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Explainer: Why is Trump facing a presidential records probe?

  • 9 Aug 2022

The FBI has searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort estate in Florida in what appears to be linked to the ongoing presidential records probe. We explain what the investigation concerns.

( Reuters )

When Trump left the White House, he took some files with him, placed them in dozens of boxes and moved them into his Florida estate.

He kept on delaying the return of the material on the request of the US National Archives and Records Administration, or the Archives, and was eventually forced to do so after there was a threat of action to retrieve them.

A US federal law, called the Presidential Records Act, requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties. 

The Archives is mandated to govern such official records.

In April this year, the Justice Department launched an investigation into Trump’s removal of official records to his Mar-a-Lago resort estate after the Archives notified Congress about its recovery of 15 boxes of White House documents, some of which contained classified materials, from the former president’s Florida residence.

Archivist David Ferriero told US House lawmakers that they had been in communication with Trump throughout 2021 about the return of the records, which he eventually returned in January 2022.

The US House of Representatives Oversight Committee at that time said it was expanding an investigation into Trump’s actions, asking the Archives to turn over additional information.

Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records, calling it “an ordinary and routine process”, claiming the Archives “did not ‘find’ anything”. Through his spokesperson Taylor Budowich, he blasted the Justice Department investigation, calling it a “sham”.

The recent unprecedented search of the former president’s home marks a significant escalation of the records investigation; one of several probes Trump faces from his time in office and private business.

Trump, disclosing the search in a lengthy statement, asserted that agents had opened up a safe at his home, describing their work as an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct”.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” he said. “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”

While the search intensifies, the months-long probe into how classified documents ended up in more than a dozen boxes located at Mar-a-Lago continues parallel to a separate grand jury investigation into efforts to overturn the US 2020 presidential election results. 

The latest development adds to the potential legal peril for Trump as he lays the groundwork for another run.

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