The search carried out by the American Federal Police (FBI) at the home of former President Donald Trump in Florida, as spectacular as it is unprecedented in the United States, suggests that the former leader is the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice.
But there remain many unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances and motivations behind this raid. Here’s what we know at this point and the questions it raises.
A spectacular search
Monday morning, about thirty FBI agents according to Donald Trump’s son, Eric, landed at the former president’s luxurious residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida (southeast). Trump was in New Jersey (east) at the time.
No duress was necessary because FBI agents had previously notified the President’s Protective Service of their arrival and searches, NBC reported.
Once inside, they searched the home for several hours, including a safe according to Donald Trump. They seized numerous paper documents, online newspaper Politico said, citing a source familiar with the matter.
“Never anything comparable has happened to a former president of the United States,” said Donald Trump in a statement on Monday, denouncing a coup “neither necessary nor appropriate” and claiming to be the victim of “political persecution” .
What is it about?
Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI commented, observing total silence.
But according to experts, such a search against a former president, who could run again in 2024, necessarily had the approval of the Minister of Justice, Merrick Garland and the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray.
The FBI will necessarily need a search warrant, and the judge will need to have been in possession of sufficient evidence of a possible misdemeanor or crime to issue it.
To date, no mandate has been made public.
And according to Seamus Hughes, a criminal expert at George Washington University, warrants in the district of South Florida where Mar-a-Lago is located, generally remain under seal.
“Each local jurisdiction determines its own rules on this,” he explains.
Eric Trump, however, revealed on Fox News on Monday that the search related to documents taken by the former president when he left the White House in January 2021.
Already last January, he had to hand over to the National Archives 15 boxes full of documents. The National Archives preserves all official documents of current and former presidents.
However, according to the organization, classified files were there and it informed the Department of Justice.
“The purpose of the raid, from what they said, was to see if the former president was still in possession of any documents,” said Eric Trump.
Can a president keep documents?
A law on presidential documents stipulates that all official documents of a sitting president must be handed over to the National Archives upon his departure. But this law does not really provide for sanctions.
On the other hand, American law strictly prohibits anyone from keeping classified documents and it has already been applied on several occasions, including imprisonment.
CNN reported that Justice Department officials visited Mar-a-Lago in June, including the head of the intelligence and export control section, which handles national security cases. , espionage or sabotage.
Is ex-President Trump under investigation?
Not necessarily. In themselves, the searches carried out on Monday do not mean that the former tenant of the White House is the subject of a criminal investigation.
The documents may very well have been seized as part of other investigations targeting members of the former Trump administration or as part of the investigation into the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Still, according to experts, the scale of this search targeting a former president suggests something more important.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN on Tuesday that it seemed inconceivable to him that the searches had taken place to recover documents intended for the National Archives.
“The idea that they would have done this simply because they had not obtained satisfaction (…) seems unthinkable to me. It seems to me that they must have much more than that”.