CNN) — We are again in uncharted territory.
The FBI has never before searched the home of a former US President, much less one gearing up to run for office again.
Federal agents, with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge, searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago on Monday and removed boxes of items.
Trump referred to the action as a “raid” and said Mar-a-Lago was “under siege” and pointed out that “they even broke into my safe.”
What was the FBI looking for?
The search was part of an investigation into the handling of presidential documents, including classified documents, that may have been brought there, three people familiar with the situation told CNN.
The search, according to Trump’s son Eric in an appearance Monday night on Fox, had to do with the National Archives.
“The National Archives wanted to, you know, corroborate whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession,” he said.
What’s required to obtain a warrant?
From CNN’s Tierney Sneed: “(I)nvestigators would have had to show a judge that there was probable cause of a crime and that evidence of that crime was located at Mar-a-Lago.”
They must have believed there were documents Trump did not turn over before, experts told Sneed. Read her full explanation of the process.
Who signed off on the search?
The FBI is run by Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee. The Department of Justice is run by Merrick Garland, a Joe Biden appointee who has frustrated many Democrats with his slowness to publicly focus on Trump. Investigators convinced a federal judge they needed a warrant to search the former President’s home.
“The fact that a federal judge approved it shows that, hey, they’ve got something there. We just don’t know what it is,” said George Conway, a conservative anti-Trump attorney, during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day.” Watch the interview with Conway.
How many current investigations involve Trump?
Key line from CNN’s news report: The Justice Department has two known active investigations connected to the former President, one on the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and January 6, 2021, and the other involving the handling of classified documents.
It’s for January 6, rather than documents, that many Americans might most like to see Trump prosecuted, particularly after watching hearings this summer conducted by the House committee investigating the insurrection.
What’s this about documents down the toilet?
Trump’s disdain for preserving recordsis well known. He was said to hide things from staffers and routinely ripped up pieces of paper.
Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter and CNN contributor who has a forthcomingbook about Trump, has obtained photos of ripped-up documents, apparently with Trump’s writing in thick black ink, cast into toilets at the White House and during overseas travels. See them.
Yes, we have reached the photographs-of-documents-in-toilets portion of the Trump saga. No, the documents in the toilet don’t appear to have anything to do with the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.
Why does Trump appear to be loving this attention?
In spite ofhis potential legal exposure, Trump clearly sees a political upside to all of this. He’s whipping up supporters, asking them for money and alleging the government is out to get him.
Trump critics are hoping what we ultimately learn about the FBI’s investigation will be enough to beat back the already brewing conspiracy theories.
“This I’m hoping goes beyond simply not complying with some archiving laws, or DOJ just handed Donald Trump the Republican nominee and potentially the presidency,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House communications director under Trump who became a critic of her former boss.
“If it’s seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump,” she said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”
She argued he knows how to manipulate this situation to his political favor and pointed out that he essentially broke the news with a post to his Truth Social account.
How are Republicans reacting to this search?
For an indication of how Republicans are viewing the search, take a look at their responses.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no great friend of Trump, declined to comment, others have taken up the former President’s claim that this is a form of persecution.
Multiple GOP senators said Garland should quit his job as attorney general. Others said they could move to impeach him if they win control of the Senate after November’s midterm elections.
“Garland must resign or be impeached. The search warrant must be published. Christoper (sic) Wray must be removed. And the FBI reformed top to bottom,” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the search seemed like something from a less free country.
“The FBI raid was unprecedented for America, but familiar to those in Florida who fled nations where political opposition was criminalized,” he said on Twitter.
How long has this standoff been percolating?
CNN’s Holmes Lybrand and Marshall Cohen have been tracking developments since we first learned of Trump’s standoff with the National Archives and Records Administration, which ultimately asked the Department of Justice to investigate Trump’s potential mishandling of classified documents that he took from the White House and brought to Mar-a-Lago.
Here’s the general timeline they put together:
- May 2021: NARA contacts Trump team over important documents that weren’t handed over before he left office.
- Fall 2021: NARA grows frustrated with slow pace of document turnover, reaches out to another Trump lawyer.
- January 2022: NARA retrieves 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, in pre-arranged deal with Trump team.
- January 31, 2022: NARA says some of the recovered White House documents “had been torn up by former President Trump.”
- February 9, 2022: News outlets report that NARA asked DOJ to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records.
- February 18, 2022: NARA says classified records were found among documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.
- April and May 2022: The FBI interviews Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago as part of the investigation into mishandling documents.
- May 12, 2022: News outlets report that federal investigators subpoenaed NARA for access to classified documents that were taken to Mar-a-Lago.
- June 3, 2022: FBI investigators visit Mar-a-Lago, briefly see Trump, meet with Trump lawyers and see where documents are stored.
- June 8, 2022: FBI informs Trump attorneys they must further secure the room where documents are stored; they later add a padlock.
- August 8, 2022: The FBI executes a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago as part of document probe; agents remove boxes from the property.
Didn’t Trump supporters chant ‘lock her up’ about Hillary Clinton and classified info?
As a candidate in 2016, Trump made the treatment of classified data by Hillary Clinton during her time as US secretary of state one of his major campaign issues.
Suggesting she had broken the law with what the FBI determined to be careless handling of classified data on a private email server system, Trump backers led chants of “lock her up” at his rallies.
Now, it’s Trump who is the subject of an FBI investigation into his handling of classified data.
What could Trump be facing legally?
We don’t completely know. He has not been charged with any crime. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Laura Jarrett have previously examined whetherTrump could be charged with a crime if he mishandled federal documents.
For him to be charged with unlawfully retaining or destroying documents, prosecutors would have to show he “willfully” violated the law, which could be a high bar.
With regard to classified documents, Trump could theoretically argue that, as President, he declassified any documents in his possession — although that could be complicated if there is no paper trail of declassification. Read the full report assessing Trump’s risk.
At least one Democrat sees this as extremely serious for the former President.
“If Donald Trump were my client, and thank the Lord he is not, I would be telling him to call his family and say, ‘We should make arrangements, I might be going to jail,'” Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, said on CNN.