As justice department lawyers pressed the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago for classified materials they believed Donald Trump was keeping there, they encountered resistance from agents in the Washington field office, the Washington Post reports.
Two top agents in the office that would be in charge of leading the search rejected getting a warrant for the ex-president’s south Florida resort, instead advocating to seek permission from Trump’s lawyer before showing up at the property. The Post reports that agents so trusted statements from Trump’s lawyers that all the classified materials they were looking for had been turned over that in June, they advocated closing the inquiry altogether.
The Post reports that the dispute culminated in a tense meeting in late July, in which the justice department’s lawyers prevailed: FBI agents obtained a search warrant and showed up unannounced at Mar-a-Lago days later, finding more secret documents that the former president had been keeping from the government.
The story paints a picture of FBI agents that seemed credulous of the former president’s, up to the point of trying to stall the investigation, which has since the August search emerged as one of the biggest legal threats facing Trump.
Here’s more from the Post’s report:
Some FBI field agents then argued to prosecutors that they were inclined to believe Trump and his team had delivered everything the government sought to protect and said the bureau should close down its criminal investigation, according to some people familiar with the discussions.
But they said national security prosecutors pushed back and instead urged FBI agents to gather more evidence by conducting follow-up interviews with witnesses and obtaining Mar-a-Lago surveillance video from the Trump Organization.
The government sought surveillance video footage by subpoena in late June. It showed someone moving boxes from the area where records had been stored, not long after Trump was put on notice to return all such records, according to people familiar with the probe. That evidence suggested it was likely more classified records remained at Mar-a-Lago, the people said, despite the claim of Trump’s lawyers. It also painted for both sides a far more worrisome picture — one that would soon build the legal justification for the August raid.
By mid-July, the prosecutors were eager for the FBI to scour the premises of Mar-a-Lago. They argued that the probable cause for a search warrant was more than solid, and the likelihood of finding classified records and evidence of obstruction was high, according to the four people.
But the prosecutors learned FBI agents were still loath to conduct a surprise search. They also heard from top FBI officials that some agents were simply afraid: They worried taking aggressive steps investigating Trump could blemish or even end their careers, according to some people with knowledge of the discussions. One official dubbed it “the hangover of Crossfire Hurricane,” a reference to the FBI investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to the Trump campaign, the people said. As president, Trump repeatedly targeted some FBI officials involved in the Russia case.
Good morning, US politics blog readers. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has been at the center of some of the biggest stories in American politics over the past year, including the appointment of special counsels to investigate Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s possession of classified documents (not to mention the former president’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election), the intelligence community’s inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 and the GOP’s efforts to investigate the Biden administration. This morning at 10am eastern time, he’ll be before the Senate judiciary committee for a regular oversight hearing, where lawmakers from both parties will no doubt press him for answers on all those topics and more. Garland is tight-lipped and unlikely to say anything unguarded, but don’t be surprised if he’s also asked about a Washington Post report from this morning that revealed top FBI officials were hesitant to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort last August, despite pressure from justice department lawyers.
Here’s what else we can expect today:
Biden will at 93.0am introduce Julie Su during a White House event. She is his nominee to head the labor department, and would also be his first Asian American cabinet secretary.
House Democrats are holding a behind-closed-doors retreat in Baltimore, which Biden will address later today.
The House will consider a Republican bill to make the White House report on the inflationary impacts of every executive order. Democrats do not appear to be whipping against this, at least not yet.
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