Judge’s order doesn’t show Biden ordered FBI search
CLAIM: A federal court order in the legal dispute over government documents held by former President Donald Trump shows President Joe Biden ordered the FBI search at Trump’s Florida home.
AP ASSESSMENT: False. Monday’s court order does include the phrase “as requested by the incumbent president” but it’s not related to last month’s search at Mar-a-Lago. The phrase comes from a May letter from the National Archives denying Trump’s request to delay turning over documents to the FBI. The letter states that the archives made the FBI aware of the documents after determining some of them were considered highly classified. The FBI then requested permission from the White House to access the documents, which the Biden administration granted.
THE FACTS: U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Monday granted Trump’s request for a special master to review documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8. She also temporarily halted the Justice Department’s use of the records for investigative purposes.
Cannon’s 24-page order notes that the National Archives and Records Administration informed Trump on May 10 that it would proceed with “provid[ing] the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022.”
Conservative outlets and social media users quickly seized on that phrasing as evidence that Biden had been aware of the FBI’s plans to raid Trump’s Palm Beach resort, and in fact had ordered it -- something he and his administration have steadfastly denied.
“‘as requested by the incumbent president,’” Rasmussen Reports tweeted. “Joe Biden initiated the Mar-a-Lago raid, then lied about doing so to Americans repeatedly. Let that sink in.”
Pro-Trump websites also ran stories on the ruling’s apparent revelation that were widely shared on social media.
But the phrase in question is only a partial quote from the May 10 letter from the National Archives to Trump’s lawyer.
In it, Debra Steidel Wall, acting head of the National Archives, rejects Trump’s request to delay turning over some 15 boxes of records to the FBI and lays out the timeline of her agency’s lengthy quest to gather government documents held by the former president.
Wall notes that the 15 boxes provided by Trump in January 2022 included “classified national security information,” including “Top Secret” and “Special Access Program” materials.
That prompted her agency to inform the U.S. Department of Justice, which then sought and was granted access to the documents from the White House on April 11, she said.
Under the Presidential Records Act, any requests for presidential records held by the National Archives must be approved by the president, not archive officials.
“For the same reasons, I have concluded that there is no reason to grant your request for a further delay before the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community begin their reviews,” Wall’s letter concludes. “Accordingly, NARA will provide the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022.”
The Biden administration declined to comment on the record Tuesday but pointed to its prior statements on the May letter.
Spokesperson Karine Jean Pierre has argued that the missive, if anything, illustrates how removed the White House has been from the Department of Justice investigation.
“It shows that DOJ made a request for access to an older set of documents independently and the White House affirmed it, which is standard,” she said at an Aug. 29 press briefing. “And when former President Trump attempted to assert executive privilege to block the FBI from assessing the document, President Biden deferred to the National Archives and the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel on the issue.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.