The FBI Raid on Mar-a-Lago

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Marine One, carrying then-President Trump, leaves Mar-a-Lago, 2019. (“Marine One Departs Mar-a-Lago” by The White House)

On August 8, the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, as part of the Justice Department’s current investigation into whether Trump took classified documents from the White House. The FBI found classified documents, but does this unprecedented action further divide Americans?

Under the Presidential Records Act, presidential documents must be given to the National Archives and Records Administration after a president leaves office. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating whether Trump removed papers from the White House in his last days in office, violating the aforementioned act. The DOJ received a search warrant with the approval of US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart. The affidavit stated that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed were inside Mar-a-Lago.

FBI agents executed the warrant and searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8. They discovered 48 empty folders labeled “CLASSIFIED” and another 42 empty folders labeled “Return to Staff Secretary/Miliary [sic] Aide.” They also found 10,000 government documents, including photographs, news articles, and gifts. A notice relating to the ongoing investigation of the raid reports that “The seized materials will continue to be used to further the government’s investigation, and the investigative team will continue to use and evaluate the seized materials as it takes further investigative steps, such as through additional interviews and grand jury practice.” Former President Trump could be criminally charged for concealing government records and imprisoned for up to 3 years, but he can still run for office because he is a former president. Eugene V. Debs ran for the 1920 presidential election while in prison, so Trump running from behind bars would not be unheard of.

Then-presidential candidate Trump speaks to supporters in 2015. (“Donald Trump Signs The Pledge” by Michael Vadon)

President Trump and his allies denounced the raid as a brazen attack that amounted to government persecution. Trump points out that previously, he had cooperated with the FBI and allowed them to take 15 boxes of government records from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year. He protests “after working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate.”  An FBI raid on a former president is an unprecedented event in American history; Trump drew comparisons between the raid and the Watergate scandal when President Nixon’s administration broke into the Democratic National Committee building. 

After the raid, dozens of Trump supporters converged outside Mar-a-Lago to protest, according to NBC local news in South Florida. One demonstrator conveyed the belief that “we live in a police state that the FBI and the Democrats are using the justice system for political ends as if we were in a third world country.” Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, ”Biden’s out of control DOJ is ripping this country apart with how they’re openly targeting their political enemies.” Donald Trump is a potential candidate for the 2024 presidential election, and the raid may spur him to run for the presidency for the third time. Furthermore, with the midterm elections approaching, the issue of Trump’s raid might galvanize voters in support of or in opposition to Trump’s conservative politics.

In late August, Trump filed a lawsuit asking Judge Aileen Cannon to appoint a third-party special master to review the seized items. He cites attorney-client privilege and executive privilege as reasons to withhold some of the seized documents from the investigation. After the request, Judge Cannon delayed a criminal investigation into the papers. However, that ruling was rejected by an appeals panel. On September 20, the first hearing relating to the seized documents took place. Currently, the investigation into the seized documents is underway.

There are many perspectives on the Mar-a-Lago raid and its effects on the midterms and future elections. SHC sophomore Taylor Allen believes that the raid “might be brought up, but I don’t think it will be a major topic” in the midterms. However, sophomore Claire Cannon thinks that “the raid could be used as fuel against anyone supported by Trump in the midterms. I also think that the raid will play a role in the January 6th hearings.”

The FBI’s raid at Mar-a-Lago is still a developing story and some of its effects have yet to be seen, mainly how it will affect the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections. But for the next few months, Americans will see the issue of Trump’s potential criminality ripple across their news, further polarizing already divided political parties.