The FBI followed this checklist to obtain a search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago National

News that FBI agents have broken into and searched the home of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago has sparked accusations of a politicized law enforcement organization doing the Biden administration’s bidding to target political enemies.

The reality is that the process of obtaining a search warrant is controlled by a checklist of requirements before a judge signs off on a decision to enter someone’s home.

Experts say even the decision to seek a search warrant on a former president’s property probably should have been approved by senior Justice Department officials.

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The search is part of an investigation into whether Trump brought classified White House records to his Florida residence, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The Justice Department has been investigating possible misuse of classified information since the National Archives and Records Administration received 15 boxes of White House records, including documents containing classified information, from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year.

Here’s a look at the process for obtaining a search warrant and the laws that govern government records:

How do search warrants work?

FBI agents can’t just show up to search a property like Mar-a-Lago. Investigators must first obtain a search warrant, which requires convincing a judge that they have probable cause for a crime to have occurred.

Federal agencies applying for a search warrant will present their evidence and the basis for the need to search a property in an affidavit, which will be reviewed by a federal or district judge.

Magistrate judges are not nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Instead, they are appointed by district judges to handle matters such as requests for search warrants and the accused’s first appearance in court.

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Trump says the FBI executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home

Trump says the FBI executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home

The judge may request additional information and question the search warrant applicant under oath. The judge will only sign the warrant if there is a probable cause that there is evidence of a federal crime at the location that authorities want to search.

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Given the sensitivity of an investigation involving a former president, both the Justice Department and the judge must have given serious thought, said Dennis Lormel, who served 28 years with the FBI before retiring in 2003.

“This can’t just have been a knee-jerk, let’s issue a warrant” situation,” said Lormel, now president of the FBI’s Society of Former Special Agents. “I want to make sure I have as airtight or bulletproof an affidavit as possible.”

The search warrant application process takes place in secret to avoid giving a tip to the person whose property may be searched. All court records related to the warrant application would be sealed.

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These records typically remain classified until criminal proceedings are instituted, and even then authorities may attempt to hide the affidavit from the public. The person whose property is being searched is entitled to inspect the search warrant but not the affidavit.

If a property is searched without a valid search warrant or probable cause, any evidence seized may be suppressed, meaning it cannot be used in court.

Brian O’Hare, president of the FBI Agents Association, said Tuesday that all search warrants “must comply with detailed and clear procedural rules and are the result of cooperation and consultation with appropriate Department of Justice attorneys.”

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In this particular case, the execution of the warrant also involved notifying the Secret Service protecting the former President and his homes. A person familiar with the search told The Associated Press that the FBI contacted the Secret Service shortly before the warrant could be served.

Secret Service agents contacted the Justice Department and were able to validate the warrant before allowing access to the property, the person said.

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Trump supporters protest the FBI raid on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence

Trump supporters protest the FBI raid on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence

Which laws can be affected?

It’s not clear which legal officials believe a violation may have occurred. Numerous federal laws deal with the handling of classified records, including laws that make it a criminal offense to remove such records and keep them in an unauthorized location.

The Presidential Records Act, enacted in 1978 after the Watergate scandal, requires the retention of White House documents as US government property.

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Trump says the FBI executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home

But while the law requires the retention of records such as emails, text messages and phone records, there has never been a case in which a former commander-in-chief has been penalized for violating the Presidential Records Act, and there is no real mechanism for enforcing that Law.

Another federal law states that it is a felony for someone who keeps government records to “willfully and unlawfully conceal, remove, mutilate, obliterate, or destroy” the documents. If the person is convicted, the law provides for a fine or up to three years in prison, or both.

This law also states that the convicted person “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding office in the United States.” But legal experts have said that would not apply to the office of president, whose qualifications are set out in the constitution.

© 2022 The Canadian Press The FBI followed this checklist to obtain a search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago National


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