What we know about the FBI’s search of Trump’s Florida home

Former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence was searched Monday night by the FBI. Reports suggest the search was a part of investigations into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida home, marking a dramatic escalation into various investigations swirling around him. Carrie Johnson, who covers the Justice Department NPR, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Questions are swirling after the FBI searched former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Florida, home yesterday.

    Reports suggest the search was a part of investigations into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump was not in Florida at the time, but he announced the news of the search himself last night, decrying it as weaponizing the justice system against him and a political attack.

    This marks what could be a dramatic escalation of one of several investigations related to the former president.

    Carrie Johnson covers the Justice Department for NPR. She is following all of this closely. And she joins us now.

    Carrie, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, what do we think they were after?

  • Carrie Johnson, NPR:

    We don't have a copy of the search warrant or the underlying affidavit, Judy.

    We do think that President Trump — former President Trump and/or his lawyers might have at least some of those materials. They have not released them publicly. So far, what we do know from the Trump attorneys and the Trump family members, including Eric Trump, one of the adult sons of former President Trump, is that this appears to have been a court-executed search related to the Presidential Records Act and the possible violation of laws related to classified material.

    We think this all began back in February, when the National Archives reported to the Justice Department that something like 15 boxes of information had wrongfully wound up at Mar-a-Lago, instead of with the Archives. And it set off this entire process.

    And it has included a grand jury investigation and now what appears to be an unprecedented search by the FBI of the property belonging to a former president of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what is so curious, among many things, about what has happened is that there was this meeting back in the spring.

    And they discussed, as it was reported, as you said, 15 boxes. But now we are told it's been reported by former President Trump's lawyer that they took away another 12 boxes yesterday. So, again, do we have any clue as to what's — what this — what was here? What kind of records are they looking for?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    In typical searches, the FBI would leave the owner of the property with an inventory or kind of written receipt that explained the kinds of things they were taking.

    In this case, we do believe that happened, but President Trump, former President Trump and his attorney have not released that information. So, at this point, it's just not clear whether those 10 or 12 boxes of new materials taken out of the White — Mar-a-Lago yesterday contained top-secret information, general paperwork, or other items that would be of less sensitive national security basis.

    We just don't know. The issue seems to be that most of those materials belong with the National Archives. It's going to take the FBI some period of time to go through all of those materials in a painstaking fashion and figure out what they are and how concerning they are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, at the very least, it does appear, Carrie Johnson, that there was a disagreement at some level between the former president and the National Archives or some other branch of the federal government that was saying, you have something we think you should have turned over to us.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Yes, we don't know what was in these materials, Judy.

    What we do know is, this is an enormously monumental escalation of the legal process against the former president.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Carrie Johnson:

    And two of my sources seem to suggest it may have taken place in part because the former President Donald Trump and his attorneys were not entirely forthcoming with the Justice Department and the FBI, and may have been giving them sort of the runaround for a period of weeks or months, so putting the DOJ and the FBI in the position of having to get a magistrate judge to approve this court-executed search.

    That's not something the Justice Department does every day, certainly not with respect to a former official at this level of the government. We need to find out more. The Justice Department and the FBI, of course, are not commenting at all.

    And we need to find out more about what was in those materials. It may take former President Trump releasing that information to find out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you know, there are many calls now for Justice — for the Justice Department to put that information out there, so we can see what it was that led them to believe that there's something of value, of import that the former president was keeping — excuse me — in his possession.

    Is there any notion that Justice is going to put that information out?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Well, a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill are demanding briefings by the FBI and top Justice Department officials.

    It is highly unusual for the Justice Department and the FBI to talk about an ongoing investigation that involves a grand jury in this way. In fact, there are and laws that prohibit these kinds of officials from disclosing grand jury information.

    So I do not expect we will have a full disclosure of what the Justice Department wanted or what the FBI found in the near term. That said, at some point, some of these court materials will become public. And we will know a lot more then about why the Justice Department took this step, which appears to be unprecedented, and what they found, whether it is in fact a violation of the law.

    Judy, it's not clear that former President Trump is the target here, if there is a specific target, or that anyone will be charged with criminal wrongdoing. It may be that the government just wanted these documents back.

    But, at this point, it's hard to know for sure. There's not a lot of visibility.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if they — if it was just a matter of wanting them back, why would they then conduct this highly unusual, unprecedented search of his residence and spend several hours on the premises?

  • Carrie Johnson:

    We do know the National Archives have said that, in the initial materials that were sent back to the Archives, not the material at issue at Mar-a-Lago yesterday, but the initial material, there was top-secret information.

    So there is some basis for the Justice Department to say and to have convinced a magistrate judge that there's probable cause a crime had taken place here that may have involved national security information and violations of the Presidential Records Act, which, of course, dates back to the post-Nixon era, and potentially other laws we will find more about in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Carrie Johnson, who covers the Justice Department for NPR.

    Thank you, Carrie.

  • Carrie Johnson:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in a separate legal dispute regarding the former president, a federal appeals court today agreed with a lower court ruling that the Treasury Department should hand over Mr. Trump's tax records to a U.S. House committee.

    If appealed, the case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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