By Associated Press
The FBI’s unprecedented search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence ricocheted around government, politics and a polarized country Tuesday along with questions as to why the Justice Department — notably cautious under Attorney General Merrick Garland — decided to take such a drastic step.
Answers weren’t quickly forthcoming.
Agents on Monday searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which is also a private club, as part of a federal investigation into whether the former president took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, people familiar with the matter said. It marked a a dramatic escalation of law enforcement scrutiny of Trump, who faces an array of inquiries tied to his conduct in the waning days of his administration.
From echoes of Watergate to the more immediate House probe of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Washington, a city used to sleepy Augusts, reeled from one speculative or accusatory headline to the next.
Was the Justice Department politicized? What prompted it to seek authorization to search the estate for classified documents now, months after it was revealed that Trump had taken boxes of materials with him when he left the White House after losing the 2020 election?
Garland has not tipped his hand despite an outcry from some Democrats impatient over whether the department was even pursuing evidence that has surfaced in the Jan. 6 probe and other investigations— and from Republicans who were swift to echo Trump’s claims that he was the victim of political prosecution.
All Garland has said publicly is that “no one is above the law.”
FBI agents descended on Trump’s shuttered-for-the-season home — he was in New York, a thousand or so miles away — with search warrants.
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 a potential repeat run for the White House.
Familiar battle lines, forged during a a four-year presidency shadowed by investigations, quickly took shape again. Trump and his allies sought to cast the search as a weaponization 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 and current FBI Director Christopher Wray was appointed by Trump five years ago.
Trump, disclosing the search in a lengthy statement late Monday, asserted that agents had opened a safe at his home, and he described their work as an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct.”
Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson declined to comment on the search, including whether Garland had personally authorized it.
About two dozen Trump supporters stood in protest at midmorning Tuesday in the Florida summer heat and sporadic light rain on a bridge near the former president’s residence. One held a sign reading “Democrats are Fascists” while others carried flags saying “2020 Was Rigged,” “Trump 2024” and Biden’s name with an obscenity. Some cars honked in support as they passed.
Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 rival, tweeted on Tuesday: “Yesterday’s action undermines public confidence in our system of justice and Attorney General Garland must give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken and he must do so immediately”.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said he spoke with Trump Tuesday and felt even more strongly after the search that Trump will run in 2024. “I believed he was going to run before,” he told reporters. “I’m stronger in my belief now.”