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Former prosecutor on why FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence is "high-stakes"

The FBI's execution of a search warrant at former President Donald Trump's Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, is "unexplored territory," according to former prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general Harry Litman. 

Litman told CBS News' Catherine Herridge that securing a search warrant in this case would require a very high standard of evidence. 

"This kind of high-stakes, high-level service of a search warrant by the FBI. I think that's unprecedented. My strong surmise is at a minimum, there was approval from the No. 2 person at the Department of Justice, Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general — possibly [Attorney General Merrick] Garland himself," Litman said. 

Sources tell CBS News the search is connected to a Justice Department investigation of claims by the National Archives that it found 15 boxes of records including classified material at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year. 

Under the Presidential Records Act, documents sent and received as president must be preserved and provided to the National Archives and Records Administration. But in January, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago which it said included classified materials. It also said some Trump White House documents had been ripped up or taped together.  

Litman said that the FBI would seek to execute a search warrant, as opposed to merely requesting the records, when it feels worried that records might be destroyed or not given up. 

In a statement, Trump called the search an "attack by radical left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for president in 2024." He added, "Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before."  

In an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity," Trump's son Eric said, "They are threatened by Donald J. Trump, and honestly, I hope — and I'm saying this for the first time — I hope he goes out and beats these guys again, because honestly, this country can't survive this nonsense." 

Litman said it appears the FBI is treating the investigation seriously and that Trump could face consequences if it is found he improperly handled White House records while he was in office. 

"This is a big-time move that in part is going to be stepping on a hornet's nest. It's not the same as saying they'll charge him, but man, they are treating him like any other criminal suspect. And that's high drama," said Litman.  

President Biden has not commented on the search. A senior White House official said the White House was not given advance notice of the FBI search warrant.  

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