In the past, political investigations that have threatened Trump have only heightened his superpower appeal to his supporters. But federal agents acted Monday on a warrant approved by a judge, which suggests they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. They focused on Trump’s offices and personal quarters at his winter home in Mar-a-Lago while the former president was away in New York.
The news was one of the most stunning twists to date in the history of Trump, who has been impeached twice, prompted a popular riot in an attempt to reverse his 2020 election defeat and constantly tore guards apart. -body of his office and of democracy during his sole term, and then 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 which, on many issues , no longer has a common understanding of the truth itself.
It also comes with the ex-president eager to launch a 2024 campaign rooted in his bogus allegations of voter fraud, which his authoritarian rhetoric says would present a profound challenge to democracy. This impending campaign will likely draw political rocket fuel from a perception among Trump supporters — which he himself created in his statement announcing the search Monday — that he is being unjustly persecuted.
Trump uses research to excite supporters
Trump was quick to put a political spin on the operation, saying his “beautiful home” was “besieged, raided and occupied” while complaining that he had been the victim of “the weaponization of the justice system” by the Democrats who wanted to stop preventing him from becoming president after the 2024 election. His statement used the same explosive language and sense of grievance that motivated some of his supporters to violence in Washington on January 6, 2021.
“Such an assault can only take place in broken third world countries. Unfortunately, America has now become one of those countries, corrupt on a level never seen before. They even broke into my trunk- strong !” said Trump. He did not mention that the search was carried out on the basis of a legally authorized warrant.
Early Tuesday morning, Trump shared a new campaign-style video on his Truth Social site declaring “the best is yet to come” and he also raised funds for research.
In some ways, his reaction, in and of 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 other leaders. of strong men around the world.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on the search. President Joe Biden was unaware of the Mar-a-Lago raid until it was reported on the news, according to a senior administration official.
Unaware of whether Trump had broken any laws, many Republicans took the lead on Trump, reacting angrily, demanding an explanation from the Justice Department and claiming the ex-president was the victim of a political vendetta. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whose hopes of becoming president hinge on Trump sponsorship, immediately vowed to investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland if Republicans won the House of Representatives in the midterm election. – November mandate.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will face voters this fall, tweeted: “Using the power of government to persecute political opponents is something we have seen repeatedly in Third World Marxist dictatorships, but never before in America.” Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, wrote on Twitter, “We need answers NOW. The FBI needs to explain what they were doing today and why.”
The instant reactions of support for the former president, more testimony to his enduring power within the Republican Party, were also an early sign of how this investigation will face extreme political pressure. These responses may also show that the ex-president’s potential campaign in 2024 could benefit from the rallying effect of a government inquiry he may describe as politicized and unfair — and that potential GOP rivals have no maybe no other choice but to rally too.
But the scale of Monday’s events should not be underestimated, even if the question of whether the former president was actually at risk of being charged with a crime – which would be an astonishing historic milestone – was not immediately clear on Monday evening. . 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 action with the material involved. However, former presidents have no such powers. CNN reported that boxes of items were seized by the FBI after Monday’s search. And Trump attorney Christina Bobb said the office seized “paper” after what she called an “unannounced raid.”
A most sensitive decision
To take such action against any major political figure would be very delicate. Given Trump’s status as former commander-in-chief, this is particularly serious. And the ex-president’s history of inciting anger and violence makes this as sensitive a decision as possible.
It is clear that the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI would have approved the decision to search Trump’s compound – with full knowledge of the explosive political repercussions that were sure to unfold.
“I can’t stress enough … how important that would have been within the Justice Department and the FBI,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said Monday night on CNN.
“It’s something that would have been planned, re-evaluated and legally scrutinized from every possible angle by the entire leadership structure of both organizations,” McCabe, a CNN law enforcement analyst, said.
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 no doubt that Trump would react to the research by lighting up a political touch paper. His false claims that the 2020 election was stolen have already helped incite an insurrection.
The stakes for the investigators and for the political future of the country are therefore enormous. These implications would only become more critical if it later transpired that the FBI’s research was not being conducted according to the book or was not critical to the nation’s national security. Political sensitivities are so acute that it’s easy to see how failure to prosecute Trump after taking such public action would raise questions about whether the search was warranted. That said, in order to obtain a warrant to search Trump’s property, FBI officials would have had to prove to a judge that there were probable grounds to believe that a federal crime had been committed and that evidence to that effect had been committed. subject could be obtained at the complex.
Trump faces multiple investigations
The Justice Department has two known active investigations related to Trump, one into efforts to nullify the 2020 presidential election and events surrounding January 6, 2021, and the other involving the handling of classified documents.
Monday’s search of Mar-a-Lago also comes amid the House Select Committee’s investigation into the Capitol insurrection, which uncovered damning new evidence of Trump’s attempts to steal the election. of 2020 and his failure to try to stop the violent assault on the Capitol once it was underway. The committee has yet to say whether it will recommend criminal action against the ex-president by the Justice Department.
While Democrats might take comfort in the sense that legal troubles are piling up for the former president and serious criminal investigations are edging ever closer to a GOP presidential frontrunner, they might do well to brace themselves. remember the history of attempts to hold him to account.
The then-president managed to evade the investigation into Robert Mueller, even though the special prosecutor noted multiple strange links between his 2016 campaign and Russia and compiled a list of occasions when many observers Outsiders believed he had attempted to obstruct justice.
Trump’s two U.S. House impeachments — for trying to coerce Ukraine into investigating Biden ahead of the 2020 election and the insurgency — did not result in convictions in Senate trials nor to no effort to exclude him from future federal office. His extraordinary support among rank-and-file Republicans makes it virtually impossible for politicians who want a political future to oppose him. And it seems nothing but a clear criminal case against the ex-president can turn his supporters against him – and even that might not change their opinion of him if he responds with the right rhetoric.
That’s even truer after FBI agents crossed a Rubicon on Monday by entering Trump’s residence of pride and joy in a move that will have massive political implications, but the investigation eventually turns out.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Katelyn Polantz, Zachary Cohen, Evan Perez, Sara Murray, Kevin Liptak, Dan Berman, Whitney Wild and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.