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The Morning Dispatch: The FBI Raids Trump’s Home
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The Morning Dispatch: The FBI Raids Trump’s Home

An investigation into documents taken from the White House escalates.

Happy Tuesday! Declan is finally back from vacation—just as the news breaks that the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence. Coincidence? We’re not at liberty to say.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Former President Donald Trump said Monday Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, accessing a safe on the premises. Trump was not present at the time of the search, and the agency was reportedly investigating misconduct related to classified documents allies of the former president allegedly brought to the residence after he left office. The warrant associated with the search has not yet been made public.

  • The Pentagon announced a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine on Monday that will include ammunition for HIMARS artillery, mortars, surface-to-air missile munitions, 1,000 Javelin anti-tank weapons, Claymore anti-personnel mines, and medical supplies, among other equipment. This will be the largest of 18 military aid packages the U.S. has sent Ukraine since August 2021. Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters Monday the U.S. estimates between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded since fighting began.

  • A nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, has come under heavy fire in recent days, with Russian and Ukrainian officials blaming each other for the shelling of the facility that has been occupied by Russian forces for months. The plant is reportedly still operational and being run by Ukrainian technicians—no radiological release has been detected, none of the reactors themselves have been hit, and the reactors’ surrounding domes are designed to withstand terrorist attacks and natural disasters—but the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warned continued shelling could lead to “catastrophic consequences.”

  • Russia’s foreign ministry said Monday the Kremlin would stop allowing U.S. inspections of its nuclear arsenals—violating the New START Treaty—complaining that U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prevent reciprocal Russian examinations of American arsenals. The ministry said inspections would resume “after the existing problematic issues” are resolved.

  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler will likely fail to advance to the general election in Washington’s 3rd District after her Trump-backed Republican primary challenger, Joe Kent, overtook her on Monday following the latest round of ballot counting. First elected in 2010, Herrera Beutler would become the third House Republican who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump to lose to a primary challenger. Another four of the 10 are retiring from Congress, and Rep. Liz Cheney faces primary voters in Wyoming next week. If his victory is confirmed, Kent will face Democratic candidate Marie Perez in the general election.

  • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement Monday that the country has arrested more than 4,000 people in the last two months for alleged links to the rebel Oromo Liberation Army and terrorist insurgency group al-Shabaab. The country also killed about 800 al-Shabaab members, Abiy said, and returned about 250,000 internally displaced people to their homes.

  • Negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal concluded Monday, and the final text is awaiting U.S. and Iranian approval, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday. Iran has repeatedly stalled negotiations and still wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to end an investigation into its previous nuclear activities before agreeing to the deal, under which it would eliminate its enriched uranium stockpiles in exchange for the U.S. lifting economic sanctions.

  • Axios, the digital media company launched in 2017, announced Monday it was being acquired by Cox Enterprises. The deal reportedly valued the company at $525 million.

The FBI Went Down to Florida

A woman talks to a Palm Beach Police officer in front of Mar-a-Lago Monday night. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Welp, our 1,400-word deep-dive into the Inflation Reduction Act and its political implications will have to wait at least one more day.

At 6:51 p.m. last night, former President Donald Trump confirmed what Florida political journalist Peter Schorsch first reported 20 minutes earlier: The Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant on Monday at Trump’s residence in Palm Beach.

“These are dark times for our Nation,” Trump said in a statement emailed to reporters and supporters, comparing the United States to a third-world country. “After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate. It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”

Details about the search remain few and far between as of this morning, and this is no time for speculation. The Justice Department (DOJ) has thus far declined to respond to reporters’ questions about the probe, as has the FBI. People “familiar with” the investigation have told the New York Times and Washington Post it’s related to allegations Trump and his allies violated the Presidential Records Act by bringing documents to Mar-a-Lago rather than sending them to the National Archives, but we likely won’t know more until the warrant—or warrant application—is made public. The execution of the warrant itself does not necessarily mean Trump broke the law, nor does it mean the DOJ is planning to press charges against the former president.

But the fact that a judge signed off on the warrant—and the Justice Department decided to pursue it—certainly isn’t good news for Trump. “Federal magistrate judges tend to require relatively thorough, specific, and well-documented applications,” Ken White—a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor—said Monday. “The affidavit has to show that there is probable cause to believe that the specified location has the specified evidence of a specified federal crime … [though] it doesn’t have to establish probable cause a particular person committed a crime.”

“The warrant [is] hugely, historically significant,” he continued. “It’s a very major commitment to the case, an indication that they believe they have evidence that they think may well lead to indictment.”

The White House has yet to issue a formal statement responding to the news, but anonymous sources told multiple outlets that top Biden administration officials did not have advance warning of the search and found out it was happening in real time on Twitter. Given the highly sensitive nature of any investigation involving a former (and possibly future) political rival, however, the decision to execute the search warrant was likely made at the highest levels of the Justice Department—potentially even by Attorney General Merrick Garland, though the Department declined to say. 

“I can guarantee you this,” retired FBI agent James Gagliano told CBS News. “For them to do this, the Department of Justice, the FBI, every ‘i’ was dotted, every ‘t’ was crossed. Because this search warrant—the probable cause underlying it, the fact pattern that’s going to support that—would’ve had to [be] scrutinized by the upper echelons of the FBI and the DOJ for this to happen.”

Trump was reportedly in New York on Monday and not at Mar-a-Lago during the search, which was said to have taken “hours” to complete. But the former president complained of officers “breaking into” a safe on the premises, and one of his attorneys present at the scene, Christina Bobb, confirmed authorities conducted “an unannounced raid and seized paper.” Eric Trump, the former president’s second-oldest son, claimed on Fox News the safe FBI agents accessed was empty but added that they “ransacked” an office and a closet on the premises. He insisted the documents in question were simply press clippings and sentimentalities, but CNN reported last night a handful of federal investigators met with Trump and his attorneys at Mar-a-Lago in June to look into where certain—allegedly top-secret—materials were being stored.

“There is no family in American history that has taken more arrows in the back than the Trump family,” Eric maintained. “They do it for one reason: Because they don’t want Donald Trump to run and win again in 2024.” Lara Trump, Eric’s wife, suggested in a separate Fox News interview last night the raid’s timing was tied to Trump’s impending campaign announcement, which she said could come “any day” now.

Last night’s revelations seemed to rally GOP officials even closer around their party’s one-time standard bearer. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel labeled the search “outrageous” and an “abuse of power,” and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—a potential Trump 2024 rival—declared it “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” Some of the Republican conference’s fringier members called on Congress to defund the FBI, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed Republicans would “conduct immediate oversight” of the Justice Department when they take back the House. “Attorney General Garland,” McCarthy tweeted, “preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

Nearly every FBI director in the agency’s history has been a Republican—including the current one, Christopher Wray, who was nominated by Trump in 2017—but GOP voters’ confidence in the institution has plummeted in recent years as the former president and his allies railed against its investigation into alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Special Counsel John Durham’s probe into the origins of that investigation has uncovered serious issues with the FBI’s handling of the FISA warrant application process, and Republicans have long complained that federal law enforcement agencies haven’t chased down allegations of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton or Hunter Biden with similar vigor.

“The FBI knowingly deceived Americans about Russian ‘collusion’ for YEARS. Can’t trust them,” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan claimed yesterday. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana charged the Justice Department with executing a “political plot to destroy lives of political opponents” while allowing Hunter Biden to “skate free.”

Brian O’Hare—president of the FBI Agents Association—didn’t comment directly on the Mar-a-Lago search yesterday, but pushed back broadly against claims the Bureau is a politicized agency. “[Warrants] must satisfy detailed and clear procedural rules, and are the product of collaboration and consultation with relevant Department of Justice attorneys,” he said. 

Until we know more about the warrant and its justification, it’s all but impossible to determine with any degree of confidence whether the FBI and DOJ are overstepping their authority or simply upholding the law. For that reason, Asa Hutchinson—the Trump-skeptical Republican governor of Arkansas—argued the relevant authorities should release the probable cause affidavit that would normally remain under seal, since Trump already “announced the raid” publicly.

If the affidavit is unveiled and lists concerns about document retention as the sole rationale, prepare for even more Republican outrage. “There’s simply no justification to raid the home of any former President over a records dispute with the National Archives,” Mike Davis—veteran GOP operative and president of the Article III Project—said last night. “The President of the United States has the power to declassify any record he wants, so it’s pretextual legal nonsense for the Biden Justice Department to pretend President Trump broke any criminal statute by taking 15 boxes of his records with him when he left.”

White—the former federal prosecutor and no Trump fan—seemed to agree. “It’s rather surprising to me that the misappropriated documents (even if classified) would get DoJ to execute a warrant,” he said. “Not what I’d expect them to find adequate to do something this big. … Either this is the greatest overplayed hand ever or there is something very dramatic we don’t know about.”

Worth Your Time

  • China’s response to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan is full of important lessons for American foreign policy, former national security adviser John Bolton argues in National Review. “China’s post-Pelosi military exercises could foreshadow either an outright invasion or a naval blockade [of Taiwan], the latter actually more likely because Beijing wants Taiwan without the devastation Russia is causing in Ukraine,” he writes. “Accordingly, China could well try to create an artificial crisis at a time of its choosing, including announcing a blockade, to see who will stand with Taiwan. If the U.S. and others fail to act, Chinese hegemony and even annexation of Taiwan will follow in due course. Deterring either physical invasion, a blockade, or a threat to Quemoy and Matsu requires action now. It should include home-porting U.S. naval vessels and stationing meaningful U.S. military forces in Taiwan. Troop deployments will be necessary in any case to train and assist Taiwanese troops to handle the new weapons systems and necessary joint military exercises. We should not repeat the mistakes made in the Ukraine crisis that failed to deter Russia’s invasion.”

  • In a New Yorker excerpt of their upcoming book, Susan Glasser and Peter Baker report on top defense officials’ resistance to Trump’s efforts to politicize the military, tracing Gen. Mark Milley’s path to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his early blunders in the role, and his determination to ensure Trump not use the military to retain power. “It turned out that the generals had rules, standards, and expertise, not blind loyalty,” they write. “The President’s loud complaint to John Kelly one day was typical: ‘You f—ing generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?’ ‘Which generals?’ Kelly asked. ‘The German generals in World War II,’ Trump responded. ‘You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?’ Kelly said.” Another general pushed back when Trump demanded a military Fourth of July parade. “I didn’t grow up in the United States, I actually grew up in Portugal,” he told Trump. “Portugal was a dictatorship—and parades were about showing the people who had the guns. And in this country, we don’t do that.”

  • Writer David McCullough—chronicler of American history and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner—died Sunday at age 89. “People often ask me if I’m working on a book,” he told the New York Times in 1992. “That’s not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It’s like putting myself under a spell. And this spell, if you will, is so real to me that if I have to leave my work for a few days, I have to work myself back into the spell when I come back. It’s almost like hypnosis. … Writing history or biography, you must remember that nothing was ever on a track. Things could have gone any way at any point. As soon as you say ‘was,’ it seems to fix an event in the past. But nobody ever lived in the past, only in the present. … They were just as alive and full of ambition, fear, hope, all the emotions of life. And just like us, they didn’t know how it would all turn out.”

Presented Without Comment 

Also Presented Without Comment 

Rest in Peace, Olivia Newton-John

Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David tackle the Alex Jones verdict and a court’s surprising indictments of several police officers in the Breonna Taylor case. Plus: What’s the court precedent behind the idea of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

  • It’s Tuesday, so Dispatch Live (🔒) is back tonight! Tune in at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT for what’s sure to be a good conversation after another week of wild headlines. Watch your email for more details.

  • On the site today, John Gustavsson argues that Europe will need to hold fast to sanctions against Russia once winter squeezes energy supplies, Moshe Kwia and Jason Brodsky detail Iran’s soft power in the U.S., and intern Emma Perley unpacks the background of the FDA’s fight with Juul and the tobacco industry in general.

Let Us Know

Do you think the Justice Department and FBI have been handling their investigations into former President Donald Trump responsibly? How will you determine whether Monday’s search of Mar-a-Lago was ultimately the correct decision?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.