Trump falsely claims Biden authorized FBI assassination attempt

Donald Trump and some of his staunchest allies are claiming newly unsealed court filings reveal that US President Joe Biden authorized federal agents to kill him during the FBI's 2022 raid of the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate in search of classified documents. This is false; the allegations misrepresent the Justice Department's standard policies regarding how force can be used during law enforcement operations.

"Biden's DOJ was authorized to shoot me!" says a May 21, 2022 fundraising email from Trump's 2024 campaign. "Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger."

The email echoed accusations that the presumptive Republican nominee lobbed at Biden, the Democratic president he is expected to face in November's election, minutes earlier on Truth Social.

"Crooked Joe Biden’s DOJ, in their Illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE," he wrote, referring to the FBI's August 2022 search of his Mar-a-Lago club in the state of Florida, where he kept classified national security documents after leaving the White House.

<span>Screenshot from Truth Social taken May 22, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Truth Social taken May 22, 2024

Similar claims reverberated across social media, amplified by some of the former president's loudest supporters in Congress and the media.

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene posted on X that "the Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light," while her colleague, Paul Gosar, asserted that "Biden ordered the hit on Trump at Mar-a-Lago."

<span>Screenshot from X taken May 22, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken May 22, 2024

Conservative influencer Benny Johnson claimed: "Joe Biden authorized the assassination of President Trump." Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo suggested on air that Biden allowed the FBI to "kill Donald Trump."

But the allegations that the FBI had Biden's blessing to take out Trump are false, a distortion of boilerplate language on the use of force that was included in recently unsealed court filings.

"These are wildly misleading claims," said David Alan Sklansky, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, in a May 22 email. "That language is included to restrict the use of deadly force."

The FBI -- which recovered more than 100 classified documents from Trump's property, including some marked top secret -- got the go-ahead for the raid from a federal judge after the government tried unsuccessfully for months to get the records back. On the day of the search, Trump was not in Florida.

In a rare statement to AFP and other media, the agency said: "The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force. No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter."

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a press briefing after the search was executed that Biden and the White House were "not aware" and "not given a heads up" that it was happening, citing the independence of the Justice Department (archived here).

Standard policy limits force

The baseless assassination hysteria appears to trace to posts from conservative commentator Julie Kelly, who has previously spread misinformation about the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

In a May 21 post, Kelly shared a screenshot of a February motion Trump's legal counsel filed in the classified documents case.

<span>Screenshot from X taken May 23, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken May 23, 2024

Trump's attorneys wrote that an "operations order" for the FBI's search "contained a 'Policy Statement' regarding 'Use Of Deadly Force,' which stated, for example, 'Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary'" (archived here).

But the policy statement in the operations order itself, from August 2022, reads differently (archived here).

It says: "Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person."

It goes on to enumerate instances when deadly force is prohibited and call for verbal warnings when possible.

"The court filing by Trump's lawyers actually misquotes the language in the policy," said Sklansky, the Stanford law professor. "Trump's lawyers omitted the word 'only,' and dropped the end of the sentence -- both of which make clear that this is not an authorization to use deadly force, it is a restriction on the use of deadly force."

<span>Screenshot from courtlistener.com taken May 23, 2024</span>
Screenshot from courtlistener.com taken May 23, 2024

The use-of-force policy is also spelled out on the Justice Department and FBI websites (archived here and here).

"Every operations order contains a reminder of FBI deadly force policy," Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI's former assistant director for counterintelligence, said on X (archived here).

Testifying before Congress in 2023, Steven D'Antuono, former FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office, said the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago "wasn't even a show of force" (archived here).

"We didn't do a show of force, right," he said. "I was adamant about that, and that was something that we agreed on, right, the FBI agreed on, right. No raid jackets, no blazed FBI. We interact. We made sure we interacted with the Secret Service to make sure we could get into Mar-a-Lago with no issues. We're not banging down any doors."

"Everything that was reported about helicopters and a hundred people descending on, like a 'Die Hard' movie, was completely untrue."

Trump is accused of willfully retaining national defense information and obstructing government efforts to recover it.

In April, during arguments before the Supreme Court over Trump's claims that presidents should have absolute immunity from prosecution, Trump attorneys argued that hypothetical orders from a president to assassinate a rival "could well be an official act" that should be shielded from criminal liability.

AFP has fact-checked other misinformation about US politics here.