The FBI search of former President Donald Trump's residence in Florida signalled an extraordinary escalation of an investigation into the handling of certain documents from his presidency and raises questions about whether his legal exposure extends beyond whether he improperly took government records when he left the White House.
What exactly the FBI was searching for and why is still unknown.
But to obtain a search warrant, investigators would have had to show a judge that there was probable cause of a crime and that evidence of that crime was located at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Palm Beach resort.
READ MORE: Australia's richest suburbs and jobs revealed
Here's what to know about the legal significance of the search, which comes as Trump is preparing a potential 2024 presidential run, and what could come next:
What would it have taken for the DOJ to have obtained the search warrant?
To get judicial approval for the search, investigators would have had to present to a judge a detailed affidavit that would establish that probable cause exists to believe that a crime had been committed and that that evidence of that crime exists in recent days at the property where the search is being sought.
The search warrant would have been filed under seal, meaning that its details are not publicly available at the moment (though they could become public in the future).
The federal courthouse in West Palm Beach lists only one sealed search warrant application since June that was still not closed as of Friday, according to the court's public register of cases.
But before prosecutors got to the point of asking a magistrate judge to approve the warrant, in order to move forward with a search that carried such historical and political significance, investigators would have had to obtain the OK from the highest levels of the Justice Department, legal experts told CNN.
Former DOJ officials said it was likely that, at the very least, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco would have had to have given the green light and that Attorney General Merrick Garland and/or FBI Director Chris Wray may have also been consulted.
"Not only would the investigators have to suggest it, not only would a line prosecutor have to agree with it, but multiple layers of management would have had to approved of it - all the way up to the Attorney General," Daren Firestone, a former DOJ attorney, said.
The Justice Department has declined to comment.
READ MORE: How conspiracy theorist amassed a fortune that could be worth $375m
What does this mean for Trump's legal exposure?
To take the extraordinary step of executing a search warrant on a former president's home suggests investigators are looking at more than what the National Archives had previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago, according to legal experts.
In January, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago, including materials that had been identified as classified, but activity around those boxes have been quiet since the spring.
"I really don't believe that the department would have taken such a significant step as pursuing a search warrant for the president's residence about information they already had back," Andrew McCabe, a former FBI deputy director and CNN contributor, said.
"There had to be a suspicion, a concern and indeed specific information that led them to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over."
Before the news of yesterday's search, a law known as the Presidential Records Act had been forefront of public speculation about Trump's legal jeopardy as other investigatory steps were taken related to the handling of documents from Trump's White House.
That law - passed after Watergate to make clear that certain records from a presidency belong to the public and not the former office holder - is not a criminal statute and has been seen as relatively toothless law.
A search warrant and the presence of the FBI signifies a criminal investigation.
Riots, violence and deaths after Capitol stormed
There are other record retention statutes that bring with them criminal penalties - such as the Espionage Act - but at this point it's not clear what criminal statutes have been implicated in the Justice Department investigation.
It is a crime to destroy or remove federal records, or to mishandle classified documents.
There are other federal laws that aim prevent the tampering of information during an investigation.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued subpoenas for presidential materials including classified documents that the National Archives had previously retrieved.
The FBI also interviewed Trump aides at Mar-a-Lago in the spring as part of the probe, according to a source familiar with the matter.
For investigators to escalate their probe with a search, "there would have to be something serious enough that would merit more than a slap on the wrist," Firestone, now a partner at the DC-based firm Levy Firestone Muse, said.
It's also notable that the DOJ hasn't gone the route of civil litigation against the former president for how he handled the documents in question.
Just last week, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against former Trump White House official Peter Navarro, alleging that Navarro had violated the Presidential Records Act and seeking a court order compelling him to turn over emails from a private account that he used while working at the Trump White House.
READ MORE: Man who stormed Capitol with gun gets longest prison term
The search was executed two months after the previously unreported June 3 meeting between DOJ investigators and Trump's attorneys at the resort.
During the visit, four investigators, including the chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, toured a basement where boxes of materials were being stored.
Five days later, investigators sent Trump's attorneys a letter asking them to further secure the room storing the documents, prompting aides to add a padlock to the room.
For the FBI to execute a search warrant two months later hints that the federal officials were not satisfied with what they saw on the visit or that they were not confident in the voluntary cooperation they were receiving from Trump's team, some legal experts said.
It's possible federal officials also needed official sign off to repossess classified records.
"The fact that the FBI learned Trump still had documents at [Mar a Lago] in June, and felt the need to come back two months later with a search warrant, indicates to me that the agency has evidence that Trump and his staff were holding onto additional classified records and not taking any steps to properly return them to the Archives," Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer, told CNN in an email.
It also may have taken months for the Justice Department to decide to do search and how it should go about it.
When the FBI was leaving Mar-a-Lago, Trump's team would have received a document akin to a receipt of what was taken.
How the world's papers responded to 'Trump's hate mob'
But DOJ can be as vague as it wants in that documentation.
More broadly, the Justice Department can keep large swaths of its investigation secret, as the Justice Department made clear in court filings last night around its search of John Eastman, the former Trump lawyer who spearheaded plots to subvert the 2020 election.
In that filing - where the Justice Department was arguing against an Eastman request that January 6 investigators return devices seized from him in late June in New Mexico -- prosecutors said there was no obligation for the Department to share with Eastman more details about the status of its probe.
"The Government has no doubt that the movant would like to have full knowledge of the Government's investigation and the ability to 'engage [federal agents] in a debate over the basis of the warrant," the filing said.
"But the law only, and properly, requires a neutral magistrate judge to find probable cause to search for and seize any electronic devices on his person; it does not require that the person searched know the basis for the warrant."
READ MORE: US election probe moves inside Donald Trump's inner circle
What happens next?
It still not known how off guard Trump's lawyers were with the FBI actions taken yesterday and what Trump's team has been arguing to the DOJ about the handling of the documents in previous interactions with investigators.
Trump could take a pre-emptive legal step to challenge in court the way the FBI handled the search, perhaps with the goal of getting thrown out any evidence investigators had obtained or at least to try to get more information about what investigators in probing.
But without such court activity, the next steps of the investigation could very well continue in secret.
Can Trump be barred from running for president if he is found to have violated records law?
Another law that may be implicated by the FBI's search is one barring the willful concealment, removal or mutilation of government records.
That law threatens as a punishment disqualification "from holding any office under the United States."
However, there are questions about the constitutionality of that law and its applicability to a Trump presidential run, if he were to be convicted under it.
Because the Constitution sets specific qualifications for presidential office - and lays out a separate impeachment process for disqualifying presidents from holding office in the future - some argue that Congress would not have the authority to enact such a statute that would apply to a presidential candidate.
FAQsWho built Mar a Lago estate? ›
|Area||62,500 sq ft (5,810 m2)|
|Architect||Marion Sims Wyeth (exterior) Joseph Urban (interior)|
The richest president in history is believed to be Donald Trump, who is often considered the first billionaire president. His net worth, however, is not precisely known because the Trump Organization is privately held. Truman was among the poorest U.S. presidents, with a net worth considerably less than $1 million.Who is the richest president alive? ›
Donald Trump, 45th president, 2017 – 2021, US$3 billion
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump is the wealthiest on our list.
Meet Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Postum Cereal Company. We honor the legacy of Marjorie Merriweather Post every day. The only child of Charles W. Post, she inherited what was then known as the Postum Cereal Company at age 27 after her father died in 1914.How old is the Donald Trump? › What is the richest country in the world? ›
- United States - $18.62 Tn.
- China - $11.22 Tn.
- Japan - $4.94 Tn.
- Germany - $3.48 Tn.
- United Kingdom - $2.65 Tn.
- France - $2.47 Tn.
- India - $2.26 Tn.
- Italy - $1.86 Tn.
Most affluent women worldwide 2022, by net worth
The granddaughter of the L'Oréal founder, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers was the wealthiest woman in the world as of April 2022. Her and her family's net worth was estimated at 74.8 billion U.S. dollars.
Mansa Musa, or Musa I of Mali is considered one of the richest people ever. Musa was the ninth emperor of the Mali Empire, one of the prosperous Sahelian kingdoms that developed along the trans-saharan trade routes in the later medieval period.
Key Takeaways. The current salary for the president of the United States is $400,000 per year with an expense account of $50,000. Former presidents receive a pension and other benefits when they leave office. While the First Spouse has many responsibilities, the position does not pay a salary.Who was the first billionaire? ›
The American business magazine Forbes produces a global list of known U.S. dollar billionaires every year and updates an Internet version of this list in real time. The American oil magnate John D. Rockefeller became the world's first confirmed U.S. dollar billionaire in 1916.What was Ronald Reagan worth? ›
Ronald Reagan was an actor and Republican politician who had a net worth of $13 million at the time of his death in 2004. From 1981 to 1989 Ronald served as the 40th president of the United States. Earlier, he had served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild and subsequently the governor of California.Is Tom Cruise rich? ›
See how the Mission Impossible star accrued his wealth. Tom Cruise has become a household name in the world of action films. His 41-year-long career has made him one of the richest actors in the world with a net worth of around $570 million.How much money is Ed Sheeran worth? ›
Thanks to hits like “Shape of You,” “Bad Habits,” “Castle on the Hill” and “Perfect,” Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has an estimated net worth of $200 million dollars, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.Who is the richest person in the world 2022? ›
|Net worth (USD)||$107 billion|
|Source(s) of wealth||Alphabet Inc.|
- $1.6 B. Mukesh Ambani.
- $905 M. Zhong Shanshan.
- $692 M. Sunil Mittal.
- $653 M. Li Xiting.
- $576 M. Xu Hang.
1) Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld is the richest actor in Hollywood with a net worth of $900 million. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a net worth of $900 million, making him the richest actor in Hollywood.
Oprah Winfrey is a beloved American icon and billionaire reportedly worth $2.6 billion as of mid-2022.Is Keanu Reeves a billionaire? ›
Reeves has an estimated net worth of $380 million.
The estimated net worth of Justin Bieber is $285 million.What kind of car does Ed Sheeran drive? ›
However, fame wouldn't help him out of a speeding ticket in his Aston Martin. Sheeran had been driving his Aston Martin DB9 when he, like the rest of us, saw those flashing lights in his rearview and got anxious. It's certainly not every day you get pulled over in a $200,000 luxury sports car, either.How much is Tom Cruise worth and how old is he? ›
|Net Worth:||$600 Million|
|Born:||July 3, 1962|
|Height:||1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)|
Musk's remarkable jump in wealth is linked to his ownership stake in electric car maker Tesla, and to a lesser extent his holdings in ventures including Space X and Boring Company.How many Trillionaires are there in the world? ›
Do you know that only 6 trillionaires ever lived on the face of earth? As of today, there are no trillionaires who live on earth. It is definitely not Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.How much money does Bill Gates spend a day? ›
Find: 10 Genius Money Tips From Billionaire Bill Gates
That's what it must be like to be Bill Gates. With his net worth of $131 billion, spending $1.08 million is comparable to someone else spending $1. In fact, Gates could spend $1 million a day for the next 350 years and still not run out of money.
Simply stated, a billionaire is a person who has a net worth of $1 billion or more. In other words, if you can sell all of your assets for cash, pay off your debts, and have $1 billion remaining in the bank afterward, you are a billionaire.