- On Monday, the FBI executed a search warrant on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
- Most of the nation, including the White House, learned of the raid from a statement by Trump.
- Experts say Trump did himself a favor by announcing the raid, despite possible legal trouble.
But the way that most of the nation, including the Biden White House, found out about the raid was from the former president himself.
On Monday evening, Trump said in a statement that “a large group” of FBI agents was searching his Mar-a-Lago home, accusing the bureau of prosecutorial misconduct and suggesting the raid was politically motivated to prevent him from running for president in 2024.
“Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries,” the former president said in his statement. “Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before. They even broke into my safe!”
The search warrant comes as the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Trump broke the law when he took classified government records with him to Mar-a-Lago.
Though the investigation could land Trump in hot water pending the FBI’s findings, experts on political and media framing said they believe the former president did himself a favor by announcing the raid himself before the FBI released details of the probe or even any potential charges in relation to the search warrant.
“Trump, with his statement, sought to flip the script — to change the story from being ‘He’s under a cloud of suspicion and he’s in trouble with law enforcement’ to ‘He’s the victim,'” Evan Nierman, CEO of the global crisis PR firm Red Banyan, told Insider. “And I’d say the Republican political establishment has quickly fallen into line echoing Trump’s side of things.”
In the hours following Trump’s announcement of the FBI search warrant, Republicans and right-wing groups leaped on the opportunity to use the raid as a fundraising point, with some GOP players throwing their support behind the former president. Trump supporters also swarmed the Mar-a-Lago resort to protest the execution of the search warrant.
“Trump is a master of manipulation when it comes to the media,” Nierman said. “And I think in this case, he acted swiftly and decisively to shape the narrative here, especially at a time when law enforcement wasn’t gonna be in a hurry to say something publicly.”
It’s still not immediately clear what the FBI was trying to find at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, as the Justice Department is under strict guidance not to discuss ongoing investigations with the public.
But Trump and his legal team should have received a copy of the search warrant, despite the former president being in New York at the time of the raid, and he is free to release those documents, which outline the reason for the warrant and an inventory of items that were seized, if any.
Nonetheless, the lengths that the bureau would have to go to secure such a warrant include showing to a judge a probable cause of a crime, and that the evidence of it could be found at the Florida resort.
“I do think it’s textbook Trump in terms of him being very aggressive, about racing to put out his version of the events, to frame the narrative, to try to shape, at least for his followers and his devoted supporters, what happened,” Nierman said. “And I think it’s actually, he’s been quite effective because, not only by releasing such a public statement and doing it so quickly, he’s kind of forced the media to also report on how he characterized it.”
A short-term win for Trump
While the unprecedented raid almost certainly portends further legal troubles for Trump down the line, Trump’s quick instinct to take control of the narrative and frame the raid as a partisan attack signals that the former president sees the FBI’s search less as a bonafide legal problem, and more as an opportunity to re-energize and solidify his base ahead of a possible 2024 presidential campaign, said Chris Haynes, a politics professor at the University of New Haven and an expert on political framing.
“Trump supporters need talking points, they need a storyline, they need a call to action in a sense,” Haynes told Insider. “This is what it is.”
Trump’s mastery of command this week was certainly helped by the Republican leaders who were ready with talking points to support the embattled former president, Haynes said. The search has forced GOP lawmakers to openly acknowledge that Trump is likely to run for president again — a prospect that most Republicans had previously been trying to avoid discussing in such certain terms.
“In a lot of ways, this is great news for Trump, politically or salience-wise,” Haynes said. “That’s what he cares about, being in the spotlight. It’s exactly what he wants.”
But while the media frenzy around the raid might be a win for Trump, Haynes suggested it could end up hurting the Republican Party come November.
“Could it energize the [GOP] base and convince them to turn out? Maybe,” Haynes said. “But it could also really really energize the Democratic base.”
Regardless of which party ultimately takes Congress in November, Trump’s Monday statement makes one thing clear, according to Haynes: The former president is gearing up for a battle.
“Raided, occupied, under siege, weaponization of the justice system,” Haynes said, reciting some of the word choices Trump used in his initial statement. “These are war-type analogies.”