What we know about the FBI search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate

The evidence suggests the Justice Department may be investigating how classified material was handled at Trump’s private residence, among other potential crimes.

Trump's Mar-a-Lago

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida. Court papers show that the FBI recovered documents  labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Last week, in an unprecedented move, the FBI executed a search warrant on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. The FBI conducted the search for White House records, documents and classified material that the former president, or his staff, allegedly mishandled. The search occurred after the National Archives discovered what appeared to be classified information contained within documents returned earlier in the year after a prior request for the items.

In the spring, the Justice Department issued a subpoena seeking documents federal investigators believed he failed to return, suggesting the Justice Department attempted to retrieve the material through other means prior to executing last week’s search warrant. Presidents do not have the right to retain presidential records after leaving office.

“If a neutral and detached judge, in this case the magistrate judge, finds that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and evidence or fruit of the crime is going to be found in a location, the judge is required to issue a warrant.” — Mark Chutkow, Dykema Gossett PLLC


Listen: Why FBI agents executed a search warrant for classified material at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

 


Guests

Nicholas Wu is a congressional reporter at Politico. He has covered former President Trump’s impeachment trials and is following the FBI’s investigation of Mar-a-Lago. He says there is a process for preserving and retaining records after someone leaves office that the National Archives revealed did not occur in this case.

“I think it was actually in February what the National Archives revealed that there were issues about classified information being stored at Mar-a-Lago,” says Wu. “What’s new here is really the Justice Department’s involvement in this, moving this from beyond the realm of a presidential records, National Archives issue, and into something becomes more of a legal Justice Department problem.”

Mark Chutkow is the leader of the Dykema Gossett law firm’s Government Investigations and Corporate Compliance Team and a former Assistant United States Attorney. He says search warrants can be executed for seizure of contraband, which can include classified documents that should not be in private hands.

“If a neutral and detached judge, in this case the magistrate judge, finds that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and evidence or fruit of the crime is going to be found in a location, the judge is required to issue a warrant,” say Chutkow. “What’s interesting is to try to figure out whether the warrant is primarily for the purpose of advancing a criminal investigation, or whether it’s simply an effort to assist the National Archives in getting its documents back. It may be a little of both.”

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