There’s a reason to suspect the FBI searching the Florida residence of former President Donald Trump was improperly intrusive, according to several lawyers. The raid prompted a rebuke from Trump and Republicans more broadly and further escalated political tensions in the nation.
About two dozen FBI agents entered Trump’s Palm Beach resort of Mar-A-Lago around 9 p.m. on Aug. 8 and left about 10 hours later with “a handful of boxes of documents,” one of Trump’s attorneys on scene, Christina Bobb, told The Epoch Times.
“I didn’t actually get to oversee the search, they wouldn’t let anybody see what they were doing,” she said.
It’s not clear what legal basis the FBI had for the raid. The agents had a search warrant signed by a judge, but the affidavit explaining the basis—its probable cause—was filed under seal and Trump’s lawyers weren’t allowed to examine it, Bobb said.
In general, the agents were looking for “what they deemed to be presidential records,” she said.
“I don’t think there was anything of substance.”
Trump’s legal team will take steps to obtain the affidavit, she said.
There has been some back-and-forth between National Archives and Trump over whether he still has some documents that should be stored at the archives under the U.S. Presidential Records Act.
Trump has been cooperative on that front, Bobb said, and even invited the FBI previously to Mar-A-Lago to examine the White House records he had in storage at the time.
“Nothing had been hidden and nothing had been kept secret from them, which makes this all the more ridiculous,” she said.
The raid may have been illegally invasive, according to former federal prosecutor Mike Davis.
“Under the case law, you can’t do a home raid if you can secure the documents through less intrusive means,” he told “Bannon War Room” on Aug. 9.
That means the FBI had to first determine that requests for the documents or even subpoenas wouldn’t be sufficient, explained Davis, who formerly advised Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on judicial nominations and now heads the Article III Project.
“There’s zero evidence” Trump wouldn’t have cooperated, he said.
“There was no allegation or evidence that he (Trump) was destroying any of this evidence or putting it into the wrong hands. This is banana republic-level tactics from the Biden Justice Department.”
Even if Trump took with him some classified documents, he took possession of them when he was still the Chief Executive and had the authority to declassify them, Davis explained.
Bobb suggested that the invocation of classified documents was a disingenuous attempt of “shrouding this in a national security blanket.”
“They don’t want to disclose what they’re doing, because what they’re doing is wrong. And so they want to hide it behind the premise of ‘Oh, it’s a matter of national security and classified documents, so we can’t disclose to you what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. But just trust us. We’re not lying to you,’” she said.
“Well, no, the American people aren’t going to stand for that anymore.”
Even if the DOJ tried to charge Trump for withholding documents, it wouldn’t hold up, Bobb said, because the statute in question requires “willful” violation, which means Trump would have had to have “some malicious intent” to take specific documents.
“They would have to lay the foundation that Donald Trump actually packed up his own office” or ordered somebody what specifically to take, she said.
History of missing documents
If Trump was holding on to some documents that should go to the archives, it would put him in the company of a lineup of former government officials.
Former FBI Director James Comey took his handwritten notes when he was fired by Trump in 2017. His home wasn’t raided. He handed the notes to FBI agents that came to interview him.
The Obama administration didn’t just fail to hand over documents, tens of thousands of its documents went missing or were destroyed. No homes were raided.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to hand over tens of thousands of emails and documents from her server because they were supposedly of a personal nature. The FBI was able to retrieve some of the documents, revealing many were, in fact, work-related. Moreover, the documents were under congressional subpoena at the time when a Clinton aide deleted them. Clinton’s home wasn’t raided though.
The raid prompted an immediate wave of skepticism over its predication, particularly because the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have a history of fudging their case against Trump.
“After six years of unfounded, absurd investigations of President Trump, the presumption is that any investigation of President Trump is politically motivated, and the burden of proof is on FBI/DOJ to prove otherwise,” commented Will Chamberlain, senior counsel at the Internet Accountability Project, in an Aug. 9 tweet.
In 2017, the FBI and DOJ obtained two extensions of a spying warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page even when they knew the warrant was based on false or unsubstantiated allegations. The FBI later acknowledged that spying based on those extensions was illegal.
The FBI also has a history of particularly harsh treatment of people associated with Trump, with his aides getting arrested at gunpoint, handcuffed, and perp-walked, and their homes and offices raided in pursuit of trivial or non-violent offenses, and even when the targets had been already cooperating with the government.
Shoe on the other foot
The Trump raid upped the ante in the already polarized political playing field, where Republicans can now argue that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
“They’re setting a very dangerous precedent where you can do a home raid of a former President of the United States,” Davis said, noting that such a thing has never happened “in our 250 years as a republic.”
Already, GOP lawmakers are promising to subject the DOJ and the FBI to intense scrutiny, with the expectation that their party reclaims majority in the House, come November midterms.
“When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in an Aug. 8 statement.
“Attorney General Garland: preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”
Judge’s Epstein connection
The search warrant was issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in the Southern District of Florida. Reinhart used to be a senior prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at the time when the office reached a non-prosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, who was later indicted for sex trafficking children and died, an apparent suicide, in a New York jail.
Upon leaving office, Reinhart went into private practice and represented multiple Epstein associates and employees in civil cases against Epstein by his alleged victims.
Reinhart was appointed a magistrate judge in 2018 by the district judges in the Southern District of Florida.
The warrant was issued on Aug. 5, the day after FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and was questioned about multiple whistleblower reports alleging politicization of the bureau. Wray cut the questioning short because, he said, he had to urgently fly somewhere. In fact, flight records indicate he hopped on the FBI private jet and headed for his vacation retreat in the Adirondacks, according to New York Post columnist Miranda Devine.