So what’s next for Trump, will he be able to run again?

MIAMI – Here’s what you need to know about the legal significance of Monday’s search Mar-a-Lagowhich comes as Trump prepares for a possible presidential election in 2024.

What happens next?
It remains unclear how off-guard Trump’s attorneys were about the FBI’s actions on Monday and what Trump’s team argued to the DOJ about the handling of documents in previous interactions with investigators.

Trump could take preemptive legal action to challenge the FBI’s handling of the search in court, perhaps in an effort to have any evidence that investigators had obtained thrown out or at least to try to get more information. about what the investigators investigated.

But without such judicial activity, the next steps in the investigation could very well continue in secret.

Can Trump be barred from running for president if he is found to have broken the Records Act?

Another law that may be implicated by the FBI search is that prohibiting the deliberate concealment, deletion, or mutilation of government records. This law threatens as a punishment disqualification “from holding any office in the United States”.

However, there are questions about the constitutionality of this law and its applicability to a presidential run by Trump, should he be convicted under it.

Because the Constitution sets specific qualifications for the presidential office — and establishes a separate impeachment process to disqualify presidents from holding office in the future — some argue that Congress would not have the power to enact such a statute. which would apply to a presidential candidate.

What would it have taken for the DOJ to get the search warrant?
To obtain judicial approval for the search, investigators would have had to present a detailed affidavit to a judge that would establish that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of this crime exists in the past few days. to the property where the search is sought.

The search warrant is said to have been filed under seal, meaning its details are not publicly available at this time (although they may become public in the future). The West Palm Beach federal courthouse lists only one sealed search warrant request since June that was still not closed Friday, according to the court’s public case registry.

But before prosecutors got around to asking a magistrate to approve the warrant, in order to proceed with a search of such historical and political significance, investigators would have had to get approval from the highest levels of the Department of Justice, legal experts told CNN.

Former DOJ officials told CNN it’s likely that, at the very least, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco should have given the go-ahead and Attorney General Merrick Garland and/or FBI Director Chris Wray could also have been viewed.

“Not only should investigators suggest it, not only should a line prosecutor agree with this, but multiple levels of management should have approved it – all the way to the attorney general,” said Daren Firestone, a former attorney for the DOJ, told CNN.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

What does this mean for Trump’s legal exposure?
Taking the extraordinary step of executing a search warrant at the home of a former president suggests investigators are looking at more than what the National Archives had previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago, legal experts say.

In January, the National Archives recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, including materials that had been identified as classified, but activity around those boxes has been quiet since the spring.

“I really don’t believe the department would have taken such a significant step as pursuing a search warrant for the president’s residence on information they already had in return,” said Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI and CNN contributor, on CNN’s “Editing.” “There must have been suspicion, concern and even specific information that led them to believe there was additional material that was not delivered.”

Prior to news of Monday’s search, a law known as the Presidential Records Act had been at the forefront of public speculation about Trump’s legal danger as other investigative steps were taken regarding the handling of Trump’s documents. Trump’s White House. This law – passed after Watergate to clarify that certain records of a presidency belong to the public and not to the former office holder – is not criminal law and has been considered a relatively toothless law.

A search warrant and the presence of the FBI means a criminal investigation. There are other records retention laws that carry criminal penalties – such as the Espionage Act – but at this stage it is unclear which criminal laws were implicated in the Justice Department investigation. .

It is a crime to destroy or suppress federal records, or to mishandle classified documents. There are other federal laws that are intended to prevent tampering with information during an investigation.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued subpoenas for presidential documents, including classified documents that the National Archives had previously recovered. The FBI also interviewed Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago in the spring as part of the investigation, according to a source familiar with the matter.

For investigators to step up their investigation with a search, “there would have to be something serious enough that deserves more than a slap on the wrist,” said Firestone, now a partner at Washington-based firm Levy. Firestone Muse.

It’s also worth noting that the DOJ has not filed a civil lawsuit against the former president for his handling of the documents in question. Just last week, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against former Trump White House official Peter Navarro, alleging Navarro violated the Presidential Records Act and seeking an order. court order forcing him to hand over emails from a private account he used while working in the Trump White House.

Why now?
The search was executed two months after the unprecedented June 3 meeting between DOJ investigators and Trump’s attorneys at the resort. During the visit, reported by CNN on Monday, four investigators, including the head of the counterintelligence and export control section, visited a basement where boxes of equipment were stored.

Five days later, investigators sent Trump’s lawyers a letter asking them to further secure the room storing the documents, prompting aides to add a padlock to the room.

The fact that the FBI executes a search warrant two months later suggests that federal officials were not happy with what they saw during the visit or that they were not confident in the voluntary cooperation that they were getting from Trump’s team, some legal experts said. It is possible that federal officials also needed official approval to repossess classified documents.

“The fact that the FBI learned that Trump still had documents to [Mar a Lago] in June, and felt the need to return two months later with a search warrant, tells me that the agency has evidence that Trump and his staff had additional classified documents and were not taking any steps to properly return them to records,” Bradley Moss, a national security attorney, told CNN in an email.

It also may have taken months for the Justice Department to decide whether to do a search and how it should go about it.

When the FBI was leaving Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s team reportedly received a receipt-like document of what was taken. But the DOJ can be as vague as they want in this documentation.

More broadly, the Justice Department may be keeping large swathes of its investigation secret, as the Justice Department made clear in court documents late Monday regarding its search for John Eastman, the former Trump attorney who led plots to overturn the 2020 elections.

In that case — where the Justice Department was resisting a request by Eastman that Jan. 6 investigators return devices seized in late June in New Mexico — prosecutors said the department was under no obligation. to share more status details with Eastman. of his probe.

“The government has no doubt that the applicant would like to have full knowledge of the government’s investigation and the ability to ‘initiate [federal agents] in a mandate-based debate,” the filing reads. “But the law only, and correctly, requires a neutral justice of the peace to find probable cause to search for and seize any electronic device on his person; it is not necessary for the person being searched to know the basis of the warrant.”

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