Prosecutors and FBI clashed over search of Trump residence, report says

A pair of top Federal Bureau of Investigation officials pushed back on Department of Justice plans to seek a warrant authorising a search of former president Donald Trump’s home because they feared scrutiny from internal watchdogs and congressional committees as a result of searching the ex-president’s property.

According to The Washington Post, prosecutors with the department’s national security division spent months arguing for an aggressive search of Mr Trump’s property because they believed, based on evidence the department had developed, that the twice-impeached ex-president was unlawfully hoarding classified documents that were legally the property of the US government — documents that could result in grave harm to national security if they were disclosed to unauthorised parties.

The Post reported that FBI agents involved in the case instead sought to seek voluntary cooperation from Mr Trump and his attorney, Evan Corcoran, in part due to fear of partisan attacks from Republicans of the kind that had devastated the bureau’s reputation during investigations into Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign and his 2016 opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At the time, both agents and prosecutors understood the need to conduct the investigation, which began in early 2022 after the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of government-owned presidential records from Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property.

After Archives officials discovered 184 documents with classification markings — 700 pages in total — they made a formal referral to the Department of Justice seeking an investigation into how such sensitive documents had ended up at the disgraced ex-president’s beach club.

According to the Post, prosecutors opened the investigation with two questions in mind: Did Mr Trump’s retention of the documents damage US national security? And did the ex-president have any more classified records in his posession?

Mr Trump’s lawyers raised alarms at the FBI when they attempted to keep agents from reviewing the documents they’d been alerted to by the Archives, because it indicated that the ex-president was hiding something.

But as the bureau developed evidence that Mr Trump was, indeed, holding more classified documents and keeping them from the government, agents pushed back on a request for a search warrant from Jay Bratt, the top prosecutor at the national security division.

The agents prevailed, and the department attempted to use a grand jury subpoena to force Mr Trump to return what he had. Mr Corcoran did return some documents to the department at a June meeting with prosecutors at Mar-a-Lago, after which the Post said “some” FBI agents told prosecutors “they were inclined to believe [Mr] Trump and his team had delivered everything the government sought to protect and said the bureau should close down its criminal investigation”.

But prosecutors directed the FBI to gather more evidence, including surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago.

In June, the footage obtained by subpoena showed Mr Trump’s aides moving boxes from the storage location where records had been, despite admonitions from the department not to move any records.

Despite this, some FBI agents wanted to avoid a search of Mr Trump’s property because of fears that being involved could have negative repercussions to their careers, the Post said.

The arguments continued until early August of last year, just days before the deparment sought — and obtained — the warrant to search the ex-president’s home and office.

FBI agents conducted that search on 8 August of last year.