FAQ: What we know about the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago

Politics

(NewsNation) — The FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate Monday as part of an investigation into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida home, sources confirmed to NewsNation.

While most details around the search remain murky, sources confirmed FBI agents wearing street clothes showed up at the property at 9 a.m. and left the resort around 6:30 p.m. local time.

Here’s what we know so far:

#1 – What were fbi agents looking for?

Monday’s search was related to an ongoing records probe into Trump’s handling of government documents, but it’s unclear what specific records the agents were looking for. The search warrant has not yet been made public.

FBI agents left with “dozens” of boxes after searching the estate, which took about 9.5 hours, sources said.

The search comes after the National Archives and Records Administration said it had received 15 boxes of White House records, some of which contained classified information, from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year.

The National Archives said Trump should have turned over that material upon leaving office, and it asked the Justice Department to investigate.

#2 – why does it matter if TRUMP REMOVED RECORDS?

There are a number of federal laws governing the handling of classified records and sensitive government documents.

Specifically, Section 2071 of Title 18 of the United States Code says that anyone who willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes or destroys certain government records is subject to a fine or up to three years imprisoned.

That individual would also be disqualified from holding any office “under the United States,” although legal experts have pointed out that Trump would still be able to run for president because the Constitution, not congress, sets the criteria.

“This isn’t some sort of civil effort to recover documents from the former president, they’re (the DOJ) saying they actually believe, through the probable cause standard, that a crime took place,” former federal prosecutor Andrew Cherkasky said on NewsNation’s “Banfield” on Monday.

It’s still unclear whether Trump himself is the target of the investigation and if he could be criminally prosecuted. The possibility is complicated by the fact that, as the president, Trump was the ultimate declassification authority, noted Cherkasky.

For that reason, prosecutors would likely have to prove criminal negligence or criminal recklessness in order to convict Trump of a crime related to the removal of records.

#3 – what has the former president said?

Trump decried the search Monday, calling it “prosecutorial misconduct” and likening it to the Watergate break-in.

“Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before,” Trump said in a statement about the FBI’s search. “After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate.”

Trump has previously maintained that presidential records were turned over “in an ordinary and routine process.”

#4 – who approved the search warrant?

In order to obtain a search warrant federal authorities would have had to convince a federal magistrate judge that they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed and that evidence of that crime was on the Mar-a-Lago premises.

It’s unclear which judge signed off on the warrant or what evidence was presented establishing probable cause.

Top officials at the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, were aware of the search warrant, sources told NewsNation.  

#5 – did president biden order the search?

No, President Joe Biden learned about the FBI search through public reports, “just like the American public did,” according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“President Biden has been very clear from before he was elected president, and throughout his time in office, that the Justice Department conducts its investigations independently,” Jean-Pierre added.

Even Secret Service agents at the Mar-a-Lago estate weren’t notified about the search until an hour beforehand, sources told NewsNation.

#6 – what was the reaction online?

Shortly after news of the search broke violent rhetoric appeared on a variety of internet forums. Cybersecurity experts say other sites like Parler and 4chan, which are popular among some of the more fringe elements of the right-wing, contained direct calls to action that began to spread online.

“The real concern here is that we could see content that is fairly violent, or would ordinarily be marginalized, hit the mainstream or impact millions,” said Dan Patterson, the editorial director at Cybersixgill, a cyber intelligence company.

Patterson said much of the conversation was reminiscent of the Jan. 6 riots, when organizers used social media platforms to escalate violence at the Capitol.

#7 – was this a ‘raid’ or a ‘search’?

Former President Trump, as well as numerous media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum, have referred to Monday’s search as a “raid.” NewsNation has opted use the term search instead due to the fact that a raid typically involves forcible entry.

“At the end of the day it is a search warrant. At the end of the day you do have a legal document,” explained Evy Poumpouras, a former U.S. Secret Service Special Agent.

Sources familiar with Monday’s search described a methodical, organized scene as plainclothed FBI agents entered the residence to gather documents.

Do you have a question you would like to see answered in our coverage? Please leave it in the form below and it will be sent along to our reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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