FBI searches Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida estate for classified records

WASHINGTON: The FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, people familiar with the matter said, a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of law enforcement scrutiny of the former president.

Trump, disclosing the search in a lengthy statement, asserted that agents had opened a safe at his home and described their work as an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct.” He planned to meet later on Tuesday (Aug 9) at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club with members of the Republican Study Committee, a group headed by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana that says it is committed to putting forth his priorities in Congress.

Monday’s search intensified the months-long probe into how classified documents ended up in boxes of White House records located at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year. A separate grand jury is investigating efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and it all adds to potential legal peril for Trump as he lays the groundwork for another run.

Familiar battle lines, forged during a a four-year presidency shadowed by investigations, quickly took shape again Monday night. Trump and his allies sought to cast the search as a weaponisation of the criminal justice system and a Democratic-driven effort to keep him from winning another term in 2024 – though the Biden White House said it had no prior knowledge of it, and the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, was appointed by Trump five years ago.

“These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump wrote. “Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before.”

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said.

Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson declined to comment on the search, including whether Attorney General Merrick Garland had personally authorised it.

The FBI reached out to the Secret Service shortly before serving a warrant, a third person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Secret Service agents contacted the Justice Department and were able to validate the warrant before facilitating access to the estate, the person said.

The Justice Department has been investigating the potential mishandling of classified information since the National Archives and Records Administration said it had received from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of White House records, including documents containing classified information, earlier this year. The National Archives said Trump should have turned over that material upon leaving office, and it asked the Justice Department to investigate.

There are multiple federal laws governing the handling of classified records and sensitive government documents, including statutes that make it a crime to remove such material and retain it at an unauthorised location.

Though a search warrant does not necessarily mean criminal charges are near or even expected, federal officials looking to obtain one must first demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause that a crime occurred.

Two people familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the search on Monday was related to the records probe.

Agents were also looking to see if Trump had additional presidential records or any classified documents at the estate.