Former president Donald Trump said FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday and broke into his safe in what his son acknowledged was part of an investigation into Trump's removal of official presidential records from the White House to his Florida resort.
The unprecedented search of a former president's home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business.
The US Justice Department declined to comment on the search, which Trump in a statement said involved a "large group of FBI agents." The FBI's headquarters in Washington and its field office in Miami both declined comment.
Eric Trump, one of the former president's adult children, told Fox News the search concerned boxes of documents that Trump brought with him from the White House, and that his father has been cooperating with the National Archives on the matter for months.
A source familiar with the matter also confirmed to Reuters the raid appeared to be tied to Trump's removal of classified records from the White House.
Trump said the estate "is currently under siege, raided, and occupied." He did not say why the raid took place.
"After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate," Trump said, adding: "They even broke into my safe!"
Trump was not present at the time as he was in New York on Monday, Fox News Digital reported, publishing a photo of Trump that a Fox reporter said showed him leaving Trump Tower.
Trump, who has made his club in Palm Beach his home since leaving the White House in January 2021, has generally spent summers at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, because Mar-a-Lago typically closes for the summer.
A federal law called the US Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president's official duties.
Any search of a private residence would have to be approved by a judge, after the investigating law-enforcement agency demonstrated probable cause that a search was justified.
It almost certainly would also be approved by FBI director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney-General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Trump's successor and political rival, President Joe Biden.
Democratic supporters of Biden have criticised Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.
But Trump supporters in turn have accused the Democrats of weaponising the federal bureaucracy to target Trump, even as Biden has taken steps to distance himself from the Justice Department.
"Make no mistake, the attorney-general had to authorise this," said Phillip Halpern, a former federal prosecutor who specialised in public corruption cases, adding that Wray and a host of prosecutors would also be involved.
"This is as big a deal as you can have, and... every single person in the chain would have had to sign off on this," Halpern said.
In February, archivist David Ferriero told US House lawmakers that the National Archives and Records Administration had been in communication with Trump throughout 2021 about the return of 15 boxes of records. He eventually returned them in January 2022.
At the time, the National Archives was still conducting an inventory, but noted some of the boxes contained items "marked as classified national security information."
Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the archives, calling it "an ordinary and routine process." He also claimed the archives "did not 'find' anything."
The Justice Department launched an early-stage investigation into Trump's removal of records to the Florida estate, a source familiar with the matter said in April.
Lara Trump, the former president's daughter-in-law, said he only removed mementos that he was legally authorised to take.
"Look, my father-in-law as anybody knows who's been around him a lot loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs, documents that he had every authority to take from the White House," Lara Trump told Fox News.
"And you know, again, he's been cooperating every single step of the way with the people that have questioned any of this."
Besides the presidential records case, Trump is under investigation on a number of other fronts, including a congressional probe into the Jan 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol and accusations that Trump tried to influence Georgia's 2020 election results.
In addition, the US attorney in Washington, DC, is probing a scheme by Trump's allies to submit slates of fake electors in a failed bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
In an interview in July with NBC News, Garland was asked whether the Justice Department would indict Trump over the events of Jan 6 if evidence supported such an action.
Garland replied, "We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That's what we do. We don't pay any attention to other issues with respect to that."