AFP — The dramatic FBI raid on Donald Trump’s palatial Florida residence has supercharged the polarizing political debate around the slew of judicial investigations facing the former president as he considers another White House run.
Monday’s shock action marked a stunning escalation of legal probes into the 45th US president, drawing cheers from his political foes and condemnation from his allies.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before,” the 76-year-old Trump said of the day-long FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort.
He denounced the FBI raid as “weaponization of the Justice System” by “Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”
The FBI declined to provide a reason for the unprecedented move against a former chief executive.
But multiple US media outlets said agents were conducting a court-authorized search related to the potential mishandling of classified documents that had been sent to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.
Trump has also been facing intense legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Since leaving office, Trump has remained the country’s most divisive figure, continuing to sow falsehoods that he actually won the 2020 vote.
Leading Republicans rallied around the former president, who was not present at Mar-a-Lago when the raid took place.
Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence, a potential 2024 rival, expressed “deep concern” over the search of Trump’s home and said it smacks of “partisanship” by the Justice Department.
Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking to become speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans win November’s midterm elections, accused the Justice Department of “weaponized politicization.”
Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the raid “outrageous.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said “launching an investigation of a former President this close to an election is beyond problematic.”
Dan Scavino, Trump’s former social media manager, urged him to accelerate an announcement that he would run again.
“DO IT — 45! #TRUMP2024,” Scavino tweeted.
‘No one is above the law’ –
Democrats reacted cautiously or withheld comment.
“No person is above the law,” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, told NBC. “Not even a former president of the United States.”
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said “once we decide that the rich and powerful are above the law, we stop being America.”
In his statement, Trump did not give any indication about why the FBI raided his home but said: “They even broke into my safe!”
Andrew McCabe, a former FBI deputy director, said he believed agents may have been looking for “something specific” related to its probe into the handling of classified information.
The National Archives said in February that it had recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago and asked the Justice Department to look into Trump’s handling of classified material.
The recovery of the boxes raised questions about Trump’s adherence to presidential records laws enacted after the 1970s Watergate scandal that require Oval Office occupants to preserve records.
Speaking on CNN, McCabe said “there had to be a suspicion, a concern and indeed specific information that led (the FBI) to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over.”
– ‘Some sort of massive overreach’ –
Trump’s former communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin told CNN the raid could fire up his supporters, a small number of whom rallied outside Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday.
“If it’s seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump,” Farah Griffin said.
For weeks, Washington has been riveted by hearings in Congress about the January 6 storming of the Capitol and Trump’s attempts to overturn the election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has been careful not to tip his hand when asked whether the Justice Department is building a legal case against Trump over the Capitol riot.
“No one is above the law,” Garland has said, while adding that he intends to “hold accountable every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn a legitimate election.”
An administration official said the White House “did not have notice of the reported action” and referred further questions to the Justice Department.
Trump is also being investigated for his efforts to alter the 2020 voting results in the state of Georgia, while his business practices are being probed in New York in separate cases, one civil and the other criminal. By Chris Lefkow and Camille Camdessus