Donald Trump and his supporters are ratcheting up their baseless claim that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents may have “planted” evidence when they searched his Mar-a-Lago home for missing White House records. But those claims are unlikely to stand up in court.
In an effort to calm the outcry from Trump allies about the Monday search of his Florida estate, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that criticism of the agents was unfounded, without mentioning the conspiracy theory. He also said he asked a judge to unseal the warrant.
The allegation of planted evidence is being pushed by Trump to fire up “deep state” conspiracy theorists who make up a significant portion of his supporters, says Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego.
“It’s purely a PR statement with no legal ramifications whatsoever,” Rahmani said. “No jury would ever accept that argument.”
The claim could theoretically be used in Trump’s defense if he were to be charged with any crimes, or he could raise the conspiracy theory in the search-warrant case. A judge ordered the Justice Department to report by 3 p.m. on Friday whether Trump intends to challenge the unsealing request.
Christopher Slobogin, director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt University, said the planted-evidence claim is the sign of a “desperate man” and “doesn’t make sense.”
“It would be very stupid for the FBI to plant evidence,” Slobogin said. “There are cameras all over the Mar-a-Lago compound. Plus, agents would have to have evidence to plant, and the whole point of the search is to find documents that are known not to be in possession of the government.”
Still, the theory has gained traction with Republican lawmakers, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Senator Rand Paul. They’ve expressed outrage over the unprecedented search of a former president’s home, saying it was politically motivated and designed to destroy Trump’s 2024 campaign to win back the White House from President Joe Biden.
“I’m worried they might have planted something,” Trump’s personal attorney Alina Habba said Tuesday, a day after the search, during an appearance on Fox News. “At this point, who knows? I don’t trust the government.” Habba didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has floated the theory on his social media app, complaining FBI agents wouldn’t let his lawyers “anywhere near the areas that were rummaged and otherwise looked at during the raid on Mar-a-Lago.”