WASHINGTON, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday tried to turn the news that the FBI had searched his Florida estate to his benefit, citing the investigation in text messages and emails soliciting political donations from his supporters.
The unprecedented search marked a significant escalation of the federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed records from the White House as he was leaving office in January 2021. Trump continues to publicly flirt with running again for president in 2024 but has not said clearly whether he will do so.
Trump tried to paint the search of his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach as a politically motivated move by President Joe Biden’s administration even as the former president plays a key role in Republican primaries ahead of the November midterm elections that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
“They are trying to stop the Republican Party and me once more,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Tuesday. “The lawlessness, political persecution, and Witch Hunt, must be exposed and stopped.”
Trump launched his Save America political action committee days after losing the 2020 election to Biden. It has more than $100 million in the bank, a formidable war chest. read more
His Republican allies in Congress vowed to launch an investigation of the search itself if they recapture control of the House or Senate in November. House Republicans including Representative Jim Banks were set to meet with Trump at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club on Tuesday. read more
The Justice Department and FBI have declined to comment on or even confirm the search, which Trump disclosed in a statement on Monday.
The FBI could not have conducted the search without the approval of a judge who confirmed there was probable cause. The request almost certainly also would be approved by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Biden.
A White House official said Biden was not given advance notice of the search.
“This search warrant in my estimation probably underwent more withering scrutiny that any search warrant in the history of the Department of Justice,” said David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who oversaw prosecutions of national security offenses.
The FBI earlier this year visited Trump’s property to investigate boxes in a locked storage room, according to a person familiar with the visit. FBI agents and a Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran, spent a day reviewing materials, the source said.
Corcoran did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The search is only an investigative step and does not mean that Trump will face automatically criminal charges, or that he would be would be found guilty of any wrongdoing.
It is a criminal offense to conceal or destroy government records. Any person convicted of violating a U.S. law called the Government Records Act would be barred from holding federal office and would face a prison term of up to three years.
Legal experts said it is unclear if the disqualification provision is constitutional. The U.S. Constitution sets forth the qualifications for being a president, senator or U.S. representative. Previous Supreme Court rulings have held that Congress cannot limit the list of eligible officeholders.
That means if Trump were to be convicted, he likely would challenge any attempt to disqualify him from serving in office again, perhaps to a U.S. Supreme Court whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices he appointed.
“It is not certain that the bar set forth in the Government Records Act is constitutional,” said Mitchell Epner, a lawyer at the firm Rottenberg Lipman Rich and former federal prosecutor. “It is absolutely there and it would be in all likelihood something that would end up being litigated.”
The documents probe is one of several investigations that have focused on Trump since he left office, weeks after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an unsuccessful bid to overturn his election loss. Trump continues to falsely claim that the election was stolen through widespread voting fraud. read more
Trump remains the Republican Party’s most influential voice, though recent polling shows Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rising in stature as a potential 2024 candidate.
But Trump has weathered many political scandals and observers said this FBI search could bolster his standing with Republican voters.
“The Biden administration is only adding rocket fuel to Trump’s campaign prospects and energizing his supporters who want him to run again,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington. “There should be more transparency around the decision to have this FBI raid because it looks overly political and allows Trump to say he’s being unfairly attacked.”
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York, additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth, Jim Oliphant, Luc Cohen, David Morgan and Steve Holland; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Alistair Bell
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism