The FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday makes one thing crystal clear: The legal vise is tightening around the former President even as he weighs whether to run for president again in 2024.
“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 posted on Truth Social, his preferred social network, on Monday evening. He added that “they even broke into my safe.” Agents appear to be focused on the area of the sprawling estate where Trump’s living quarters and offices are located.
It was not immediately clear what the FBI was after — or what, specifically, the agents were looking for. Boxes of items were taken during the search, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN.
We do know that federal investigators issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration in May for access to classified documents that were taken to Trump’s home in Florida — part of a grand jury investigation into whether Trump or anyone else close to him mishandled classified documents that he took with him after leaving the White House last January.
Earlier this year, 15 boxes of White House records that Trump had brought to Mar-a-Lago were retrieved and returned to the National Archives. Among the items in the returned boxes included letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and former President Barack Obama.
The FBI search also comes on the same day that The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman revealed photos of torn-up notes appearing to bear Trump’s distinctive penmanship in toilets — one of which was in the White House.
That’s consistent with this CNN reporting from mid-February:
“Three former White House officials told CNN they saw Trump, on numerous occasions, manually destroy papers he was no longer interested in or had finished reviewing — a practice that made it difficult for White House staff secretaries to preserve presidential records. Those officials said the former President sorted through file boxes in a rather methodical way — tearing up newspaper clippings or drafts of tweets that he had rejected and tossing them to the floor, or stacking papers he wished to hang on to in a disorderly stack atop his desk.”
Disposing of notes, emails and other forms of presidential communication is against federal law as laid out in the Presidential Records Act. (Under the Act, all correspondence of a president is owned, ultimately, by the public.)
The FBI’s execution of a search warrant also comes just days after the news broke that lawyers for Trump are in touch with the Justice Department in regards to its ongoing investigation into the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol. As CNN first reported:
“The talks revolve around whether Trump would be able to shield conversations he had while he was president from federal investigators.
“In recent weeks, investigators have moved aggressively into Trump’s orbit, subpoenaing top former White House officials, focusing on efforts to overturn the 2020 election and executing searches of lawyers who sought to aid those efforts.”
Trump, CNN has also reported, has quizzed his legal team of late as to whether he might be indicted, although he himself is skeptical it will come to that. (Worth noting: Trump is not a lawyer.)
The series of developments — culminating with the high-profile search of Trump’s home on Monday — reinforce a fundamental fact of Trump’s situation: He is far more likely to see a 2024 run for president curtailed by legal problems than political ones.
Politically, Trump remains the 800-pound gorilla in the Republican field. Over the weekend, he convincingly won a straw poll at a conservative gathering in Texas. And, he has all but announced his intention to run again, with the major question at this point being when he will announce his candidacy — not whether he will do so.
Trump’s mounting legal woes — or at least the clear sense that this variety of investigations is getting closer and closer to him — complicate all of that. Trump under legal fire is one thing for Republicans to accept. Trump under indictment is something else entirely.
We are, of course, not there yet. But, Monday’s FBI activity suggests that Trump’s legal problems are likely to get worse before they get better. And they may get way, way worse.