FBI officials argued against raiding former President Donald Trump’s residence, but Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors pushed the aggressive tactic and ultimately won the dispute, according to a new report.
The unprecedented raid, carried out in August, threw the FBI under a torrent of criticism. Many Republicans saw the raid as further evidence that the DOJ has been politicized and that the FBI has been weaponized against Republicans, especially Trump.
The reaction was expected to some extent within the FBI, according to The Washington Post. Two senior FBI officials responsible for leading the raid argued against it because of the reaction it would likely incite. They also questioned the need of taking such a drastic step, preferring to continue to work with Trump and the former president’s legal team to secure classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago.
The FBI was also hesitant to appear too heavy-handed in politically charged cases after its handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation in 2016 and the probe into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that led to ex-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that came up empty.
DOJ prosecutors thought differently. Trump should not be given special treatment, they argued, and the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago were an imminent security risk. The prosecutors said action must be taken quickly to secure the classified material before it was moved.
The debate came to a head a week before the August 8 raid in which multiple DOJ officials and prosecutors met with FBI officials, including Steven D’Antuono, then head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. D’Antuono, who eventually led the raid on Mar-a-Lago, pushed back against prosecutors’ assertions that the raid was necessary. He also questioned the scope of the search warrant and asked if Trump was the subject of a criminal investigation.
Jay Bratt, the DOJ’s counterintelligence chief, and several others argued in support of the raid, according to the Post.
The prosecutors won the argument, convincing the top brass at the FBI to back the proposed raid, and Attorney General Merrick Garland to sign off on it. The day following the meeting, Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate ordered D’Antuono to head the raid on Trump’s residence. The criticism of the bureau erupted immediately, and grew more pointed after classified documents were revealed to have been in Biden’s possession last month.
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D’Antuono retired from the agency last year. The former FBI official had been involved in some of the bureau’s most controversial actions in recent years. Before heading the field office in Washington, D’Antuono led the bureau’s Detroit Field Office and oversaw its months-long sting into a group of militia members who attempted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
D’Antuono moved to lead the Washington Field Office where he then oversaw the bureau’s investigation into the January 6 Capitol riot. He retired from the FBI at the end of November.