Yesterday, the FBI executed a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach home of former President Donald Trump. The raid sparked outrage among conservatives and concern even among some liberals about the unprecedented nature of a former president’s home being targeted by law enforcement in such a dramatic way.
To understand exactly what is going on, to answer some common questions about the raid, and to attempt to understand what dynamics may be at play, I spoke to Jeff Cortese, the former acting chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit and the author of the book “Public Corruption in the United States: Analysis of a Destructive Phenomenon.”
And we were lucky to tap his expertise. Jeff was an investigation, intelligence, and risk management professional who served in federal law enforcement with the United States Capitol Police as a member of the Speaker of the House’s security detail and with the FBI having been assigned to offices in New Orleans, Tucson, Washington D.C./FBI HQ, and San Francisco. Cortese, formerly the Acting Chief of the public corruption unit at the FBI, was assigned throughout his career to various investigative squads responsible for investigating public corruption, southwest border violence (sicarios and bajadores/hit-men and rip crews), and OCDETF matters. Since his departure from law enforcement, Cortese has provided extensive analysis for local and national outlets as a law enforcement analyst and student of corruption.
Here is what he was able to explain to us:
Jeff, what is your initial reaction to the news that the home of former President Donald Trump was raised by the FBI?
I was surprised DOJ approved, and maybe even pushed for, the search warrant.
In your experience, have you ever seen anything quite like this?
The execution of a federal search warrant on a former President of the United States is an unprecedented event.
Why would a raid like this happen over classified documents? Could there be more to the story here?
It is difficult to understand the full scope of the investigation without more information.
It’s possible the search warrant was a pretext to obtain information related to other crimes. Maybe it’s less about the former president’s possession of classified documents and more about what prosecutors/investigators think could be contained within the documents.
Maybe some connection to the January 6 investigations, then. Jeff, the White House insists that they were unaware of the raid – is it possible that’s not true?
Objectively, this could, of course, be executed without the White House’s knowledge ahead of time. That said, a statement of denial would not be sufficient proof they did not actually know. But there is also insufficient evidence at this point to suggest they did know.
Surely political figures as high-profile as Trump have broken the rules before. In fact, we know that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton purposely deleted 33,000 emails from her private email server in anticipation of a subpoena. Why didn’t the government act then, and why are they acting now?
No two investigations are the same. That’s a question that likely can’t be answered until we learn more about the current investigation.
Why Mar-a-Lago? Wouldn’t they need evidence a crime was committed on the property?
The FBI would have to have obtained sufficient information to give them probable cause to believe the evidence of a crime was contained within Mar-a-Lago.
What are the long-term implications of an FBI raid of the home of a former president?
Some of the long-term implications will come down to whether or not the FBI collects sufficient evidence for DOJ to charge the former president with a crime and whether or not he is convicted.
An argument could be made that the search warrant alone is sufficient to change the political and law enforcement landscape, given the perception by many that the search warrant was the result of the politicization of law enforcement. This is something that might not fully come to light until a Republican is in the White House.
Some have said that raids like this typically mean an indictment is coming. Do you think that’s true?
There’s no way to know for sure where the investigation will lead and how it will conclude. A search warrant does not mean an indictment is imminent. A search warrant suggests there is probable cause to believe evidence of a crime is present in the place to be searched.
A search warrant does not guarantee sufficient evidence to prove the elements of the crime will actually be found.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.