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Trump Says FBI Searched Estate in Probe08/09 06:22

   The FBI searched Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an 
investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House to 
his Florida residence, people familiar with the matter said Monday, a move that 
represents a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of law enforcement scrutiny 
of the former president.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI searched Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate as part 
of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White 
House to his Florida residence, people familiar with the matter said Monday, a 
move that represents a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of law enforcement 
scrutiny of the former president.

   Trump, disclosing the search in a lengthy statement, asserted that agents 
had opened up a safe at his home and described their work as an "unannounced 
raid" that he likened to "prosecutorial misconduct."

   The search intensifies the months-long probe into how classified documents 
ended up in boxes of White House records located at Mar-a-Lago earlier this 
year. It occurs amid a separate grand jury investigation into efforts to 
overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and adds to the 
potential legal peril for Trump as he lays the groundwork for another run.

   Familiar battle lines, forged during a a four-year presidency shadowed by 
FBI and congressional investigations, quickly took shape again Monday night. 
Trump and his allies sought to cast the search as a weaponization of the 
criminal justice system and a Democratic-driven effort to keep him from winning 
another term in 2024 -- even though the Biden White House said it had no prior 
knowledge of it, and the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, was appointed 
by Trump five years ago and served as a high-ranking official in a 
Republican-led Justice Department.

   "These are dark times for our Nation, as 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 wrote. "Nothing like this has ever happened to a 
President of the United States before."

   "After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this 
unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate," Trump said in 
his statement.

   Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson declined to comment on the 
search, including about whether Attorney General Merrick Garland had personally 
authorized it.

   Trump did not elaborate on the basis for the search, but the Justice 
Department has been investigating the potential mishandling of classified 
information after the National Archives and Records Administration said it had 
received from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of White House records, including documents 
containing classified information, 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.

   There are multiple federal laws governing the handling of classified records 
and sensitive government documents, including statutes that make it a crime to 
remove such material and retain it at an unauthorized location. Though a search 
warrant does not suggest that criminal charges are near or even expected, 
federal officials looking to obtain one must first demonstrate to a judge that 
they have probable cause that a crime occurred.

   Two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to 
discuss an ongoing investigation, said the search happened earlier Monday and 
was related to the records probe. Agents were also looking to see if Trump had 
additional presidential records or any classified documents at the estate.

   Trump has previously maintained that presidential records were turned over 
"in an ordinary and routine process." His son Eric said on Fox News on Monday 
night that he had spent the day with his father and that the search happened 
because "the National Archives wanted to corroborate whether or not Donald 
Trump had any documents in his possession."

   Asked how the documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago, Eric Trump said the boxes 
were among items that got moved out of the White House during "six hours" on 
Inauguration Day, as the Bidens prepared to move into the building.

   "My father always kept press clippings," Eric Trump said. "He had boxes, 
when he moved out of the White House."

   Trump emerged from Trump Tower in New York City shortly before 8 p.m. and 
waved to bystanders before being driven away in an SUV.

   In his first public remarks since news of the search surfaced, Trump made no 
mention of it during a tele-town hall on behalf of Leora Levy, the Connecticut 
Republican he has endorsed in Tuesday's U.S. Senate primary to pick a general 
election opponent against Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Trump gave 
his public backing to Levy late last week, calling her on Monday the best pick 
"to replace Connecticut's joke of a senator."

   But in a social media post Monday night, he was much more unguarded, calling 
the search a "weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical 
Left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for President in 2024."

   Other Republicans echoed that message. GOP National Committee Chair Ronna 
McDaniel denouncing the search as "outrageous" and said it was a reason for 
voters to turn out in November.

   Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is considered a potential 2024 
presidential candidate, said in a statement on Twitter that it was "an 
escalation in the weaponization" of U.S. government agencies. Kevin McCarthy, 
the House Minority Leader, said in a tweet that the Justice Department "has 
reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization" and said that if 
Republicans win control of the U.S. House, they will investigate the department.

   That Trump would become entangled in a probe into the handling of classified 
information is all the more striking given how he tried during the 2016 
presidential election to exploit an FBI investigation into his Democratic 
opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information 
via a private email server she used as secretary of state. Then-FBI Director 
James Comey concluded that Clinton had sent and received classified information 
but the FBI did not recommend criminal charges because it determined that 
Clinton had not intended to break the law.

   Trump lambasted that decision and then stepped up his criticism of the FBI 
as agents began investigating whether his campaign had colluded with Russia to 
tip the 2016 election. He fired Comey during that probe, and though he 
appointed Wray months later, he repeatedly criticized him too as president.

   Thomas Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University history professor who studies and 
writes about the presidency, said there is no precedent for a former president 
facing an FBI raid -- even going back to Watergate. President Richard Nixon 
wasn't allowed to take tapes or other materials from the White House when he 
resigned in 1974, Schwartz noted, and many of his papers remained in Washington 
for years before being transferred to his presidential library in California.

   "This is different and it is a sign of how unique the Trump period was," 
said Schwartz, author of "Henry Kissinger and American Power: A Political 
Biography." "How his behavior was so unusual."

   The probe is hardly the only legal headache confronting Trump. A separate 
investigation related to efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of 
the 2020 presidential election -- which led to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the 
U.S. Capitol -- has also been intensifying in Washington. Several former White 
House officials have received grand jury subpoenas.

   And a district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is investigating whether 
Trump and his close associates sought to interfere in that state's election, 
which was won by Democrat Joe Biden.

 
 
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