The release of the FBI warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence raises questions about what precisely the bureau hoped to find, and gives Trump an avenue for legal recourse, according to a former FBI official.
The FBI raided Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago on August 8, taking away roughly a dozen boxes worth of evidence, according to reports. The warrant and accompanying receipts giving vague descriptions of what was removed from the property show that the bureau took seemingly mundane objects, such as GOP operative Roger Stone’s grant of clemency, as well as several boxes purportedly containing “top secret” material.
The agents also took items that they had no right to remove, and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) said were removed by mistake, such as Trump’s passports. The DOJ informed Trump’s legal team on Monday that the FBI would be returning those documents.
While criminal search warrants typically show specificity in what items law enforcement believe will turn up, the warrant signed by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart gave a broad directive.
Mar-a-Lago “is described as a mansion with approximately 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, on a 17-acre estate. The locations to be searched include the ‘45 Office,’ all storage rooms, and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by FPOTUS and his staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored,” the warrant says.
The court order further gave the FBI license to remove any documents found on the premises from essentially Trump’s entire presidency. “Any government and/or Presidential Records created between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021” is “property to be seized,” the warrant says.
“Trump’s attorneys could have a runway to argue the scope of the search is overly broad,” Kevin Brock, a former FBI assistant director for intelligence, told Just the News. “Search warrants normally require a level of specificity that seems to be missing in this warrant. Specificity is important in order to protect 4th Amendment rights from exuberant government overreach designed to find whatever they can.”
Brock said the confiscation of Stone’s clemency grant suggests to him that the raid had more to do with Democratic probes into the circumstances of the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol than DOJ officials are claiming.
“The president’s authority to grant pardon and clemency is clear, but what isn’t clear is why the retention of a clemency order would be considered illegal,” Brock said “The fact that it is highlighted on the receipt list, and that it has to do with Stone, will likely provide ammunition to Republicans who are asserting that the search was less about a document dispute and more about a hunt for derogatory Jan. 6 information.”
The hunt for documents at Mar-a-Lago traces back to the National Archives, which asked the DOJ in January to probe Trump over documents that it claimed Trump took in violation of the Presidential Records Act. Trump reportedly gave some documents over to the Archive in February. Notably, the Presidential Records Act is not a criminal statute and cannot serve as the basis for a criminal search warrant.
The warrant says that Trump is under investigation for potentially violating the Espionage Act, as well as two other sections related to classified documents and obstruction of justice.
Brock said that the search warrant’s “stunningly broad scope” could have a chilling effect on future presidents.
“This apparently makes a novel legal assertion that any presidential record kept by a former president is against the law,” he told Just The News. “You have to wonder what the other living former presidents think about that. They have the right and, apparently, clear desire to remain silent.”