What did FBI agents find in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate? That question remains unanswered. While the FBI, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House remain silent on the search of the ex-president’s Florida home, Republicans have rushed to denounce the search as an illegitimate political maneuver to harm the former president. The FBI raid has heightened tensions in US politics, sending shockwaves that will likely affect the November midterm elections and even the 2024 presidential election.
Before the FBI search, Trump dropped many hints that he was preparing to announce another run for the White House, and those close to the Republican believe the FBI search on Monday will only strengthen his chances. Trump has described the raid as a “coordinated attack by the radical left,” presenting himself as a victim of political persecution.
This line has been repeated by many Republicans, especially the most radical ones, who – without proof – claim that the US justice system has been politically weaponized to hurt Trump. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who is considered an alternative to Trump for the 2024 presidential election, said the US had turned into a “Banana Republic.” “The raid of MAL [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves,” he said in a message on Twitter, in reference to President Joe Biden’s son.
“This is next-level Nixonian,” Texas Governor Gregg Abbott said on Twitter. “Never before has the country seen an Administration go to such extent to use the levers of government to target a former president and political rival. This weaponizes power to squelch dissent. Such abuses must have limits.”
The governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, also spoke out against the search: “The FBI raid on President Trump’s home is an unprecedented political weaponization of the Justice Department. They’ve been after President Trump as a candidate, as President, and now as a former President. Using the criminal justice system in this manner is un-American.”
The Republican governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, was similarly scathing: “Selective, politically motivated actions have no place in our democracy.”
Even former vice president, Mike Pence, who fell out with Trump after certifying Biden’s win, expressed concern. “Yesterday’s [Monday’s] action undermines public confidence in our system of justice and Attorney General Garland must give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken and he must do so immediately,” he said in a message on Twitter.
Harriet Hageman, the favorite to win Wyoming’s Republican primary next week against Liz Cheney, Trump’s fiercest critic within the Republican Party, denounced the FBI search as “political persecution.” “If the FBI can treat a former President this way, imagine what they can do to the rest of us. It’s a two-tiered justice system – one for elites and another for their political enemies,” she tweeted.
Adding further fuel to the fire, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said Tuesday that three FBI agents went to see him while he was traveling with his family and seized his cellphone. “I’m outraged – though not surprised - that the FBI under the direction of Merrick Garland’s DOJ, would seize the phone of a sitting Member of Congress,” he said in a statement.
The FBI search of Trump’s Florida homes has been condemned by Republicans as political persecution, the weaponization of the justice system and a sign that the US has become a “third world country” – but no evidence has been provided to back these claims.
Meanwhile, Democrats have remained cautious and there are concerns that backlash to the FBI raid could hurt the party. “DOJ must immediately explain the reason for its raid and it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation and legitimacy of January 6 investigations,” tweeted former New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
What will happen next?
The impact of the FBI search largely depends on the various probes into Trump’s dealings, in particular an investigation into Trump’s removal of official presidential records from the White House to his Mar-a-Lagos estate.
It has been known for months that Trump had taken documents to his Florida home, and that some of these documents were classified, while others were damaged at the state. This was reported by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in a lengthy statement. But does this justice the FBI raid? The search is unprecedented, but a federal law called the US Presidential Records Act does require the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties. Does failure to preserve official documents warrant the search of a former president’s home? The answer to this question depends on what additional evidence the FBI had to support the need for the search.
The National Archives suspected that Trump had not delivered all White House documents. But whether the FBI action was justified will depend on what they found during the search. If they have not uncovered anything, it will be difficult to defend the move, which the White House claims it had no prior knowledge of.
Most observers and commentators believe that the Justice Department and the FBI would not have taken such a step lightly, and that a judge would not have authorized a search of the Trump estate without hard evidence. But with no explanations provided as yet, Republican outrage has dominated the debate.
It is also unclear what the raid will mean for the upcoming elections. If Trump intends to run for the White House in 2024, he may bring forward the announcement. But that could turn the November midterm elections into a referendum on the former president, which could mobilize Democrat voters. But even if he doesn’t make the announcement, Trump is going to be much more present in the minds of voters than he already was, which is no small feat.
According to the publication, Trump is scheduled to be questioned in person in Manhattan by attorneys for New York Attorney General Letitia James. The former president is accused of making financial misstatement on documents the Trump Organization used to win hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and bank loans.
Trump was originally summoned for questioning in July, but the deposition was delayed due to the death of his first wife, Ivana Trump.