Republicans win back control of the House of Representatives in November as many expect them to do. I would note that the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, has been silent.
In a contrast, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy last night tweeted out that he called this an intolerable state of weaponized politicization, and he warned Attorney General Merrick Garland, to preserve his documents and clear his calendar. That’s just sort of a, when I (laughter) – if I am speaker, you’re going to be spending a lot of time before congressional committees.
And I think that, overall, this really shows you how much Donald Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party. And if we thought after the January 6 committee hearings that there was a potential pause or pivot away from Donald Trump, I think the unity that you are seeing from the vast majority of congressional Republicans shows you what they’re seeing at home, right? A lot of these members are home right now talking to voters. Donald Trump is still very popular.
Legal battle of Trump’s tax returns has been going on for a while
This legal battle has been going on for a while. The House Ways and Means Committee oversees tax policy, and they do have the authority to request tax returns of private citizens. It’s kind of a rare authority they have that they don’t often use. But they first requested Trump’s tax returns in 2019, and it’s been through this winding court battle. And the latest ruling from the appeals court is that they do have the ability to review them.
It’s possible that Trump’s legal team will again appeal this, and it could go on for a while. But if the legal rulings hold up and they do again verify that the Ways and Means Committee can get them, there is a small group of staffers and members on that committee who could potentially see the tax data for the first time fairly soon.
January 6th Hearings Paused
After the January 6 committee hearings and this pause that we’ve had for the summer, you know, Trump has really seen his once-ironclad grip on the Republican base start to loosen a bit. And you would think on the one hand that it’s possible something like this could further damage Trump. You know, Republican base voters could see Trump as too much of a risk. They might not want to take a big chance for the race for president in 2024 with a vulnerable, current president in Joe Biden, you know, on someone like Trump who, you know, would be 78 years old if he were to win and become – if he became president again, only (laughter) to be able to serve one more term.
that is not what we are seeing from Republicans. In fact, Republican strategists are saying today that they see this as emboldening Trump, that this plays into his idea of grievance politics, which really is what shaped his brand from the time that he started and continues to press on the campaign trail, whether it’s pushing his election lie that he somehow won the election because of widespread fraud – even though we know that that’s not true – versus white grievance, which he has continued to promote over and over and over again. And this just plays into that even just a little bit more. And you could see, you know, he potentially move up that timeline for running since he’s getting some of this goodwill from Republicans.
Republicans have criticized federal agencies for getting too involved in certain issues
Now, you know, we don’t know long term how that’s going to play out and if there’s something big that the FBI or Justice Department does pull out of this that dismisses some of these allegations of politics being played by the Justice Department.
Republicans have constantly been criticizing different federal agencies for sort of getting too involved in issues that they argue they don’t belong in – over pandemic policies, about education. You know, the big climate and health care bill that the Senate just passed boosted the budget for the IRS to crack down on people who aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. Republicans seized on that and are now – a lot of Republicans saying, if this is what the FBI can do to Donald Trump, what are 87,000 new IRS agents going to do to you, American citizen? So it’s just this argument that this big, hulking, you know, government structure in Washington is invading people’s lives.