Former US president Donald Trump has confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents “raided” his sprawling Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida in what he called an act of “prosecutorial misconduct”.
In a statement on Monday, Trump said that the FBI agents “broke into his safe” in Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach while he was away at Trump Tower in New York.
“My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” the former US president said.
Media reports suggest the FBI’s action is part of a US Justice Department investigation into Trump's removal of official records to his Florida estate while leaving the White House following the end of his presidential term early last year.
In January, as the National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) prepared to transfer records from the White House to the House select committee probing the deadly January 6. riot, it reportedly found around 15 boxes taken to Mar-a-Lago.
The records were later returned to Nara following negotiations with Trump’s lawyers, but it was then discovered that Trump had taken some documents marked as classified and sensitive for national security with him.
“Because Nara identified classified information in the boxes,” the chief archivist David Ferriero said in a letter to Congress at the time, “Nara staff has been in communication with the Department of Justice.”
The department has been mulling the prospect of opening a criminal investigation into the case since April, according to reports.
The news about the raid was first reported by Peter Schorsch, the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, on Monday. In a tweet, Schorsch said he wasn’t certain why the agency had obtained a search warrant.
“TBH, I'm not a strong enough reporter to hunt this down, but it’s real,” he wrote.
The FBI’s search warrant included examining the spots where documents were kept in the plush property, which was described as “the winter White House” during the Trump presidency.
According to a report in the Guardian, the Justice Department officials have refused to comment on the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, including whether it informed the White House, whether attorney general Merrick Garland approved the court-approved search warrant - or even if he was briefed on the raid.
“After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said in his statement, expressing anger over the unannounced raid.
Acknowledging his father’s cooperation with government agencies, Lara Trump, the former president's daughter-in-law, said he only removed mementos that he was legally authorized to take.
“Look, my father-in-law as anybody knows who's been around him a lot loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs, documents that he had every authority to take from the White House,” Lara Trump was quoted as saying by Fox News.
The unprecedented move signals a major escalation in the various investigations into the final stages of Trump’s presidency, while his legal problems continue on several other fronts, including a congressional probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol and accusations that Trump tried to influence Georgia's 2020 election results.
Pertinently, the penalties for removal of official records include disqualification from holding any federal office in the future.
As Trump is widely believed to be preparing to run for presidential elections in 2024, that unusual penalty has raised the prospect that he might be legally barred from returning to the White House.
Trump supporters accuse the Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target Trump, even as President Joe Biden has distanced himself from the Justice Department's investigation.
The White House has said it has no advance information about the FBI’s search. A senior White House official was quoted as saying by CBS News, that they learned about it "from old media, some from social media.”
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has also feigned ignorance about it, saying he doesn’t know any more details other than what he’s read in the news.
"Well I know nothing about it other than what I’ve read like everybody else, so I think it’s wise for me to withhold comment until we learn more,” he told MSNBC.
“Make no mistake, the attorney general had to authorize this,” Phillip Halpern, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in public corruption cases, was quoted as saying, adding that FBI Director Christopher Wray and a host of prosecutors would also be involved.
“This is as big a deal as you can have, and ... every single person in the chain would have had to sign off on this,” Halpern said.
Meanwhile, the FBI investigation has sparked outrage among Republicans and prominent conservatives, with some calling for the arrest of federal agents.
“I’ve seen enough,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, wrote in a statement, adding that the Department of Justice "has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”
Some of the Republicans also argued that the court-approved law-enforcement action against Trump was pushing the country toward political chaos.
The development came on the heels of another relevant prosecution last week, in which the US Department of Justice sued Peter Navarro, Trump’s advisor, seeking emails from his time in the White House that he has refused to return without a grant of immunity.