Protesters stand in front of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, August 9, 2022. The FBI search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate marked a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of the law enforcement scrutiny of the former president, but the Florida operation was just one part of one investigation related to Trump and his time in office.
Seth Wenig/AP Photo
Trump’s other homes aren’t at risk of getting searched by the FBI, predicted a former DOJ official.
Trump has been spending the summer in Bedminster and in New York City.
But Trump would have been unlikely to take documents with him, the official said.
The FBI is unlikely to raid any of former President Donald Trump’s other properties in search of additional classified documents, predicted a former Department of Justice official.
On August 8 the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and official residence in Palm Beach, Florida. The Department of Justice has said it was in search of classified documents Trump wasn’t allowed to take with him from the White House. In the process, the former president may have committed several crimes.
Peter Zeidenberg, who served on the Justice Department’s special-prosecution team during the George W. Bush-era Valerie Plame Wilson investigation, told Insider he would be “very surprised” if the FBI searched other places where Trump was spending time since leaving the White House.
“I don’t think there will be,” Zeidenberg said of the possibility of other searches. “I’d be very surprised if he spread these types of materials around the various locations.”
The FBI likely had reason to believe the documents were at Mar-a-Lago and so that’s why they requested a warrant for that property, and they likely got what they were looking for, he added.
“I don’t think they’re gonna go just looking around,” Zeidenberg said, noting the FBI has other considerations such as realizing that Republicans would perceive the search as being politically motivated.
Though Trump’s post-presidential, official residence is in Florida, he wasn’t living at Mar-a-Lago at the time of the raid. Every summer Trump leaves Florida and the club closes while he heads to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
This past summer, he has also been staying at Trump Tower in New York City — and was there at the time his Palm Beach residence was being searched.
Asked why Trump wouldn’t have the documents at other locations, Zeidenberg said, “because he never thought that anyone would ask for them” and that Trump appeared to think the documents were in a place that was secure.
“He doesn’t think from his perspective that anybody would have ever done this, come in there,” he said.
But pleading ignorance is unlikely to help Trump in this case, Zeidenberg predicted.
The Biden administration has said it was unaware of the raid before it happened. US Attorney General Merrick Garland approved the search and Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, of the US District of Court for the Southern District of Florida, signed off on the warrant. Reinhart previously donated to both former President Barack Obama and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The New York Times reported that Trump’s lawyers had several back-and-forth meetings with officials over the course of 18 months who’d asked to have the documents returned. If that’s the case, then it would be hard for Trump to say he thought he was allowed to have the documents, Zeidenberg said.
The list of items seized by FBI during the search included 11 sets of classified documents, four of which were marked “top secret,” according to an inventory released by federal agents.
It’s not clear what precisely was in the documents but the Washington Post, citing “unamed people familiar with the investigation,” said they were related to nuclear weapons. Trump denied the report on Truth Social, his social media app, calling it a “hoax.”
But Zeidenberg said the documents must be assumed to be “very serious, very high level, unquestionably national security” to merit a raid on the former president’s home.
Documents are considered to be “top secret” if their falling into the wrong hands “would result in exceptionally grave damage to national security,” Zeidenberg said, adding that Trump couldn’t take the materials home even if he had declassified them.
“They are going to freak out if that stuff gets out,” he said. “People in the government take this stuff very seriously. It’s not a joke. You don’t want this stuff around. If you have it you have to guard it with your life.”