Some Federal Bureau of Investigations field agents wanted to shut down the probe into suspected classified documents held by former President Donald Trump as early as June, but Justice Department leaders pushed for and ultimately got a surprise raid on Mar-a-Lago in August, according to a report.
According to the Washington Post, FBI officials and the DOJ clashed fiercely over how to handle recovering suspected classified documents from Trump, with FBI agents arguing for a cooperative approach and the DOJ pushing for the unprecedented raid on a former president’s home.
The aggressive approach was starkly different than the cooperative one the DOJ and FBI have taken towards classified documents held by President Joe Biden at his former office at the Penn Biden Center office in D.C. and his home garage in Delaware.
According to the Post, two senior FBI officials argued a raid on Mar-a-Lago would be “too combative” and proposed to seek Trump’s permission first, but DOJ prosecutors argued that Trump was “knowingly concealing secret documents” at Mar-a-Lago and pushed the FBI to conduct a surprise raid.
Even before the raid on August 8, 2022, FBI agents in the Washington field office as early as May wanted to slow the probe into the suspected classified documents and some wanted to shut down the investigation altogether in early June, after corresponding with Trump’s legal team.
The FBI agents reportedly worried that investigating a former president would face political blowback, but federal prosecutors in the DOJ’s national security division — the same one that took part in the Russia collusion hoax — argued for an aggressive approach.
According to the Post, “The FBI agents’ caution also was rooted in the fact that mistakes in prior probes of Hillary Clinton and Trump had proved damaging to the FBI, and the cases subjected the bureau to sustained public attacks from partisans.”
Meanwhile, DOJ prosecutors argued that not treating Trump like other government employees who had retained classified information “could threaten the nation’s security.”
The Post reported that the case was “closely monitored at every step by senior Justice Department officials.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland personally approved the raid, the report said.
Those within the DOJ pushing for aggressive measures and a surprise raid were Jay Bratt, the prosecutor in charge of counterespionage, Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen, and George Toscas, a top DOJ counterintelligence official, according to the report. Arguing for a more cooperative approach was the then-head of the FBI Washington field office Steven D’Antuono.
The report detailed a confrontation between the FBI and the DOJ during a meeting a week before the raid.
During that meeting, DOJ prosectors argued the FBI had “no other choice” but to search Mar-a-lago as soon as possible, bringing with them a draft search warrant. D’Antuono, whose field office was running the investigation, was adamantly opposed, the report said.
According to the Post, the meeting was tense: “Bratt raised his voice at times and stressed to the FBI agents that the time for trusting Trump and his lawyer was over.”
D’Antuono asked if Trump was official the subject of a criminal investigation, to which Bratt reportedly responded, “What does that matter?”
D’Antuono reportedly questioned why they would be going after presidential records as well as suspected classified documents, when only the latter were sought. “We are not the presidential records police,” he reportedly said.
FBI senior leadership were on the side of the DOJ, with the FBI’s general counsel Jason Jones — a confidant of FBI Director Christopher Wray — saying he planned to recommend to Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate that the FBI seek a warrant for the search. D’Antuono opposed that recommendation.
Olsen then reportedly appealed to senior officials at FBI headquarters to push their agents to conduct the raid, resulting in Abbate ordering D’Antuono to execute the surprise search.
The FBI agents reportedly tried to make the search less confrontational, arriving when Trump was not there and giving the Secret Service a heads-up a few hours before the FBI agents were due to arrive. The agents also wore polo shirts and khakis instead of blue jackets with “FBI” on them.
The clash reportedly delayed the raid by months, preventing prosecutors from reaching a decision on whether to charge the former president before he announced his run for 2024 on November 15. Three days later, Garland announced a special counsel, Jack Smith, to complete the investigation.
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