Mar-a-Lago search an 'extraordinary escalation' of Donald Trump criminal probe: CNN

Mar-a-Lago search an 'extraordinary escalation' of Donald Trump criminal probe: CNN
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation's execution of a search warrant at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago compound in Palm Beach, Florida on Monday unambiguously indicated that the United States Department of Justice is investigating possible criminality in low-Trump orbit.

Speculation abounds; this is uncharted territory.

On Tuesday, CNN provided a schematic of the unprecedented and "extraordinary escalation" of the probe into the removal of classified documents from the White House during the finals days of Trump's term.

READ MORE: 'A bold step': George Conway explains why Trump 'should be worried' following Mar-a-Lago FBI search

"What exactly the FBI was searching for and why is still unknown. But to obtain a search warrant, investigators would have had to show a judge that there was probable cause of a crime and that evidence of that crime was located at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Palm Beach resort," CNN stated in its analysis. "But before prosecutors got to the point of asking a magistrate judge to approve the warrant, in order to move forward with a search that carried such historical and political significance, investigators would have had to obtain the OK from the highest levels of the Justice Department."

CNN learned in interviews with officials "that it was likely that, at the very least, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco would have had to have given the green light and that Attorney General Merrick Garland and/or FBI Director Chris Wray may have also been consulted."

Wray was nominated by Trump.

The political stakes of combing through the home of an ex-commander in chief and likely candidate for reelection are exceptional, and suggest that "investigators are looking at more than what the National Archives had previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago," CNN reported of the 15 boxes of materials that were retrieved in January.

READ MORE: Merrick Garland's case against Donald Trump is probably airtight | Opinion

"I really don't believe that the department would have taken such a significant step as pursuing a search warrant for the president's residence about information they already had back," former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe explained. "There had to be a suspicion, a concern and indeed specific information that led them to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over."

Experts believe that Trump may have violated either or both of two laws – the Presidential Records Act and the Espionage Act – which make it a felony to "destroy or remove federal records, or to mishandle classified documents." CNN added that "there are other federal laws that aim to prevent the tampering of information during an investigation," which could account for why a search warrant was issued instead of a subpoena.

"Another law that may be implicated by the FBI's search is one barring the willful concealment, removal or mutilation of government records. That law threatens as a punishment disqualification 'from holding any office under the United States,'" CNN stressed. "Because the Constitution sets specific qualifications for presidential office -- and lays out a separate impeachment process for disqualifying presidents from holding office in the future."

Ex-Justice Department counsel Daren Firestone told CNN that "there would have to be something serious enough that would merit more than a slap on the wrist."

CNN revealed on Monday that "the search was executed two months after the previously unreported June 3rd meeting between DOJ investigators and Trump's attorneys" at Mar-a-Lago. "Five days later, investigators sent Trump's attorneys a letter asking them to further secure the room storing the documents, prompting aides to add a padlock to the room."

National security lawyer Bradley Moss noted to CNN that "the fact that the FBI learned Trump still had documents at [Mar-a-Lago] in June, and felt the need to come back two months later with a search warrant, indicates to me that the agency has evidence that Trump and his staff were holding onto additional classified records and not taking any steps to properly return them to the Archives."

CNN pointed out that the Justice Department "can be as vague as it wants" in how it chronicles what was confiscated and how it notifies subjects of what it obtained. Moreover, the absence of legal challenges to what is now known means that "the next steps of the investigation could very well continue in secret."

It is also too soon to predict what, if any, consequences await Trump if he is indicted, prosecuted, and/or convicted.

READ MORE: 'Poor, persecuted Trump': Journalist mocks GOP hysteria

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