WASHINGTON, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday tried to spin news that the FBI had raided his Florida estate, citing the investigation in text messages and emails seeking political donations from his supporters.
The unprecedented search marked a significant escalation in the federal investigation into whether Trump illegally deleted White House records as he left office in January 2021. Trump continues to publicly flirt with running for president again. presidency in 2024, but has not made it clear whether he will.
The warrant was tied to the National Archives and Records Administration, which is responsible for protecting presidential records that belong to the public, and whether there were any classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, according to someone familiar with the matter.
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The person said the FBI took about 10 boxes of papers, but one safe that was searched was empty.
Trump has tried to frame the research as a politically motivated move by President Joe Biden’s administration at a time when the former president is playing a key role in the Republican primaries ahead of November’s midterm elections that will determine control of the American Congress.
“They are trying to stop the Republican Party and me once again,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Tuesday. “Anarchy, political persecution and witch hunts must be exposed and stopped.”
Trump launched his Save America political action committee days after losing the 2020 election to Biden. He has over $100 million in the bank, a formidable war chest. Read more
His Republican allies in Congress have vowed to launch an investigation into the research itself if they regain control of the House or Senate in November. House Republicans, including Representative Jim Banks, were scheduled to meet Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday. Read more
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took a more measured approach, saying the country deserved a “thorough and immediate explanation” of what led to the research.
“Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should have already provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately,” McConnell said in a statement.
The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment or even confirm the research, which Trump revealed in a statement Monday.
The FBI could not have conducted the search without the approval of a judge who confirmed there was probable cause. The request would almost certainly also be endorsed by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Biden.
A White House official said Biden was not given advance notice of the search.
“This search warrant, in my view, has probably been subject to more scrutiny than any search warrant in the history of the Department of Justice,” said David Laufman, a former government official. Department of Justice which oversaw prosecutions for national security offences.
The FBI visited Trump’s property earlier this year to investigate boxes in a locked storage room, according to a person familiar with the visit. FBI agents and a Trump attorney, Evan Corcoran, spent a day reviewing the documents, the source said.
Corcoran did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The search is only an investigative step and does not mean that Trump will automatically face criminal charges or be convicted of any wrongdoing.
Concealing or destroying government documents is a criminal offence. Anyone found guilty of violating a US law called the Government Records Act could be barred from holding federal office and face a prison sentence of up to three years.
Legal experts said it was unclear whether the disqualification provision was constitutional. The United States Constitution sets out the qualifications to be President, Senator, or Representative of the United States. Previous Supreme Court decisions have ruled that Congress cannot limit the list of eligible office holders.
The document probe is one of many that have focused on Trump since he left office, weeks after his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt unsuccessful to undo his electoral defeat. Trump continues to falsely claim the election was stolen by widespread voter fraud. Read more
Trump remains the most influential voice in the Republican Party, and observers said this FBI research could strengthen his standing with Republican voters.
“The Biden administration is just adding rocket fuel to Trump’s campaign prospects and energizing his supporters who want him to run again,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington. “There should be more transparency around the decision to have this FBI raid because it seems too political and allows Trump to say he is being unfairly attacked.”
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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen, Brian Ellsworth, Jim Oliphant, Luc Cohen, David Morgan and Steve Holland; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis
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