The FBI conducted a search at ex-President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The FBI has conducted a search at former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Trump announced the news himself, calling Monday's FBI action unnecessary and attacking it as politically motivated, even though he appointed the FBI director, Chris Wray.
MARTINEZ: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is following this story. Carrie, what do we know about the FBI activity at former President Trump's house?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: We know that FBI agents conducted a search at Trump's property in Florida yesterday morning, but the public didn't find out about it until Trump issued a statement last night. We're also told the search took several hours, and Trump was not in Florida at the time. The search seems to relate to an ongoing investigation of how classified documents wound up at Mar-a-Lago instead of with the National Archives. The Justice Department started investigating this in February, after the Archives said about 15 boxes of material from the Trump White House wrongfully ended up in Florida.
MARTINEZ: It sounds like a pretty big step for federal agents to search the residence of a former president. So what would they have to do legally to make that work?
JOHNSON: Well, it's safe to say the highest levels of the Justice Department would have had to sign off on this. A spokeswoman for Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Attorney General Merrick Garland had no comment. But because this involves a search warrant, a judge would have been involved, too. Judges don't approve these kinds of searches without probable cause that a crime's been committed by someone and that there's evidence in the place they want to search. Now, it's not a slam dunk that someone will eventually face criminal charges, but this is a very serious action from the Justice Department, a step they would not have taken lightly. As for the White House and the Biden administration, an official there told me they had no advance notice of this search.
MARTINEZ: Now, you mentioned that there's been a probe of those classified materials that found their way to Florida. It's gotten less attention - a lot less attention than the Capitol riot investigation. So what has the Justice Department said about the classified documents this year?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Attorney General Merrick Garland basically confirmed there was classified material in the Mar-a-Lago boxes at a press conference back in February. Garland, at that time, said DOJ would look at the facts and the law. At the time, a former prosecutor told me it would have been a gross departure for DOJ not to investigate here. But presidents typically have a lot of leeway to decide what's classified and what's not. So there may be something else going on that's still not public.
One former justice official and longtime defense lawyer told me last night it could be more information, something very sensitive, in these papers, like related to foreign relations or nonpublic documents involving January 6, rather than a simple paperwork violation. But at this point, we just don't know.
MARTINEZ: Now, Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pushing the Justice Department to investigate Donald Trump, but the attorney general has been very careful here. Why did this search happen now?
JOHNSON: A, it's hard to explain the timing without knowing exactly what the FBI has been looking for. It's true that AG Merrick Garland and Deputy AG Lisa Monaco have been exceedingly careful, moving too slowly for many critics on January 6, for example. But we do know the grand jury in Washington has heard from top advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence and that it wants to hear from Trump's White House counsel, too. That all seems to relate to the Capitol riot. Now investigators are literally knocking on Trump's door with respect to national security secrets. This is a monumental step for a Justice Department that's been really careful throughout the administration.
MARTINEZ: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.
JOHNSON: Happy to be here.
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