With his allies in Congress laying the groundwork for an investigation into the FBI's search of his Florida home last week, former President Donald Trump on Monday said in an interview that "the temperature has to be brought down" in the country, even as he continued to suggest without evidence that federal agents may have planted evidence.
In his first interview since the FBI executed a search warrant last week at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's seaside mansion, the former president told Fox News Digital, "There has never been a time like this where law enforcement has been used to break into the house of a former president of the United States, and there is tremendous anger in the country — at a level that has never been seen before, other than during very perilous times."
In fact, FBI agents did not "break into" Trump's home. Instead, they entered with a search warrant, approved by a federal judge on suspicion that a crime had been committed.
The warrant specified that investigators had reason to believe that several federal laws related to the preservation and security of national security information, including the Espionage Act, had been violated.
Although its title suggests that it deals only with cases of spying, the Espionage Act also covers mishandling of classified documents without the intent to distribute them to foreign governments.
Trump said he had asked his representatives to contact the Department of Justice and to let officials know that he will do whatever he can "to help the country." He said he has not heard back from the department.
According to information released after the search, FBI agents took possession of more than 20 boxes of records, as well as individual documents, two binders of photographs and miscellaneous other items. The property receipt provided to Trump's attorney indicates that many of the documents seized were classified, with some marked "top secret/secure compartmentalized information," meaning that the information they contained was believed to be among the nation's most sensitive secrets.
"People are so angry at what is taking place," Trump said. "Whatever we can do to help— because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn't, terrible things are going to happen."
In the same interview, the former president said the agents who executed the search "could have planted anything they wanted."
U.S. presidents have the authority to unilaterally declassify documents, and Trump claimed last week that before leaving office, he officially declassified all of the documents that went with him to Mar-a-Lago. So far, the former president has not produced any evidence that he took such steps.
However, regardless of the documents' classification status, it remains illegal for Trump or any other government official to take government records into their own personal possession. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 stipulates in particular that after a president leaves office, all presidential records are automatically transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Earlier this year, Trump surrendered 15 other boxes of presidential records to NARA after the agency went to court to force their return. When the agency found classified material in those boxes, it alerted the Justice Department.
Reporting by The New York Times and other news outlets has revealed that law enforcement officials had been assured by Trump's attorneys that there was no more classified material at Mar-a-Lago. However, the FBI later learned that was not correct, and issued a subpoena for any remaining classified documents. The search warrant was issued after Trump failed to turn them over.
GOP lawmakers demand information
Also on Monday, Trump's allies on Capitol Hill began laying the groundwork for a congressional investigation into the circumstances of the raid, which they have promised to launch if they are able to gain control of one or both houses of Congress in the November elections.
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who personally approved the application for a warrant to search Trump's home, 18 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote, "The FBI's unprecedented raid of President Trump's residence is a shocking escalation of the Biden Administration's weaponization of law-enforcement resources against its political opponents. The American people deserve transparency and accountability from our most senior law-enforcement officials in the executive branch. We will settle for nothing but your complete cooperation with our inquiry."
The letter, a similar version of which was sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray, directed Garland to preserve and turn over any documents related to the search or the preparations for the search.
While Republicans claim the Biden administration has "weaponized" the Department of Justice against the president's political enemies, the DOJ also has an open criminal investigation in which the president's son, Hunter Biden, is the target.
Hunter Biden's business dealings in foreign countries, among other activities, have been under legal scrutiny for several years. The younger Biden has not been charged with any crime, and the DOJ investigation of him does not extend to his father.
'Clear your calendar'
The letter to Garland followed a clear signal from Republican leadership that the circumstances of the search on Mar-a-Lago will be a major focus if they gain control of one of the houses of Congress next year.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a leading candidate for speaker of the House if Republicans take over that body, promised exhaustive investigations of the Justice Department of Justice and Garland.
"The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization," McCarthy said last week. "When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned."
Addressing Garland directly, he told the attorney general to "preserve your documents and clear your calendar."
Varied GOP reaction
The reaction to the search among Republican lawmakers has varied, with some, like Senator Rick Scott, comparing the FBI to the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi-era Germany. Representative Paul Gosar said on Twitter, "We must destroy the FBI."
However, others were more measured.
Representative Mike Turner, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" news program that members of the committee have sufficient security clearance to see the materials that the FBI used to support the request for a search warrant and should be allowed to judge for themselves if the raid was justified.
Senator Mike Rounds, in an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he believes the Department of Justice should, as quickly as possible, release information about the steps it took prior to the execution of a search warrant at the former president's home, because "we want the American people to have faith in their institutions."
"[W]e don't have to speculate," Rounds said. "We have the clearance. We have the oversight ability. Attorney General Garland needs to provide these materials. You have bipartisan calls to do that. Put the materials in a room. Let us see them. And then we can tell you what our answer is and what our discernment is of whether or not this is a true national security threat, or whether or not this is an abuse of discretion by Attorney General Garland."
He added, "I think it's very important, long term, for the Justice Department, now that they've done this, that they show that this was not just a fishing expedition — that they had due cause to go in and to do this, that they did exhaust all other means. And if they can't do that, then we've got a serious problem on our hands."
Democrats in Washington have criticized Trump's decision to keep sensitive government documents after leaving office and the demonization of the FBI by some of their Republican colleagues. They warned that the latter puts law enforcement officials in danger. Last week, after the search of Mar-a-Lago, a man with a history of strong support for the president attacked an FBI field office in Ohio before being shot to death by police.
Representative Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he had seen no evidence that Trump had declassified the documents while in office.
In an appearance, Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," Schiff said he and his colleagues have requested a damage assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies to try to understand the degree to which national security might have been threatened by Trump's decision to keep classified documents in a room that was apparently secured with a simple padlock.
"What is to me most disturbing here is the degree to which, at least from the public reporting … it appears to be willful on the president`s part, the keeping of these documents after the government was requesting them back," Schiff said. "That adds another layer of concern."