Former US President Donald Trump said on Monday that his Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, has been raided by FBI agents.
"After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate," Trump said in a statement.
The unprecedented search of a former president's home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business.
"After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate."Donald Trump
Trump did not say why the raid took place.
Mar-A-Lago "is currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents," he said. "They even broke into my safe."
Eric Trump, one of the former president's adult children, told Fox News that the search concerned boxes of documents that Trump brought with him from the White House, and that his father has been cooperating with the National Archives on the matter for months.
A source familiar with the matter also confirmed to Reuters that the raid appeared to be tied to Trump's removal of classified records from the White House.
According to US Code, an individual who illegally conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys any type of government documents in their possession is disqualified from ever holding office in the US.
This means that if the FBI discovers that Trump was hiding or tried to destroy documents that he took from the White House when he left, as well as being fined or imprisoned or both, Trump could be banned from running for president ever again.
“He’s as shocked as anybody,” said Lara Trump, the ex-president’s daughter-in-law, who told Fox that she had spoken with him earlier in the evening. “Everybody’s been cooperating with the FBI” with regard to the “documents that have been in question.”
“They are terrified he’s going to announce any day that he’s running for president in 2024, and this is a very convenient way to just throw a little more mud on Donald Trump, as though they haven’t already done enough,” she said.
Just hours before agents searched Trump's residence on Monday, the FBI notified the Secret Service about the bureau’s plans to execute the warrant, according to a Secret Service official. The Secret Service facilitated access to the property, the official said, but did not participate in any aspect of the search.
The search began early Monday morning and law enforcement personnel appeared to be focused on the area of the club where Trump's offices and personal quarters are, according to CNN.
The Justice Department declined to comment, as did the White House. A White House official said it was not notified about the search.
At Justice Department headquarters, a spokesperson declined to comment to NBC News. An official at the FBI Washington Field Office also declined to comment, and an official at the FBI field office in Miami declined to comment as well.
The Justice Department has two known active investigations connected to the former president, one on the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the Capitol events of January 6, 2021, and the other involving the handling of classified documents.
Who authorized the search?
Trump was not present at the time as he was in New York on Monday, Fox News Digital reported, publishing a photo of Trump that a Fox reporter said showed him leaving Trump Tower.
Trump, who has made his club in Palm Beach his home since leaving the White House in January 2021, has generally spent summers at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, because Mar-a-Lago typically closes for the summer.
A federal law called the US Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president's official duties.
Any search of a private residence would have to be approved by a judge after the investigating law-enforcement agency demonstrated probable cause that a search was justified.
It almost certainly would also be approved by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Trump's successor and political rival, President Joe Biden.
Democratic supporters of Biden have criticized Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. A White House official said Biden was not given advance notice of the search and referred queries to the Justice Department.
"Make no mistake, the attorney general had to authorize this," said Phillip Halpern, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption cases, adding that 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.
Trump supporters have accused the Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target Trump, even as Biden has attempted to distance himself from the Justice Department.
The investigation comes after the US National Archives and Records Administration in February notified Congress that it had recovered about 15 boxes of White House documents from Trump's Florida home, some of which contained classified materials.
“The former president of the United States did not handle classified documents properly,” said Trump’s former press secretary Stephanie Grisham, CNN reported. “I watched him go through documents, throw some away, rip some up and put some in his pocket.”
“If your home is searched by the FBI, you’re in big trouble,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Monday evening on CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith.
The US House of Representatives Oversight Committee at that time announced it was expanding an investigation into Trump's actions and asked the archives to turn over additional information. Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the Archives, calling it "an ordinary and routine process."