Trump Fox Mar-a-Lago
Molly Butler, Media Matters | Trump photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

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Unsealed filings revealed additional instances of Trump mishandling documents. MAGA media concocted an FBI plot to assassinate Trump.

The FBI says it “followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force”

Unsealed court filings reveal additional allegations that former President Donald Trump and his associates mishandled classified documents and attempted to impede the related investigation. 

But right-wing media focused on pushing a misleading interpretation of the FBI’s warrant to search Mar-a-Lago and suggesting that the FBI was trying to assassinate Trump.

  • Unsealed court filings in Trump’s classified documents case reveal further details about the raid on Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s alleged attempt to impede the investigation into his conduct

    • A March opinion from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell that was unsealed May 21 revealed that four additional classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago after the FBI searched the property in 2022 and that there’s “strong evidence” Trump sought to hide documents from prosecutors. In her opinion, Howell granted a request from special counsel Jack Smith’s office to question Trump’s lawyers under the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. The opinion reportedly said that there was “strong evidence” that Trump had “intended” to hide documents and that the prosecution “had adequately demonstrated” that Trump allowed his lawyer to unknowingly lie to government agents when Trump’s lawyer claimed all documents had been returned. [The Daily Beast, 5/22/24; CNN, 5/21/24]
    • The filings also show that the judge said Trump “likely” instructed his employees to hide activities from security cameras that he “understood to have been deputized by the government.” According to the judge, the prosecutors suspected that after Trump learned from his lawyer that security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago had been subpoenaed, a witness suspected to be Trump aide Walt Nauta changed travel plans “to ensure that any subsequent movement of the boxes back to the storage room could occur off camera.” [CBS, 5/21/24]
  • A conservative commentator tried to scandalize the fact that the FBI was authorized to use force if necessary in the Mar-a-Lago raid

    • After the filings were unsealed, conservative commentator Julie Kelly focused on the fact that the FBI was authorized to use force when searching Mar-a-Lago, misleadingly calling it “mind-blowing.” Kelly, who has pushed conspiracy theories about the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, previously went on a right-wing media tour to push misleading claims related to other legal filings in the documents case, such as that there was evidence “tampering” and “prosecutorial abuse.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24; Media Matters, 2/21/23, 5/13/24]
  • The FBI said it followed “standard protocol” in the Mar-a-Lago search, which included a generic DOJ use of force policy, and journalists and others agreed

    • The FBI issued a statement noting that “the FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force.” The statement also clarified that “no one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.” [Axios, 5/21/24
    • Reuters crime and justice reporter Brad Heath pointed to some indicators that “this is the generic DOJ use of force policy – not something cooked up for Mar-a-Lago, let alone ordered” by President Joe Biden. Heath replied to Julie Kelly on X, saying, “One clue that this is the generic DOJ use of force policy — not something cooked up for Mar-a-Lago, let alone ordered by the president — is that it talks about the use of warning shots in prison.” Heath also noted that the “DOJ doesn’t authorize deadly force like that” and that the “policy the FBI followed here applies all the time.” Heath added that “they are the same rules agents follow when walking down a sidewalk.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24, 5/21/24, 5/21/24]
    • Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, also pointed out that “every FBI operations order contains a reminder of FBI deadly force policy.” [Twitter, 5/21/24]
    • CNN correspondent Tom Foreman also debunked the claim that the policy was unusual, calling it “a flat-out lie.” On CNN, Foreman noted that “the bottom line is there was nothing different about this. ... For Trump world to claim that this was something else is just a flat-out lie top to bottom.” [CNN, Inside Politics with Dana Bash, 5/22/24]
    • Fox News’ White House correspondent​​ Jacqui Heinrich reported that the operations order for the FBI searches at Biden’s homes also included a statement regarding the use of deadly force, noting that such a statement is “standard” DOJ policy. [Twitter/X, 5/22/24]
    • Even Trump ally Roger Stone pointed out that claims that the raid was a “botched assassination attempt” are a “gross overstatement,” noting that Trump was not in Florida at the time of the raid. Stone told Infowars founder Alex Jones that he was “shocked” Garland authorized deadly force before admitting the FBI likely knew Trump was not at his home in Florida. [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 5/22/24]
  • Some right-wing media insinuated the FBI was acting in a targeted way toward Trump and aiming for a violent confrontation

    • Fox News host Jesse Watters claimed that Biden was directing the FBI’s raid, saying, “Joe Biden sent men with guns to his political opponent’s house.” Watters continued, “That’s never happened in the history of the United States and we’ve had some crazy presidents.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 5/21/24]
    • Fox host Jeanine Pirro suggested to Watters that the FBI “wanted” to “engage in deadly physical force” during the Mar-a-Lago search. Watters added, “Maybe they were looking for a little action.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 5/21/24]
    • Fox News contributor Byron York called the FBI force authorization “kind of worrisome,” saying that the FBI prepared for the possibility of “violent confrontation.” He noted that the confrontation would have been with the Secret Service, “the men and women who are guarding a former president who were probably significantly armed themselves. And, yet, the idea that it was prepared for this way as opposed to say worked out in advance is just really troubling.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 5/21/24]
    • Alex Jones’ Infowars cited Julie Kelly in an article titled “BOMBSHELL: FBI Authorized Use of Deadly Force in Mar-a-Lago Raid, Court Docs Show.” [Infowars, 5/21/24]
    • Right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled “Newly Unsealed Doc Reveals Biden FBI Authorized the Use of DEADLY FORCE During Mar-a-Lago Raid – Armed Agents Prepared to Confront Trump.” [The Gateway Pundit, 5/21/24]
    • OutKick’s Clay Travis called the FBI’s authorized force “absolutely insane.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24]
    • Newsmax host Greg Kelly claimed the use of force authorization was “dangerous” and he invoked “the Kennedy assassination and the deep state.” Kelly acknowledged that “it may have been boilerplate language that's in any warrant” before arguing that “to have it in that warrant, with our president and all the stuff we're learning lately, … this is crazy. This is wild. This is dangerous, so dangerous. So say a prayer, all right, and let's get active.” [Newsmax, Greg Kelly Reports, 5/21/24]
  • Some right-wing media claimed Biden and the Justice Department put out a “shoot-to-kill order on the corrupt raid of Mar-a-Lago” and called the FBI agents who executed the search “Biden assassins”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk said the FBI was authorized to “possibly even assassinate Trump himself.” He wrote on X that the FBI was “authorized to kill Trump employees, possibly even assassinate Trump himself, to exact their political revenge.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24]
    • On Newsmax, host Chris Salcedo said the Justice Department “effectively put a shoot-to-kill order on the corrupt raid of Mar-a-Lago.” Salcedo’s guest, America First Legal Executive Director Gene Hamilton, claimed the use of force authorization was not normal and that Biden and the DOJ were “willing to send armed FBI agents into his house with authority to shoot to kill over paperwork, over library records that Donald Trump had the absolute right to possess.” [Newsmax, The Chris Salcedo Show, 5/21/24]
    • Article III Project founder Mike Davis, who has been floated as a potential attorney general in Trump’s next administration, asserted that “the Biden librarians sent in the Biden assassins.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24; Media Matters, 11/10/23]
    • War Room Chief Operating Officer Grace Chong declared that the search “was ANYTHING but a standard FBI raid” and that the FBI “WANTED a confrontation” and “planned for casualties.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24]
    • Former One America News host and current Republican National Committee senior counsel for election integrity Christina Bobb posted: “WTF?!! They were prepared to kill me?!” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24; The Associated Press, 10/11/22; Media Matters, 4/3/24]
    • Trump ally Laura Loomer, who has pushed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory and been floated as a press secretary in Trump’s next administration, baselessly claimed that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “had advance knowledge of a possible assassination attempt of President Trump by the Biden regime and FBI!” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24; Media Matters, 11/10/23; YouTube, Pseudo-Intellectual LIVE, 4/10/24]
    • The Federalist founder Sean Davis suggested “the real reason” for the FBI raid was “an excuse to use deadly force against Donald Trump.” He then wrote that the Trump classified document trial was “just plan B for the corrupt DOJ and FBI.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24]
    • Conservative podcaster Liz Wheeler wrote, “Were they hoping to assassinate Trump or his family or employees? This is insane.” [Twitter/X, 5/21/24]