- There are lots of unanswered questions about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.
- Attorney General Merrick Garland provided a peek into the underlying search warrant on Thursday.
- Trump and his allies are filling in the blanks with wild speculation and baseless allegations.
The stunning government-sanctioned sweep of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate has sparked ideological meltdowns galore this week, with the embattled former presidents and MAGA loyalists railing against federal law enforcement officials they suspect of trying to knock the twice-impeached GOP leader out of contention from running again in 2024.
Attorney General Merrick Garland broke his silence about the raid on Thursday, confirming during a press conference that he’d personally signed off on the warrant and that he’d filed a motion to unseal the hotly-disputed document mostly because Trump had made a big deal about it.
Garland also defended the agents who conducted the search, calling them “patriotic public servants.”
Here are the biggest misconceptions (so far) floating around about what went down in Palm Beach, Florida.
FBI planted evidence
Trump, his attorneys, and Fox News host Jesse Waters put out there that perhaps federal agents weren’t collecting evidence so much as placing it on Trump’s property.
Waters and Trump attorney Alina Habba pushed that narrative Tuesday, saying the FBI “probably” planted evidence while on site and expressing concern that it might have happened, respectively.
Trump took the ball and ran with it on Truth Social, telling his devotees the search was conducted “without any witnesses to see what they were doing, taking or, hopefully not, ‘planting'” before attempting to drag former President Barack Obama and 2020 presidential rival Hillary Clinton down with him.
Trump attorney Christina Bobb riffed on that, but ultimately opted to put her own spin on things.
“At this point I don’t necessarily think that they would even go to the extent of trying to plant information,” Bobb told conservative outlet Real America’s Voice. “I think they just make stuff up and come up with whatever they want.”
Retired FBI agent and former attorney Bobby Chacon pushed back against the baseless attacks, saying that “we wouldn’t have to plant evidence” because the FBI already found 15 boxes of evidence earlier this year.
“When you can’t attack the facts, you attack the integrity of the investigation,” Chacon told Insider.
There is no evidence that the FBI has planted anything at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s immediate response to the search was to blame it all on “political persecution.”
“It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice Department, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want to run for President in 2024,” he fumed online in a post that also included references to Watergate and his two impeachment trials.
Playing the victim card is an interesting play given that Trump appointee Christopher Wray is co-leading the charge here.
Trump tapped Wray for the FBI director post in 2017, hailing him for having “impeccable credentials” after firing the previous bureau leader, James Comey, and kickstarting Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.
Meanwhile, Garland has spent the past 18 months trying to publicly stay out of any Trump-related scandals — a decision that’s frustrated members of the January 6 select committee as well as Democratic supporters who feel Trump should be held accountable for the deadly siege at the US Capitol.
Posting the search warrant
MAGA-minded lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have been clamoring to see the search warrant authorizing the FBI agents to sift through relevant files Trump took with him when he left DC.
Trump’s camp initially fanned the flames of outrage by insisting that they weren’t shown the warrant or any inventory list of what was taken, leaving them unsure about what the feds were even looking for.
The motion to unseal that Garland filed Thursday refutes that narrative.
“Former President Trump, through counsel, was provided copies of each of these documents on August 8, 2022, as part of the execution of the search,” the motion reads.
Now that it’s been confirmed that he was properly served the documents, Trump could publicly release them at any time. He’s chosen not to do so for now.
White-collar defense attorney William Jeffress said Trump is able, but probably not willing, to disclose what’s in the warrant.
“Mr. Trump is perfectly free to release the warrant and the inventory of the items taken,” Jeffress told Insider. Jeffress, who represented Richard Nixon after he left the White House, added that the reveal was unlikely to harm any legal defense, but could jeopardize his efforts “to characterize the search as baseless or abusive.”
Supervising FBI raids
Trump attorney Bobb said she “wasn’t allowed” to watch the FBI agents do their work at Mar-a-Lago.
FBI protocol requires agents to show a copy of the search warrant — as well as provide an itemized list of what was taken after it is finished — but it has discretion on whether to allow the attorney to be present while the search is conducted.
Retired FBI agent and former attorney Bobby Chacon said the agency is well within its rights to keep onlookers away.
“In a nutshell, no, they don’t have a right to be there,” Chacon told Insider. “If we want to keep them out, we can keep what we want out while we conduct the search.”
Charles R. Davis contributed to this report.