(CNN) — The FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida resort is an extraordinary and historic event given that it focused on a former US president and sparked a political uproar that he could use to fuel his likely 2024 White House bid.
In the past, the political investigations that have threatened Trump have only increased his superpower appeal to his supporters. But federal agents acted Monday on a warrant approved by a judge, suggesting they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. They focused on Trump’s personal offices and rooms at his Mar-a-Lago winter residence while the former president was in New York.
Monday’s search was related to the possible mishandling of presidential documents, possibly some classified, that may have been taken to Trump’s home, the subject of one of two Justice Department investigations related to the former president.
The news was one of the most stunning twists yet in the history of Trump, who has twice been impeached, incited a riot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss, and consistently broke the limits of his office and the democracy during his one term, and afterwards, like no other president.
He threatened to inject new toxins into the political life of a nation that is hopelessly divided, with millions of Trump supporters already believing his lies that the 2020 election was stolen, and on many issues no longer having a common understanding of the truth in itself.
It also comes with the former president eager to launch a 2024 campaign rooted in his false claims of voter fraud, which his authoritarian rhetoric suggests would present a profound challenge to democracy. That impending campaign is likely to be fueled by the political rocket fuel of a perception among Trump supporters, which he himself created in his statement announcing the raid on Monday, that he is being unfairly persecuted.
Trump takes advantage of the raid to encourage his supporters
Trump was quick to put a political spin on the operation, claiming that his “beautiful home” was “besieged, raided and occupied” while complaining that he was a victim of the “weaponizing the justice system” by Democrats who wanted to prevent him from becoming president after the 2024 election. His statement used the same explosive language and sense of grievance that drove some of his supporters to violence in Washington on January 6, 2021.
“Such an assault could only take place in broken Third World countries. Sadly, the United States has now become one of those countries, corrupt on a level never seen before. They even broke into my safe!” Trump said. He did not mention that the search was carried out on the basis of a legally authorized warrant.
Somehow, his statement, itself, reads like the opening salvo of a new presidential campaign built around a narrative of persecution by deep state forces, familiar from the approach of others from so-called ” strong men” around the world.
The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment on the raid. President Joe Biden was not aware of the Mar-a-Lago raid until after it was reported in the news, according to a senior administration official.
Not knowing whether Trump had broken any laws, many Republicans followed Trump’s example and reacted angrily, demanding an explanation from the Justice Department and claiming that the former president was the victim of a political vendetta. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whose hopes of becoming House Speaker depend on Trump’s patronage, has vowed to immediately investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland if Republicans win the House election. mid-November.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will face voters this fall, tweeted: “Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times in Third World Marxist dictatorships, but never before in the United States.” Joined”. Florida Senator Rick Scott, who chairs the campaign arm of the Senate GOP, wrote on Twitter: “We need answers NOW. The FBI needs to explain what it was doing today and why.”
The instant reactions of support for the former president, further testament to his enduring power within the GOP, were also an early sign of how this investigation will face extreme political pressure. Those answers may also show that the former president’s potential 2024 campaign could benefit from the mobilizing effect of a government investigation that he may portray as politicized and unfair, and that his potential Republican rivals may have little choice but to mobilize around this as well. situation.
But the magnitude of Monday’s events should not be underestimated, even if the question of whether the former president was in real danger of being charged with a crime, in what would be a surprising historic step, was not immediately clear on Monday night. . The exact parameters of the search warrant were also not available. Presidents have the ability to declassify sensitive information and it was unclear whether Trump could have taken such steps with the material involved. However, former presidents do not have such powers. CNN reported that boxes of items were seized by the FBI after Monday’s raid. And Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, said the office seized “paper” after what she said was “an unannounced raid.”
An extremely delicate decision
Taking such action against any major political figure would be highly sensitive. Given Trump’s status as former commander-in-chief, it’s especially dire. And the former president’s track record of inciting anger and violence makes this the most delicate move possible.
It is clear that the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI would have approved of the decision to search Trump’s compound, in full knowledge of the explosive political repercussions that would surely be unleashed.
“I can’t stress enough… how important this would have been within the Justice Department and the FBI,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on CNN Monday night.
“This is something that would have been planned, reassessed and legally examined from every possible angle by the entire leadership structure of both organizations,” said McCabe, CNN’s law enforcement analyst.
Given the political implications, there is no room for error for the Justice Department or the FBI, whose director, Christopher Wray, is a Trump appointee. There was never any doubt that Trump would react to the search by lighting a political torch. His false claims that the 2020 election was stolen have already helped incite an insurrection.
The stakes for researchers and for the political future of the country are therefore enormous. Those implications would only become more critical if it later emerges that the FBI raid was not conducted according to standards or was not critical to the national security of the country. Political sensitivities are so acute that it’s easy to see how failing to prosecute Trump after taking such a public step would raise questions about whether the raid was justified. That said, in order to obtain a warrant to search Trump’s property, FBI officials would have had to show a judge that there was probable cause to believe a federal crime had been committed and that evidence of it could be obtained. In the complex.
Trump faces multiple investigations
The Justice Department has two known active investigations related to Trump, one into the effort to nullify the 2020 presidential election and the events surrounding January 6, 2021, and the other into his handling of classified documents.
This search appears to be linked to the latest research. The National Archives, which is responsible for collecting and classifying presidential records, previously said at least 15 boxes of White House documents were recovered at Mar-a-Lago, including some that were classified. Members of Trump’s former White House team have frequently said he was careless or dismissive of the legal requirement to file all presidential documents and dismissive of classified information. Earlier Monday, newly released photos, which New York Times reporter and CNN contributor Maggie Haberman will publish in her upcoming book, showed documents apparently handwritten by Trump that she allegedly tried to flush down the toilet.
The news of the FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago comes after CNN first reported last week that the former president’s attorneys were in talks with the Justice Department regarding their investigation into the events in Washington that surrounded the Capitol insurrection. Trump may also have some legal risk in a separate investigation in Georgia into attempts by the former president and his aides to overturn Biden’s electoral victory in a swing state.
Monday’s search at Mar-a-Lago also comes against the backdrop of the House select committee’s investigation into the Capitol insurrection, which has uncovered damning new evidence about Trump’s attempts to steal the U.S. election. 2020 and its failure to try to stop the violent attack on the Capitol once it was underway. The commission has not yet said whether it will recommend criminal action against the former president by the Justice Department.
While Democrats can take solace in the fact that legal troubles are piling up for the former president and serious criminal investigations are drawing ever closer to a GOP presidential front-runner, they would do well to remember the history of attempts to hold him to account.
The then-president managed to wriggle out of the Robert Mueller investigation, even as the special counsel noted multiple bizarre links between his 2016 campaign and Russia and compiled a list of times many outside observers believed he tried to obstruct justice.
Trump’s two impeachments in the US House of Representatives, for trying to force Ukraine to investigate Biden before the 2020 election and for insurrection, did not result in convictions in the Senate trials or any attempt to prevent him from taking future federal office. His extraordinary support among rank-and-file Republicans makes it almost impossible for politicians who want a political future to oppose him. And it doesn’t seem like anything more than a clear criminal case against the former president could turn his supporters against him, and even that might not change his mind about him if he responds with the right rhetoric.
That’s even more true after FBI agents crossed a Rubicon on Monday by entering Trump’s pride and joy residence in a move that will have huge political implications, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
Kaitlan Collins, Katelyn Polantz, Zachary Cohen, Evan Perez, Sara Murray, Kevin Liptak, Dan Berman, Whitney Wild, and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.