Sources say justice department officials worried records were being held unlawfully at the former president’s Florida estate
Federal investigators searched Donald Trump
’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach after an informant told them he might be storing classified records at his private club, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The search on Monday reportedly came two months after federal law enforcement officials came to Mar-a-Lago to talk about boxes of government documents that were being stored there.
Federal authorities searched Trump’s sprawling south Florida residence having obtained a warrant to seek classified and White House records that the US justice department thought Trump had kept unlawfully, two sources previously told the Guardian.
The warrant, executed by FBI agents, intimated that this investigation involving Trump is a strictly criminal inquiry.
The sources said justice department officials became worried that these records were being held unlawfully at Mar-a-Lago following government attorneys’ recent discussions with Trump’s legal team. The unprecedented search of an ex-president’s residence marked the apex of a fight between Trump and his overt disdain for the Presidential Records Act of 1978 – which mandates preservation of official records – and parties tasked with upholding that law.
The search and reports about an informant for the FBI in or around Trump’s inner circle has drawn condemnation from Trump loyalists, who have framed the search in partisan terms – and used it as a call-to-action for fundraising and voter mobilization for November’s election.
Amid the pressure from Republicans, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, on Thursday appeared at a short press conference and revealed he had personally authorized the decision to seek a search warrant of Trump’s home and that the decision had not been “taken lightly”.
He also said the US justice department (DoJ) has asked a court to unseal the search warrant the FBI received before searching Trump’s Florida estate.
It was not immediately clear when – or if – the unsealing of the warrant request might be granted or when the documents could be released. Trump will also have a chance to object.
Responding to the reports of an informant, the extremist far-right Republican Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene derided any potential informants as “traitors”.
“We now know that there was an FBI informant at Mar-a-Lago, who is that and how many other FBI informants are around President Trump on a daily basis, working at his clubs, working at Mar-a-Lago, or maybe Bedminster, or on his staff?” Greene said on her web show, according to Newsweek.
The Journal’s report chronicled discussions between justice department officials and Trump’s lawyers over these records. On 3 June, a high-ranking justice department official and three FBI agents came to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago house “to discuss boxes with government records sitting in a basement storage room along with suits, sweaters and golf shoes”.
Trump and his team seemed unaware of the possible gravity of the situation during this meeting, the newspaper said. “The former president even popped into the June 3 meeting at Mar-a-Lago, shaking hands,” the Journal reported. A source told the Journal that Trump said: “‘I appreciate the job you’re doing … anything you need, let us know.’”
The FBI sent a missive several days later asking for a more secure lock to be placed on the storage room’s door. “In the following weeks, however, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club,” the Journal reported.
The potential presence of these records follows the National Archives’ removal of 15 boxes earlier this year. Officials with the justice department were skeptical that Trump’s team was being forthright about the records that were still at his home, a source told the newspaper.
The warrant for this search alluded to the Presidential Records Act and a potential violation of statute governing classified records, an attorney for Trump reportedly said. Trump has neither disclosed this warrant nor discussed the records removed by federal agents.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican minority leader, said the justice department had come to “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization”. When Republicans win back the House, McCarthy said they will carry out oversight of the justice department – warning the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar”.