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FBI searches Trump safe at Mar-a-Lago for possible classified documents

Search was court-authorized and related to long-running investigation, person familiar with the probe said

Former President Trump listens to members of the media after a meeting with military leadership at Mar-a-Lago on Dec. 21, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Former president Donald Trump said Monday that the FBI had raided his Mar-a-Lago Club and searched his safe — activity related to an investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents, according to two people familiar with the probe.

One of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its details, said agents were conducting a court-authorized search as part of a long-running investigation of whether documents — some of them top-secret — were taken to the former president’s private golf club and residence instead of sent to the National Archives when Trump left office. That could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

Searching a former president’s property to look for possible evidence of a crime is highly unusual and would require approval at the top levels of the Justice Department. It represents a historic moment in Trump’s tortured relationship with the Justice Department, both in and out of the White House.

A department spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Attorney General Merrick Garland approved the search. The FBI also declined to comment.

In a lengthy statement in which he equated the raid to Watergate, Trump accused the FBI of “even” breaking into his safe. He provided no further details on what federal agents were looking for, or what else happened during their visit.

“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 said in a statement released through his political action committee, Save America.

The FBI searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club on Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into whether presidential documents were mishandled. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Some documents taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly marked classified, top-secret

Trump said the raid was “unannounced” and claimed it was not “necessary or appropriate.” The former president, without evidence, accused Democrats of weaponizing the “justice system” against him.

Many Republican lawmakers and political candidates also reacted with outrage Monday night, declaring the search of Mar-a-Lago a politically motivated attack intended to impede Trump’s chances if he runs for president again.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is poised to possibly become speaker should Republicans win the majority in November’s midterm elections, vowed to launch oversight investigations into the Justice Department.

“The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” he said on Twitter. “Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

Top Republicans echo Trump’s evidence-free claims to discredit FBI search

The president of the FBI Agents Association, Brian O’Hare, issued a broad defense of the investigators who carry out court-approved searches, without commenting specifically on the Trump case.

O’Hare said search warrants are issued by federal judges, “must satisfy detailed and clear procedural rules, and are the product of collaboration and consultation with relevant Department of Justice attorneys.”

FBI agents, he added, “perform their investigative duties with integrity and professionalism, and remain focused on complying with the law and the Constitution.”

Trump nominated the current head of the FBI, Christopher A. Wray, to the position in 2017, after firing the previous FBI director, James B. Comey, amid a probe into whether any Trump campaign advisers had conspired with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 election.

But Trump’s relationship with Wray also soured, and the president considered firing him on multiple occasions, former advisers said. Through most of Trump’s presidency, the two men had limited interactions.

The status of key investigations involving Donald Trump

Mar-a-Lago is closed in the hot months of Florida’s summer, and Trump’s advisers said he was not there on Monday when the search involving more than a dozen FBI agents was conducted. Trump advisers said a coterie of agents arrived Monday morning and left by late afternoon. There were few Trump employees around, but the Secret Service was present.

The former president has spent much of the summer at Bedminster, his golf resort in New Jersey. But on Monday he was in New York, according to a person familiar with his whereabouts. Trump’s team was given no heads-up about the search, several advisers said. There was no indication the FBI had searched any of Trump’s other properties, and advisers said law enforcement had not.

Evan Corcoran, a lawyer representing Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mar-a-Lago that Archives officials said should have been turned over when Trump left the White House.

“The Presidential Records Act is critical to our democracy, in which the government is held accountable by the people,” David S. Ferriero, then the archivist of the United States, said in a statement in February.

At the time, Ferriero said in a statement that Trump representatives were “continuing to search” for additional records. Trump was resistant to giving over the records for months, advisers said at the time.

Some of the materials Trump took included letters and notes from foreign leaders, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

'He never stopped ripping things up': Inside Trump's relentless document-destroying habits

The inventory of unclassified items in the boxes that were recovered earlier this year from Mar-a-Lago is roughly 100 pages long, according to a person familiar with that document. Descriptions of items that were improperly taken to Mar-a-Lago include a cocktail napkin, a phone list, charts, slide decks, letters, memos, maps, talking points, a birthday dinner menu, schedules and more, this person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the ongoing investigation.

There is a separate inventory for just the classified materials that were taken to the former president’s Florida residence, this person said. If the unclassified version of the classified inventory were organized in the same way as the inventory of nonclassified items, it would be about three pages long, according to this person.

“It’s important to note that volume is only one way to quantify the documents that were taken,” the person added. “But just one page — or one portion of highly sensitive information — being improperly released can cause great national security harm.”

As for classification level, they range from confidential to top-secret to special handling categories, the person added.

15 boxes: Inside the long, strange trip of Trump's classified records

It was not immediately clear on Monday why FBI agents would conduct a search related to the documents many months after the 15 boxes of material were retrieved. A sitting president is the top classification authority in the government, giving that person far more leeway than most government employees in deciding what is and isn’t classified.

Advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s actions, have said that he mishandled documents for years, largely by ripping them up. They described an ad hoc packing process at the end of his term, in which Trump and his family took boxes of material that should have gone to the National Archives. The Archives only learned some of the material was missing after it tried to locate items for cataloguing.

Trump advisers have denied any bad intent, saying the boxes contained mementos from his presidency.

The search of Trump’s home is the most aggressive to date by federal agents and prosecutors examining the conduct of the president and his inner circle of advisers.

Trump actions, conversations part of Justice Dept. Jan. 6 criminal probe

Separate from the investigation into the handling of documents, a federal grand jury in Washington has been gathering information about efforts by Trump lawyers and advocates to try to use fake electors to block Joe Biden from formally becoming president after the 2020 election.

As part of that investigation, authorities have begun examining Trump’s actions, seeking to understand, at a minimum, what instructions he gave to subordinates, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Federal investigators are also working up from their criminal investigations of the hundreds of Trump supporters who took part in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to see who, if anyone, tried to orchestrate violence to stop the formal congressional ceremony confirming Biden’s election victory.

It was not immediately clear on Monday whether the Justice Department has moved before to search the residence of a former president. In June 1975, Richard M. Nixon did meet behind closed doors with Watergate prosecutors and two grand jurors near his home in San Clemente, Calif. — 10 months after leaving the White House and after he was pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford.

Following lengthy negotiations, Nixon spent 11 hours over two days providing testimony to a federal grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in and coverup.

Perry Stein and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.

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