Biden says he had ‘zero' advance notice of FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate

Ella Lee

President Joe Biden said he had “zero” advance notice before federal agents executed a search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence earlier this month, his first public comments on the search. 

  • What he said: “I didn’t have any advanced notice – none, zero, not one single bit,” Biden said Wednesday after making remarks on a newly announced student loan debt relief plan.
  • What the White House previously said: The day after the Mar-a-Lago search, the White House said that Justice Department investigations should be "free from political influence" and that no one at the White House was given a "heads-up." "The Justice Department conducts investigations independently, and we leave any law enforcement matters to them," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Aug. 9. She said Biden "was not briefed, was not aware of it."
President Joe Biden announces student loan relief on Wednesday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Student loan relief:'Debt and no degree': Biden cancels as much as $20K in student loan debt: live updates

Why does it matter?

Some Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for the search, accusing the FBI of being “politically motivated.”

Among them is former Vice President Mike Pence, who expressed "deep concern" over the Mar-a-Lago search and called for a "full accounting" from Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In a 2021 directive, Garland said DOJ would not alert the White House to "pending or contemplated criminal or law enforcement investigations or cases unless doing so is important for the performance of the president's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective."

While president, Trump routinely called on DOJ to investigate his political rivals. 

Latest news on the investigation

Biden's comments come the day before Justice Department lawyers must provide an edited or redacted version of the affidavit federal authorities used as the basis for the search to a federal magistrate for his consideration in deciding whether any of the documents' contents could be released. 

On Monday, Trump’s legal team filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the continued review of the classified documents seized from the Florida estate until a special master or third party can be appointed to ensure that possibly privileged material is shielded from scrutiny, according to court documents filed Monday.

Recent news on Mar-a-Lago search:Trump lawyers seek halt of Mar-a-Lago document inquiry, want special master to oversee review

What we know about the search

Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence was searched by federal agents as part of a federal investigation into allegations he removed classified documents from the White House when he left office.

The warrant that authorized the search revealed that the Justice Department is investigating the former president in connection with statutes related to the Espionage Act, mishandling defense documents and obstruction. 

Read the warrant:FBI's search warrant for Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property

What we know about the documents

FBI agents who searched Trump's home retrieved boxes that included 11 sets of classified documents, according to a property receipt released with the warrant. Some 20 boxes of items were taken by the FBI.

The property receipt includes references to one set of documents deemed “Various classified/TS/SCI documents,” an abbreviation for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information." Agents also collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents.

The actual nature of the information was not detailed in the warrant, though some of the documents were marked with vague descriptors like binders of photos, a handwritten note, information about the “President of France” and the executive grant of clemency for Trump ally Roger Stone.

Mar-a-Lago search timeline:Trump records investigation, from early red flags to the search at Mar-a-Lago

What led to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago

The National Archives in February obtained 15 boxes of presidential records that the former president had stored at his Mar-a-Lago club, some of which the agency later confirmed were classified.

Citing the Presidential Records Act, the National Archives and Records Administration said the records should have been transferred to the archives agency at the end of the Trump administration in January 2021. Instead, the transport of those presidential records was arranged in January 2022 after discussions with Trump’s representatives in 2021. 

In April, the Justice Department moved to investigate the handling of White House documents sent to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Two months before federal agents searched Trump’s Florida estate, the former president was served with a subpoena seeking sensitive government documents that investigators believed he’d stored there after he left the White House.