Perhaps the central question regarding the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Florida home is whether it was a relatively narrow attempt to recover classified documents or much more than that.
Either scenario is plausible at this point. The Justice Department has long been aggressive in investigating former officials it suspects of improperly handling classified documents, including Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus. If the FBI’s research simply leads to a legalistic debate over what’s classified, it probably won’t hurt Trump’s political future.
But it also seems possible that the search is a sign of a major new legal problem for him. People familiar with the search told the Times that it was unrelated to the Justice Department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and Trump’s role in it. And it’s unlikely that Merrick Garland, the Attorney General, authorized the search warrant request or that a federal judge approved it, as required, unless it involved something significant. .
I don’t think a judge would lightly approve a search warrant for a former president’s home, said Charlie Savage, a Times reporter who has covered legal issues since the George W. Bush administration. I think the world is quite different today than it was 48 hours ago. (It’s even possible Trump could be prosecuted solely for classified documents, though that won’t prevent him from holding office again.)
As Charlie points out, there are still a lot more unknowns about research than knowns. That likely won’t change until the Justice Department makes a decision on how to conclude its investigation. A central tenet of how the Justice Department investigates and a central tenet of the rule of law is that we do not conduct our investigations in public, Garland said recently.
But at least two big points seem clear. First, even though Garland said no one is above the law, the Justice Department will not treat Trump like any other citizen. The bar for filing criminal charges against him will be higher, given that he is a former president who could run again against the current president.
The considerations when talking about a political leader are certainly different and more difficult, Andrew Goldstein, a former federal prosecutor who investigated Trump’s ties to Russia, recently told The Times. You have the very clear and important rule that the Department of Justice should try in every way not to interfere with the election, not to take action using the criminal process that could end up affecting the political process.
Still, some legal experts who previously criticized Garland for acting too coy in the Trump investigation said they were encouraged by recent signs of boldness from the Justice Department, including the search for Mar-a- The girlfriend. Andrew Weissmann, another former prosecutor who previously investigated Trump, is one such expert (as he explained in this New Yorker interview). Quinta Jurecic, editor at Lawfare, is another. When does the failure to investigate and prosecute a former president indicate that the rule of law is compromised because it sends a signal that this person is above the law? Jurecic told us.
She added: That doesn’t mean it’s going to result in an impeachment of the president.
The second point is that Trump appears to be the subject of multiple criminal investigations and prosecutors may decide that his violations of the law were so significant that they merit prosecution. One such investigation is being led by state prosecutors in Georgia, who may not be as cautious about indicting a former president as Garland seems likely to be.
Either way, the answer will likely become clear well before November 2024. Prosecutors, especially at the Justice Department, typically try to avoid making announcements about investigations of political candidates during a campaign. (James Comeys’ decision to ignore this tradition and announce that he had reopened an investigation into Clinton at the end of the 2016 campaign was a notable exception, and many pundits believe he erred in doing so.)
The rest of today’s newsletter summarizes the latest Times reports on the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago and also gives you a quick overview of the multiple investigations Trump is facing.
Prior to the raid, Justice Department officials had expressed concern that Trump kept some documents, despite returning others.
If found guilty, could Trump be barred from office? A relevant law has not been tested.
The Justice Department did not notify the White House of the search, President Bidens’ press secretary said.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who pushed to undo Trump’s loss, said the FBI seized his cellphone.
The Trump Investigations
Georgia prosecutors are investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse his 2020 election loss there, including a phone call in which Trump asked an election official to find additional votes. The Timess Annie Karni explains the possible charges.
The Justice Department is also questioning witnesses before a grand jury about Trump’s efforts to reverse his election defeat. And federal prosecutors are examining his allies’ plan to submit fake voters from key states to disrupt certification of Bidens’ victory.
Trump faces a few other investigations, some of which could result in civil but not criminal penalties. The main exception is a criminal investigation into his business by the Manhattan District Attorney, but that appears to have fallen apart.
Trump will be questioned under oath today by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating his business practices.
LATEST NEWSPrimary Evening
One assessment: Olivia Newton-Johns’ transformation unlocked something new that propelled her to the pinnacle of Olympus pop.
A preppy classic: LL Bean personalized tote bags have become blank canvases.
A Times classic: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
Wirecutter Tips: Tips for washing swimsuits.
Lived Lives: Clients of Bert Fields, the entertainment lawyer and master marketer, included Tom Cruise, Madonna and the Beatles. Fields died at age 93.
SPORTS NEWS FROM ATHLETIC
Roger Goodell makes his point: The NFL commissioner yesterday said the league appealed Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watsons, who offered a six-game suspension because the evidence clearly showed that Watson was engaging in predatory behavior. If the suspension comes close to a full season, as Goodell prefers, there’s a case for Cleveland to bring in Jimmy Garoppolo.
LIV golfers take an L: A judge has upheld the banning of three PGA Tour defectors at LIV Golf who were looking to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs which begin today in part, because they did so well compensated by the rebel series. Whoops.
Kevin Durant’s lack of influence: The 33-year-old NBA superstar may not have enough cards to fight his way out of the Brooklyn Nets following his latest demands. It gets interesting.
ARTS AND IDEAS The role of LGBTQ museums
When creating Queer Britain, England’s first LGBTQ museum, the organizers asked themselves a question: should they focus on celebrating history, aimed at a mainstream audience, or on taking into account debates within the community?
It’s a choice all LGBTQ museums must make, writes Tom Faber in The Times. The Berlins Schwules museum, which opened in 1985, is overtly political; its latest exhibits address biases in the history of the museum. Queer Britain took a more traditional approach, highlighting artefacts from history such as notes from the first Parliamentary AIDS meeting and notable Britons like Ian McKellen, Elton John and Virginia Woolf.
PLAY, WATCH, EATWhat to cook
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