Former President Donald Trump said in a statement that FBI agents had conducted a raid of his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida, a development that sparked reactions from members of Congress as legal experts called it a major step in a criminal investigation.
It was not immediately clear what the FBI may have been seeking, though the former president made a point of saying in a lengthy statement that agents “even broke into my safe!”
The New York Times and other media outlets reported that the FBI appeared to be focused on potentially classified material that Trump had reportedly brought with him to the Florida property when he left the White House.
Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney and law professor at University of Alabama Law School, noted on Twitter that the FBI would have had to convince a federal judge of probable cause that a crime had occurred.
“Lots of options here, everything from classified documents to other crimes, but whatever it is, the judge who issued the warrant would’ve been rigorous about determining there was sufficient probable cause to support it,” Vance said.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said the search required the signoff of a federal judge who found probable that a crime had occurred.
“This means a federal judge found that there is good reason to believe that a crime was committed and that evidence of that crime was located in Mar-A-Lago,” Mariotti said on Twitter. “Trump should be very concerned.”
Later Mariotti responded to press reports that the search involved classified information kept at Mar-A-Lago. He noted that the DOJ “almost never” prosecutes the mishandling of classified material unless it is transferred to a third party.
“There is likely more to this, because I doubt they would execute a search warrant that likely wouldn’t result in charges,” Mariotti tweeted.
The Twitter account of the House Judiciary Committee Republicans, which is led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, quickly remarked, “Doesn’t the FBI have better things to do than harass the former PRESIDENT?”
Jordan would likely be the next committee chairman if Republicans take House control in November, which they are favored to do. Many Republicans and Republican candidates have outlined areas they want to investigate if given control, including President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
House Republican Study Commitee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., tweeted, “Hunter Biden skates free while DOJ executes a political plot to destroy lives of political opponents. This is un-American and @Jim_Jordan led Judiciary Committee hearings in January can’t come soon enough!”
Trump claimed political motivations for the unannounced appearance by federal law enforcement.
“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate. It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024, especially based on recent polls, and who will likewise do anything to stop Republicans and Conservatives in the upcoming Midterm Elections,” the former president said in his statement.
FBI Director Christopher Wray was nominated for the post by Trump.
Democrats on Twitter pushed back on Trump’s assertion that the search was unlawful. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said the former president showed a “profound ignorance of the law” in his statement.
“It is a horrible precedent for the Department of Justice to investigate a former President of the United States. The only worse precedent would be for @TheJusticeDept not to investigate because the person happens to be a former President. No one is above the law,” Lieu tweeted.
Others, such as House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., took a pithier approach.
“Good!” Nadler tweeted in response to the story.
CNN reported that Trump was not at the Florida residence at the time of the raid. He typically spends winters based at the Palm Beach property, but spends the summer elsewhere, including at his property in Bedminster, N.J., and New York City.
A White House official said that the White House did not have advance knowledge of the FBI action and referred questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment. However, the New York Times reported that the FBI appeared to be focused on potentially classified material that Trump had reportedly brought with him to the Florida property when he left the White House.
A spokesperson for the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot declined to comment on the FBI raid. The FBI search comes as the panel is taking a break but planning additional public hearings in September.