Federal investigators have searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, including the contents of a safe, the former president said in a statement on Monday, the latest indication of an intensifying criminal investigation by the Justice Department into his affairs.
The FBI executed a search warrant Monday morning at Trump’s residence that came as part of an investigation into Trump’s potentially unlawful removal and destruction of White House records after his presidency, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The move by the Justice Department to search Mar-a-Lago over the removal of 15 boxes of presidential records from the White House, including classified documents, as well as the destruction of other materials, marks a dramatic escalation in the inquiry.
“My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said in a bitter statement on Monday evening, adding: “They even broke into my safe!”
Trump has previously come under scrutiny for his flagrant violations of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 – mandating the preservation of White House documents – but the search for the first time, appears to indicate potential legal jeopardy for Trump over his records practices.
The statute governing the willful and unlawful removal or destruction of presidential records, though rarely enforced, carries significant penalties including: fines, imprisonment and, most notably, disqualification from holding current or future office.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.
The former president was not at Mar-a-Lago at the time of the raid and was at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, one of the sources said. By the time Trump issued the statement, suggesting the raid was ongoing, the FBI had already left the property.
During his presidency, Mar-a-Lago was known as Trump’s “winter White House”. Trump and his wife, Melania, returned to the Florida resort after leaving Washington and since then, the president has made it the center of his political dealings.
The raid comes as Trump has been laying the foundations for another presidential run in 2024, and in the wake of a series of damning public hearings that laid out his and his allies’ roles in the events leading up to the Capitol attack last year.
In a furious statement, Trump compared the FBI raid to “Watergate” and sought to blame it on “Radical Left Democrats” who he said “desperately don’t want me to run for president in 2024 … who will do anything to stop Republicans and Conservatives in the upcoming midterms elections”.
The FBI is headed by Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump before he left office.
The Justice Department has been quietly examining the prospect of opening a criminal investigation into the matter of Trump’s removal of documents since at least April, according to a source with knowledge of the inquiry.
In January, as the National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) prepared to transfer records from the Trump White House to the House select committee investigating January 6, it found around 15 boxes worth of materials had been improperly taken to Mar-a-Lago.
The records were eventually returned to Nara after negotiations with Trump’s lawyers – only for officials to then discover that the former president had taken with him some documents clearly marked as classified and sensitive for national security.
Also in the boxes: a letter left for Trump by his predecessor as president, Barack Obama, “love letters” from Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and a model of Air Force One with red-white-and-blue livery Trump chose but was scrapped by the Biden administration.
“Because Nara identified classified information in the boxes,” the chief archivist David Ferriero said in a letter to Congress at the time, “Nara staff has been in communication with the Department of Justice.”
The saga also prompted the House oversight committee, led by congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, to open a separate investigation that noted “removing or concealing government records is a criminal offense”. Trump must be held accountable, the New York Democrat said.
The news appeared set to inflame Trump supporters and add fuel to Republican claims that the former president is being unfairly targeted. A small group of Trump supporters were seen gathering outside Mar-a-Lago on Monday evening after the news broke, according to the Palm Beach post.