See what could happen to Trump after the FBI operation

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The search warrant that the FBI served at the Florida home of former President Donald Trump on Monday signaled an extraordinary escalation of an investigation into the handling of certain documents from his presidency and raises questions about questions about whether his legal exposure extends beyond his improperly taking government documents when he left the White House.

What exactly the FBI was looking for and why is still unknown. But to obtain a search warrant, investigators would have to show a judge that there was probable cause of a crime and that evidence of that crime was located at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach resort.

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Here’s what you need to know about the legal significance of the search, which comes as Trump is preparing for a potential 2024 presidential race, and what might come next:

What would it have taken for the Department of Justice to obtain the search warrant?

In order to obtain judicial authorization for the search, investigators would have to present a detailed statement to a judge that establishes that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that such evidence exists within the last few days on the property where the search is being carried out.

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The search warrant was reportedly filed under secrecy, meaning its details are not publicly available at the moment (although they may become public in the future). West Palm Beach federal court lists only one search warrant request under wraps since June that hasn’t been closed as of Friday, according to the court’s public case record.

But before prosecutors could even go so far as to ask a magistrate to approve the warrant, to go ahead with a search of such historical and political importance, investigators would have to get approval from the highest levels of the Justice Department, legal experts told Reuters. CNN .

Former Justice Department officials told CNN that it was likely that, at the very least, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco would have had to have given the go-ahead and that Attorney General Merrick Garland and/or FBI Director Chris Wray could also have been consulted .

“Not only would investigators have to suggest this, not only would a prosecutor have to agree to this, but multiple levels of management would have to approve it — all the way to the attorney general,” Daren Firestone, a former Justice Department attorney , I told CNN .

The Justice Department declined to comment.

What does this mean for Trump’s legal exposure?

Taking the extraordinary step of executing a search warrant on the home of a former president suggests investigators are looking at more than the National Archives had previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago, according to legal experts.

In January, the National Archives recovered 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago, including material that had been identified as confidential, but activity regarding these boxes has been quiet since then.

Mar-a-Lago: The property was purchased by Trump in 1985 and turned into a club

“I really don’t believe the department would have taken such a significant step as a warrant to search the president’s residence on information they already had,” said Andrew McCabe, a former FBI deputy director and contributor to the FBI. CNN . “There had to be a suspicion, a concern, and indeed specific information that led them to believe that there were additional materials that had not been delivered.”

Prior to Monday’s search news, a law known as the Presidential Records Act was at the forefront of public speculation about Trump’s legal jeopardy, as further investigative steps were taken related to the handling. of White House documents at the time of the Trump administration.

This law – passed after Watergate to make clear that certain records of a presidency belong to the public and not the former incumbent – ​​is not a criminal law and has been seen as a relatively useless law.

A search warrant and the presence of the FBI signify a criminal investigation. There are other record retention statutes that bring with them criminal penalties – such as the Espionage Act – but at this time it is unclear which criminal statutes were implicated in the Justice Department’s investigation.

It is a crime to destroy or remove federal records, or to manipulate confidential documents. There are other federal laws that aim to prevent tampering with information during an investigation.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued subpoenas for presidential materials, including confidential documents that the National Archives had previously retrieved. Earlier this year, the FBI also interviewed Trump aides in Mar-a-Lago as part of the investigation, according to a source familiar with the matter.

For investigators to escalate their investigation with a search warrant, “there would have to be something serious enough that deserves more than a mild reprimand,” said Firestone, now a partner at Washington-based firm Levy Firestone Muse.

It is also notable that the Department of Justice did not go down the path of civil proceedings against the former president for the way he handled the documents in question.

Last week, the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against former Trump White House employee Peter Navarro, alleging that he had violated the Presidential Records Act and seeking a court order to compel him to deliver emails from a private account he used while working in the White House during the Trump administration.

Because now?

The search was carried out two months after the unreported June 3 meeting between Justice Department investigators and Trump’s attorneys at the resort. During the visit, reported by the CNN on Monday, four investigators, including the head of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, visited a basement where boxes of materials were being stored.

Five days later, investigators sent Trump’s lawyers a letter asking them to further secure the room that stores the documents, prompting aides to put a padlock on the door.

The fact that the FBI executed a search warrant two months later indicates that federal officials were not satisfied with what they saw on the visit or that they were not confident in the voluntary cooperation they were receiving from the Trump team, some legal experts said. It is possible that federal employees also needed official approval to retrieve confidential records.

“The fact that the FBI learned that Trump still had documents [em Mar-a-Lago] in June and felt the need to return two months later with a search warrant, indicates that the agency has evidence that Trump and his team were withholding additional confidential records and did not take any steps to properly return them to the Archives,” Bradley said. Moss, national security attorney.

It may also have taken months for the Justice Department to decide on the search and how to proceed with it.

As the FBI was leaving Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s team reportedly received a document resembling a receipt for what was taken. But the Justice Department can be as vague as it likes on this documentation.

More broadly, the Department of Justice can keep large parts of its investigation secret. The agency made that clear in court documents Monday night during its search for John Eastman, the former Trump attorney who spearheaded plans to subvert the 2020 election.

In that lawsuit — where the Justice Department was arguing against a request by Eastman that Jan. 6 investigators return devices seized from him in late June in New Mexico — prosecutors said the agency was under no obligation to share with Eastman. more details about the status of your search.

President Donald Trump intends to use Mar-a-Lago as his residence

“The government has no doubt that the plaintiff would like full knowledge of the government investigation and the ability to engage [agentes federais] in a debate on the warrant’s grounds,” the document said.

“But the law only, and properly, requires a neutral magistrate to find probable cause to search and seize any electronic devices on his person; does not require the person searched to know the basis of the warrant.”

What happens next?

It remains to be seen how unprepared Trump’s lawyers were of the FBI’s actions taken on Monday and what the former president’s team has been discussing with the Justice Department over its handling of documents in previous interactions with investigators.

Trump could take pre-emptive legal action to challenge in court the FBI’s handling of the search, perhaps with the aim of discarding any evidence investigators have obtained or at least trying to get more information about what they are investigating.

But without that judicial activity, the next steps of the investigation could well remain secret.

Can Trump be barred from running for president if he is found to have violated registration law?

Another law that may be implicated by the FBI search is one that prohibits the deliberate concealment, removal, or mutilation of government records. This law threatens as punishment the disqualification “from holding any office in the United States.”

However, there are doubts about the constitutionality of this law and its applicability to a Trump presidential race if he is convicted of it.

Because the Constitution sets out specific qualifications for presidential office—and establishes a separate impeachment process to disqualify presidents from holding office in the future—some argue that Congress would not have the authority to enact such a law that would apply to a presidential candidate.

*With information from Katelyn Polantz, Gabby Orr and Kaitlan Collins of CNN.

Source: CNN Brasil

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