The FBI’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was aimed at finding evidence related to the ongoing probe of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, which Democrats want to blame on Mr. Trump ahead of the midterms in November and the 2024 presidential election.
That’s the viewpoint of former intelligence and federal law enforcement officials who say they aren’t buying the claims of anonymous Justice Department sources that the 30 FBI agents who scoured the Trump residence, including Melania Trump’s clothes closet, were merely seeking boxes of classified documents that should have been turned over to the National Archives when Mr. Trump left office under the Presidential Records Act.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant attorney for the Southern District of New York, said he thinks the FBI cited missing National Archives material only as a premise to obtain the warrant needed to raid Mar-a-Lago.
“I don’t think they’re that interested in classified information or the Presidential Records Act,” Mr. McCarthy said. “They’re looking for evidence to try to make a case on Trump for Jan. 6.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland has been under intense pressure, including from President Biden, to bring charges against the former president and other Republicans in connection with the riot and Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Mr. Trump has continued to hold significant sway over Republican voters, and polls show he remains their most favored 2024 White House candidate. Mr. Trump has strongly hinted that he will be on the ballot but has not made an official announcement.
SEE ALSO: DOJ seeks to unseal Mar-a-Lago search warrant, AG Garland personally approved search
Mr. Garland said Thursday that the Justice Department has filed a motion to unseal the search warrant of Mr. Trump’s home.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys say they were cooperating with the Justice Department and the National Archives about the contested documents, making the FBI search unnecessary and unjustified.
Fred Fleitz, former chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council during the Trump administration and a former CIA analyst, called the raid a fishing expedition.
“This, apparently, was a cover story to find information to prosecute or indict Trump on other issues,” Mr. Fleitz said. “It is implausible that the National Archives had the FBI raid the home of a former president. It just isn’t plausible.”
Democrats and some Republicans are trying to block Mr. Trump from ever holding elected office again.
A panel of House Democrats, with the help of two anti-Trump House Republicans, have held more than a dozen high-profile hearings laying out a case that Mr. Trump tried to subvert the peaceful transition of power after he lost the election and then incited the riot to try to stop Congress from certifying the results.
The storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob sent terrified lawmakers fleeing from the House and Senate chambers and temporarily delayed the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory.
The panel is cooperating with the Justice Department’s criminal probe of the matter.
Speculation that the Mar-a-Lago raid was a search for evidence related to Jan. 6 gained steam when Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and close Trump ally, announced Tuesday that the FBI had seized his cellphone.
The phone was confiscated one day after the Mar-a-Lago raid and weeks after a hearing by the House Jan. 6 committee that showed evidence that Mr. Perry worked unsuccessfully to install a new acting U.S. attorney general, environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark, in the weeks after the November election.
Mr. Clark wanted to persuade swing states to overturn narrow election results favoring Mr. Biden and drafted a proposed letter asking the Georgia legislature to convene a special session and reevaluate the slate of electors who cast ballots for Mr. Biden.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel and a fierce Trump critic, said Mr. Perry also sought a presidential pardon from Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 riot. Mr. Perry called the claim “an absolute, shameless and soulless lie.”
The seizure of Mr. Perry’s phone suggests a connection to the Mar-a-Lago search, Mr. McCarthy said.
“We find them less than a day later, taking Perry’s phone, which I think confirms, or provides additional evidence, that what’s obviously going on right now is that [Jan. 6] is the case they’re trying to make,” Mr. McCarthy said.
He said the FBI is trying to establish that Mr. Trump attempted to use the Justice Department to squeeze the states into changing the outcome of their votes.
“The Jan. 6 committee made a big to-do over the fact that Perry sought a pardon, and that he’s the one who introduced Jeff Clark to Trump and Jeff Clark was the guy who was telling Trump, ‘You need to get the Justice Department to do more on [election] fraud.’” Mr. McCarthy said. “And he got Jeff Clark into the picture, and then Clark writes that insane letter, so it’s not surprising to me that they’re looking at Perry.”
Mr. Perry has said he is not the target of the FBI probe.
The news site PennLive, citing multiple sources, reported Thursday that federal investigators delivered subpoenas or paid visits to the offices of several Pennsylvania state House and Senate Republicans.
The report said the visits focused on Mr. Perry, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and claims of efforts to seek alternate electors while Mr. Trump was contesting the results of the 2020 election.
Mr. McCarthy said he thinks the Justice Department is attempting to build an election fraud case against Mr. Trump and that the Mar-a- Lago raid cannot be viewed in isolation.
In the past six weeks, the FBI has seized the electronic devices of Mr. Clark and Trump attorney John Eastman. Last week, a federal grand jury issued subpoenas to two Trump White House attorneys, Patrick Philbin and Pat Cipollone.
“Two days ago, they do the Mar-a- Lago search, and now they do the Perry search. So it’s pretty obvious what they’re doing,” Mr. McCarthy said. “They’re trying to make an election fraud case.”
Other former intelligence officials say the entire purpose of the raid was to dirty Mr. Trump’s image and take him out of play for the 2024 election cycle.
Democrats have been accused of timing their high-profile Jan. 6 hearings to rally their base ahead of the November elections. The hearings have included accusations that several Republican lawmakers, in addition to Mr. Perry, worked to overturn election results.
The unprecedented raid of a former president’s home and the questionable justification for the search have caused a political backlash from the intelligence community against the FBI, said John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“With the handful of CIA people that I’ve spoken to in the last day and a half about this, there’s just a lot of head-shaking,” Mr. Kiriakou said. “Can the FBI stay out of trouble for 24 hours, or are they just not able to stay out of trouble? They just keep pushing and pushing and pushing. And then they’re shocked when there’s a backlash.”
• Kerry Picket can be reached at email@example.com.
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