Although the FBI raid of former President Donald Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., is shocking and may violate American democratic norms, it is still possible that it is a legitimate part of the law enforcement process, legal commentators told The Epoch Times.
But not enough is yet known about the facts of the case to say for sure, they added.
On the morning of Aug. 8, the FBI suddenly and without warning executed a search warrant for the premises at Mar-a-Lago, the private resort in Palm Beach where the former president now lives. The search warrant and the affidavit or affidavits supporting it have not been made public but U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the afternoon of Aug. 11 that he has asked the court to unseal the warrant. The White House has denied that President Joe Biden, who may be Trump’s opponent again in 2024 should Trump obtain the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, knew about the raid in advance. Trump himself has not said if he will run again.
Media reports based on confidential sources indicate the FBI was seeking materials that Trump may have brought home with him after his presidential term ended. The National Archives and Records Administration referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in hopes of retrieving 15 boxes of allegedly unaccounted for classified material.
Presidents routinely take documents related to their presidencies with them when they leave office. Former President Barack Obama reportedly had 30 million documents from his time in office sent to Chicago to his presidential library. Sometimes the legal status of the documents is unclear–especially since in the American system of government it is the president himself who can at will declassify sensitive documents—and the former president and the new administration enter into talks to get the documents back. Trump insists he has done nothing wrong and that he has cooperated with the administration regarding the documents in question. Trump argues there was no need for the FBI to raid his residence and that it was one in a series of “witch hunts” his enemies have carried out against him.
“These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, was raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said in an Aug. 9 email to supporters sent out by his Save America political action committee.
“[I]t’s important that you know that it wasn’t just my home that was violated—it was the home of every patriotic American who I have been fighting for since that iconic moment I came down the Golden Escalators in 2015,” Trump said, referencing the day he first announced he was seeking the presidency.
“I stood up to the Radical Left’s corruption. I restored power to the people and truly delivered for our Country like we have never seen before. The establishment hated it,” Trump said.
Trump has also accused his opponents of conducting other witch hunts against him, among them the Trump-Russia election collusion conspiracy theory, and the ongoing investigation by the House Select Committee of the Jan. 6, 2021, security breach at the U.S. Capitol complex.
According to the court docket in the case known as United States v. Sealed Search Warrant, court file 9:22-mj-08332 before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart issued the warrant for Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 5.
A magistrate judge is not nominated by the president or confirmed by the U.S. Senate but is chosen by federal district judges to carry out supporting judicial functions. A magistrate judge does not have the same powers as a Senate-confirmed judge, according to the Federal Magistrates Act of 1968.
In criminal proceedings, they may issue search warrants, arrest warrants, and summons, as well as review bail, set bail conditions, and schedule and conduct initial appearances of defendants. They also preside over pretrial conferences, preliminary hearings or “probable cause” hearings, administer oaths, and carry out depositions and extradition proceedings.
Reinhart contributed thousands of dollars to former President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and $500 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2016 bid for the GOP’s presidential nomination, according to a Fox News report which cited a New York Post article. Reinhart also reportedly provided legal representation to the late convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein during a sex-trafficking investigation. At one point Reinhart told the Miami Herald that he also acted for Epstein’s pilots and his scheduler.
The Mar-a-Lago raid is “probably legal by definition, in that courts say what the law is,” legal commentator Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“Assuming they were honest with the magistrate [who issued the search warrant], then I guess it’s legal,” Levey said. But if the authorities “lied” about the facts of the case, “that’s a different story.”
The raid at the Mar-a-Lago property where Trump lives could set a dangerous precedent, Levey said.
“It certainly goes against democratic norms and eventually we will find out what they were after and whether it was warranted,” he said.
“You would certainly want to never say that you can never raid the home of a former president, if you suspect that he’s murdered someone and there’s a dead body there.”
“On the other hand, if what we’re talking about is just an everyday fight over what should go in the National Archives, I think most people would say that’s not worth breaking a democratic norm,” Levey said.
“The problem with breaking democratic norms is they’re hard to restore. I mean, the next time we have a Republican president, they’re going to be very tempted to, say, indict Joe Biden or Hunter Biden, and it’s just not a road you want to go down.”
Search warrants, Levey added, are generally sealed and their details are not normally made available to the public.
Levey’s nonprofit describes itself as “devoted to restoring the Founders’ vision of a federal judiciary governed by the rule of law and anchored by the Constitution.”
Jim Burling, vice president of legal affairs for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a national not-for-profit public interest law firm that challenges government abuses, said that normally, the execution of search warrants isn’t a big deal, but in this case the identity of the person targeted is relevant.
“This is a former president of the United States who very well may run again in a couple of years for the presidency. So keeping that in mind, the whole thing is unprecedented—bizarrely unprecedented—to go after him” and there is a question of whether the raid was proper or whether it was “politically motivated or not.”
“You’re never going to get the DOJ to admit that there’s any politics involved. But, as you know, in the past decade or so, the FBI and DOJ has done things that are rather odd,” Burling told The Epoch Times in an interview.
But the circumstances here seem suspicious, he said, given that an attorney general appointed by the current president is targeting a “former president who may run again.”
The materials filed in support of the application for the search warrant, which presumably “spell out in detail all the alleged crimes” have to be “credible enough.”
“And how credible are those allegations? And I don’t think anybody out there, except the judge, and the people at DOJ who came up with it and wrote up the affidavit have a clue how good any of this stuff is. But who knows?”
“Like everybody else, I want to see the work,” the affidavit, to determine “how appropriate and proper this was.”
If the raid was not justified, the Biden administration “has done the country a disservice,” Burling added.