Former President Donald Trump said late Monday that FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and broke open his safe, an unprecedented search that sources said was related to a probe into whether Mr. Trump took classified government documents from his White House tenure.
In a statement, Mr. Trump claimed the arrival of law enforcement was unannounced and politically motivated.
“These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Mr. Trump said in a lengthy statement. “After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, the unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate.”
Citing people familiar with the investigation, The Associated Press and The Washington Post reported that agents were conducting a court-authorized search as they probe the potential mishandling of classified documents that were shipped to Mar-a-Lago.
The National Archives and Records Administration in February asked the Justice Department to probe Mr. Trump’s handling of White House records. The surprising referral from the National Archives came after revelations that officials recovered 15 boxes of materials from the former president at Mar-a-Lago that were not handed back to the government as they should have been when Mr. Trump left office.
Mr. Trump’s son Eric said the search of the safe turned up nothing. He said roughly 30 agents who arrived in 20 vehicles told the Trumps that they were hunting for government documents.
“The purpose of the raid, from what they said, was because the National Archives wanted to [corroborate] whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession,” Eric Trump told Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity.
“My father has worked so collaboratively with them for months,” he maintained, arguing that the raid was unnecessary.
Eric Trump said he believes the orders came from the White House.
“This came from one place and one building, and that is the White House in Washington D.C. They want to attack a guy who they view as Biden‘s greatest threat,” he said.
The search marks a dramatic escalation in law enforcement scrutiny of Mr. Trump and comes as he has been laying the groundwork to make another bid for president in 2024. Though a search warrant does not suggest that criminal charges are near or even expected, federal officials looking to obtain one must demonstrate that they have probable cause that a crime occurred.
Attorney General Merrick Garland would have had to personally approve the search, based on Justice Department guidelines for high-level, politically charged investigations.
National Archives officials also alleged that Mr. Trump had turned over other White House documents that had been torn up, raising questions about whether he destroyed government property.
Mr. Trump’s frequent tearing up of government documents was widely known during his presidency, but has drawn increased scrutiny lately because of the House select committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
At the time of the February referral, Mr. Trump insisted he engaged in “collaborative and respectful” discussions with the National Archives and had arranged for the transport of boxes in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
Federal law bars the removal of classified documents to unauthorized locations, though it is possible that Mr. Trump could try to argue that, as president, he was the ultimate declassification authority.
There are multiple statutes governing classified information, including a law punishable by up to five years in prison that makes it a crime to remove such records and retain them at an unauthorized location. Another statute makes it a crime to mishandle classified records either intentionally or in a grossly negligent manner.
In his statement late Monday, Mr. Trump did not provide specifics about the raid, what kind of warrant was executed or what the FBI agents were looking for. Instead, he railed against the FBI and the Justice Department, accusing them of “prosecutorial misconduct” and being a political tool.
The former president, who was at Trump Tower in New York at the time of the raid, said that agents “broke into” a safe.
Mr. Trump called the raid “the weaponization of the Justice system and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who don’t want me to run for president in 2024.”
“Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World countries,” Mr. Trump continued. “Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before.”
A White House official told The Washington Times that they did “not have notice of the reported action” and referred all inquiries to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment by The Washington Times. The FBI declined to comment.
The raid prompted a furious outcry by allies of Mr. Trump, who accused the FBI of a partisan double-standard.
“The FBI raid on President Trump’s home is an unprecedented political weaponization of the Justice Department,” said South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican. “They’ve been after President Trump as a candidate, as president, and now as a former president. Using the criminal justice system in this manner is un-American.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is viewed as Mr. Trump’s potential rival to the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, called the raid the action of a “Banana Republic.”
“The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves,” Mr. DeSantis tweeted. “Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries?”
Other Trump allies were equally emphatic.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, called it proof that Democrats are prone to abusing their power in office.
“The same Democrats cheering on the FBI raiding President Trump’s house are trying to give the IRS 87,000 new agents and an additional $80 billion,” she tweeted. “And we’re supposed to believe they won’t also weaponize the IRS? Stop weaponizing federal agencies to distract from your own failed agenda!”
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch and a Trump ally, said the left “is being dishonest about the Trump records issue.”
“A president has discretion on what docs to retain as presidential records while in office,” Mr. Fitton tweeted. “So the law allows Trump to tear up documents, shred them, and take documents when he left the White House.”
“How many times has Hunter Biden‘s home been raided by the FBI?” tweeted Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point USA.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was chosen for the job by Mr. Trump in 2017, after the firing of James B. Comey from the post.
No former U.S. president has ever been indicted.
Even Richard Nixon, who resigned as the Watergate probe closed in on him and he had been told he would be removed from office by Congress, did not face any criminal charges. He was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, his successor.
Mr. Trump’s role in inciting the mob that rioted in the Capitol last year is currently the subject of a House committee probe as well as a federal criminal investigation.
The Justice Department has been focusing increasingly on Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in office through a false elector scheme, sending what campaign officials referred to as “fake” election certificates to reverse the 2020 election in swing states won by Mr. Biden.
A federal grand jury reportedly is investigating that scheme, in addition to a grand jury investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.
Former Obama White House adviser David Axelrod said the raid suggests that the Justice Department is developing a strong case against the former president.
“One thing is very clear. Garland would not have authorized this raid, and no federal judge would have signed off on it, if there weren’t significant evidence to warrant it,” Mr. Axelrod tweeted.
Mr. Trump and his company are the subjects of other investigations.
The former president is expected to testify under oath soon in a civil probe conducted by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, into the Trump Organization’s business practices.
Donald Trump Jr. and his sister Ivanka Trump have been questioned under oath in that probe. Their brother Eric Trump, who runs the Trump Organization with Donald Jr., invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 500 times when he was questioned under oath in that investigation two years ago.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Wilis and a grand jury in Atlanta are examining efforts by Mr. Trump, his lawyers and allies to persuade Georgia elections officials to overturn President Biden’s victory in the state in 2020.
Several of Mr. Trump’s associates in recent years have been the subjects of FBI raids.
In January 2019, FBI agents swarmed the home of Roger Stone, a longtime associate and political adviser to Mr. Trump, in a pre-dawn raid. He was arrested on charges of making false statements to House and Senate intelligence committees investigating claims that Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.
Republicans condemned the raid by heavily armed FBI agents, saying that he was planning to surrender before the attack. He was convicted in a criminal trial of lying to the House committees but ultimately pardoned by Mr. Trump.
In April 2018, the FBI raided the office, hotel and residence of Mr. Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing business records, emails and other documents, including evidence related to paying off a pornographic-film actress who alleged she had an affair with the president.
He eventually pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations for the $130,000 sent to Stephanie Clifford, who was known professionally as Stormy Daniels.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.