When Donald Trump revealed last Monday night that the FBI had “raided” his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence, Fox News had an asset on its payroll uniquely positioned to provide its audience with insight: The former president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is a Fox contributor. But unfortunately for the network’s viewers, over the past week she's been using her network platform to mislead them.
Members of the Trump orbit, including Lara Trump’s husband, Eric, deployed to Fox last week offering the expected furious defenses of the former president and denunciations of the FBI’s probe. But if there’s any value whatsoever in putting a former president’s relative on staff, surely it is in the aftermath of such an event, when she might have both rare access to credible information and a willingness to reveal it.
In her five weekday Fox interviews last week to discuss the search, however, Lara Trump offered the same overheated narrative as her father-in-law's other defenders.
Hours after the news broke last Monday, she said the FBI’s search was “about weaponizing the justice system” to stop the former president from returning to office in 2024.
“I think for someone, and anyone, quite frankly, who loves this country and believes in America, this should shake you to your core what has happened today,” she said on Tucker Carlson Tonight. “If this is what they're able to do to the former president of the United States, think about what they could do to you, to anybody in America.”
“This sort of political harassment and targeting, these are things that happen in communist countries and Third World dictatorships, not in the United States of America,” she said Thursday night on the same program. “And I don't know how you come back from this, even if my father-in-law decides to run and wins in 2024 – which I believe if he decides to run, he will win.”
But a review of Lara Trump’s appearances reveals that she provided Fox’s audience with more than just unhinged zealotry. The Fox contributor and Trump family member repeatedly offered factual claims that were disproven as more information came to light over the course of the week.
The network’s viewers – far from receiving rare insight into the events from someone unusually close to the situation – were simply deceived.
Were the documents the FBI seized significant?
Lara Trump, in her initial appearances responding to the FBI’s search, falsely presented the documents seized by the FBI as harmless mementos saved by her father-in-law.
“Look, my father-in-law, as anybody knows who has been around him a lot, loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs,” she claimed on Monday night.
“These are like, you know, clippings from newspapers, these are photographs,” she added on The Story the following afternoon.
But the materials, contra Lara Trump, were much more than a lovable packrat’s collection.
The FBI seized 11 sets of classified government documents, among other materials, according to the receipt provided to Trump’s legal team at the time of the search. Of those, one set was marked as classified at the “top secret/SCI” level, denoting information gleaned from sensitive intelligence sources. Four other sets were marked as “top secret,” the highest classification level, three sets as “secret,” and three sets as “confidential.”
Was Trump allowed to retain the documents?
Lara Trump falsely claimed that Trump had every right to be in possession of the documents he took from the White House at the end of his presidency and that the FBI subsequently seized.
She told Tucker Carlson Tonight guest host Will Cain last Monday night that the FBI was after “documents that he had every authority, Will, to take from the White House,” later adding that the former president had taken “some documents that he had every right to take, that every president does.”
In fact, under federal law, there are no documents that a former president can take with him at the conclusion of his term.
“For the past four decades, every presidential document – from notebook doodles to top-secret security plans – is supposed to go directly to the National Archives as the material is considered the property of the American people. So when former President Donald Trump left office on Jan. 20, 2021, all his records should have traveled from the White House to the National Archives,” NPR detailed on August 13.
Was the Trump team cooperating with the FBI?
Lara Trump falsely claimed that the FBI’s search had been an unnecessary escalation because the Trump team had been working with the government.
“Everybody has been cooperating, everybody from my father-in-law's team has been cooperating with the FBI, with any authority that asked for anything up until now and there was no need to make such a big scene, to do something this insane, quite frankly, to a former president,” she said last Monday.
“He was fully cooperating with authorities to then come to his house unannounced,” she added Tuesday.
In reality, the FBI’s search followed a 15-month government effort to seek the return of all White House documents taken by Trump which was repeatedly thwarted by the former president’s unwillingness to give them up. The National Archives had negotiated the voluntary return of 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago in January, some of which it determined were classified, and a grand jury issued a subpoena seeking more documents in the spring. A search warrant was sought only because the government believed, apparently correctly, that Trump continued to retain sensitive documents.
Did the FBI “break in” to Mar-a-Lago?
Lara Trump also used incendiary and false rhetoric to discuss the FBI’s search, describing its agents as “breaking in” to Trump’s home and ransacking its contents for its agents’ own personal use.
“It, of course, was a raid,” she said on Tuesday night’s Hannity. “It is ridiculous for anyone to call it anything other than that. I don't know what you call a bunch of people unannounced breaking into your home like this and taking whatever they want for themselves.”
“Breaking into the home and raiding the home of a former president of the United States, I mean, that is a very big deal,” she added on the Thursday edition of The Story.
In fact, the FBI agents came with a search warrant signed by a magistrate judge which specified that they could seize “physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed” under three federal statutes, not “whatever they want for themselves,” as Lara Trump suggested.
While the Fox contributor’s description of the FBI “breaking in” suggests agents busting down the door unannounced, they appear to have identified themselves upon arrival and broken a padlock on the door of the storeroom containing the documents.
Does the Trump team have a copy of the search warrant?
Lara Trump falsely claimed that the Trump team did not receive a copy of the search warrant, which details what investigators were seeking and what laws they convinced a judge may have been violated, as well as the inventory they provided of what they seized.
“Does he have, in his possession, the search warrant? Because I got mixed reports on this, whether or not he was ever served any document that said what they were looking for?” anchor Martha MacCallum asked on Tuesday’s edition of The Story.
“To my knowledge, Martha, no. I do not believe that he has anything like that, no,” Lara Trump replied.
But the Trump team had been provided with those documents. In fact, after a judge unsealed the warrant on Friday, Fox anchor Bret Baier revealed on-air that “Trump lawyers” had provided his network with a leaked copy of them hours earlier.
Did Trump keep nuclear documents at his Florida resort?
The Washington Post reported on Thursday night that “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought” at Mar-a-Lago. Lara Trump was on-air to respond within the hour.
“Did you see any nuclear reports at the Mar-a-Lago club, maybe around the pool by the lifeguard stand?” guest host Brian Kilmeade asked after reading from the article.
“Yeah, no, those were not disseminated freely at Mar-a-Lago. Of course not. But I mean, who knows?” she replied. “By the way, I think it's a mystery to a lot of people what could possibly rise to the level of not taking a bit of a different approach and instead raiding the former president's home.”
Based on Lara Trump’s past commentary, that is not an encouraging response.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.