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Former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was raided by the FBI Monday morning in an unprecedented move by the bureau, and one connected to an investigation into records Trump allegedly took with him from the White House to his private residence when he left office in January 2021.
Earlier this year, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) said Trump took 15 boxes of presidential records to his personal residence in Florida. Those boxes allegedly contained “classified national security information,” and official correspondence between Trump and foreign heads of state.
NARA notified Congress in February that the agency recovered the 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago and “identified items marked as classified national security information within the boxes.”
The National Archives and Records Administration describes itself as “the nation’s record keeper.”
“Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever,” the NARA website states.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires presidential administrations to preserve certain documents.
Under the law, all White House staff must copy or forward any presidential records created on non-official electronic messaging accounts to their official electronic messaging account within 20 days of leaving office.
According to a 2017 memorandum issued by the White House counsel’s office under the Trump administration, “any employee who intentionally fails to take these actions may be subject to administrative or even criminal penalties.”
Trump, earlier this year, said the National Archives didn’t “find” the documents, but that they were “given, upon request.”
“The National Archives did not ‘find’ anything, they were given, upon request, Presidential Records in an ordinary and routine process to ensure the preservation of my legacy and in accordance with the Presidential Records Act,” Trump said in a statement at the time, adding that Democrats “are in search of their next Scam.”
The matter was referred to the Justice Department by NARA.
Federal law bars the removal of classified documents to unauthorized locations, though it is possible that Trump could try to argue that, as president, he was the ultimate declassification authority.
The FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago took place early Monday morning, when Trump was in New York City.
An FBI source confirmed that FBI agents from Washington, D.C., who are on the bureau’s Evidence Response Team, conducted the raid and notified the Miami Field Office just before.
Per standard protocol, FBI Director Chris Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland were aware of the raid even if shortly before and would have been fully briefed.
A White House official told Fox News it did not have any notice of the reported action and referred all additional questions to the DOJ.
A source familiar told Fox News that agents brought a “safe cracker” and cracked a “relatively new” safe in Mar-a-Lago. The source told Fox News there was “nothing in it.”
A source familiar told Fox News that FBI agents went to Mar-a-Lago and looked in every single office and safe, and grabbed documents and boxes without going through them on the property. They took boxes and documents to go through them later.
“They were not being judicious about what they took,” the source told Fox News.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said FBI agents likely seized documents without inquiring if they were classified, declassified or personal to Trump.
“The Justice Department had no right to seize them indiscriminately because some may not be classified and others may be classified above their level,” he said. “There are things that have been declassified by the president, which the Justice Department doesn’t know about.”
Dershowitz slammed the unprecedented raid of the former president’s home, and questioned the bureau’s decision to execute a search warrant, rather than issue a subpoena for the records in question.
“There was no reason not to issue a subpoena returnable tomorrow, so that there’s no claim that Trump could’ve destroyed anything,” Dershowitz told Fox News. “This should’ve been a subpoena, not a search warrant.”
He added: “If it is a search warrant, it has to have a high level of cause demonstrating that the evidence would have been destroyed.”
Legal scholars note that when individuals previously violated the law regarding classified documents, the Justice Department has opted to either not prosecute or settle for lesser charges.
“The Presidential Records Act is not commonly a subject of criminal prosecution, even in the most egregious cases,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School. “These incidents have generally been handled administratively.”
Trump made the raid public Monday evening, saying in a lengthy statement that “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. “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.”
“Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before,” Trump said.
“What is the difference between this and Watergate, where operatives broke into the Democrat National Committee?” he continued. “Here, in reverse, Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States.”