Trump, Allies Misrepresent FBI Order on Document Search at Mar-a-Lago

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Quick Take

FBI agents who searched for classified documents held by former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2022 followed standard protocol. But Trump supporters and social media posts now falsely claim the search was an “attempted assassination” of Trump. The claim is based on a misquote of FBI policy in a legal motion — and Trump wasn’t in Florida during the search.

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The standard policy of the U.S. Department of Justice on the use of deadly force is spelled out in the department’s Justice Manual.

The section on deadly force begins by stating, “Law enforcement officers and correctional officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

That basic policy is reiterated on the FBI website in its section on frequently asked questions.

But lawyers for former President Donald Trump misquoted the policy in a motion, which was unsealed on May 21, in Trump’s classified documents case, the Associated Press reported. The motion said the operations order for the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 stated that “law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary” — omitting the word “only.”

The release of the unsealed motion, with the misquoted order, was then shared by Julie Kelly, a writer with RealClear Investigations, according to Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. Kelly posted on X, “Oh my god. Armed FBI agents were preparing to confront Trump and even engage Secret Service if necessary. … Gestapo.”

But the operations order was just repeating standard Department of Justice policy, and there was no plan to “confront Trump,” who was in New York City during the search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

“The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force,” the FBI said in a statement to the Associated Press. “No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

In his fact-checking article for the Post, Kessler noted that Steven D’Antuono, a former FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, told the House Judiciary Committee in a June 7, 2023, interview that the FBI coordinated the search with the Secret Service “to make sure we could get into Mar-a-Lago with no issues.” D’Antuono said he was “adamant” that there would be no show of force — let alone use of force — at the former president’s resort.

“It wasn’t even a show of force, right, because we were all in agreement. We didn’t do a show of force, right. I was adamant about that, and that was something that we agreed on, right, the FBI agreed on, right. No raid jackets, no blazed FBI,” D’Antuono, who has since retired, said. “We made sure we interacted with the Secret Service to make sure we could get into Mar-a-Lago with no issues. We’re not banging down any doors. We weren’t bringing any like FBI vehicles, everything that was reported about helicopters and a hundred people descending on, like a Die Hard movie, was completely untrue, right. That is not how we played it.”

The release of the motion, with its mention of “deadly force,” sparked a firestorm from the former president and his allies.

A May 21 post on Trump’s Truth Social account claimed, “Joe Biden’s DOJ, in their Illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE.” A fundraising appeal on the Trump National Committee web page said, “BIDEN’S DOJ WAS AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT ME!”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of Trump, posted on X on May 21, “The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light.”

The claim spread on other social media accounts associated with Trump adviser Steve Bannon, including a May 22 Instagram post by the account @bannonswarroom, which said, “The FBI Raid At Mar-A-Lago Was An Attempted Assassination On President Trump.”

But, as we said, the DOJ order contained standard language for a search like the one conducted at Mar-a-Lago in 2022, and the FBI coordinated its operation with the Secret Service.

Trump and two of his employees, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, were indicted in 2023 on charges of mishandling sensitive classified documents and obstructing federal officials who tried to retrieve them, as we’ve written. The case is being heard in Florida by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who has not yet set a date for the trial.

Editor’s note: is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


Dawsey, Josh, et al. “Trump’s secrets: How a records dispute led the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago.” Washington Post. 13 Aug 2022.

Farley, Robert, D’Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely. “Q&A on Trump’s Federal Indictment.” Updated 31 Jul 2023.

Feuer, Alan. “Judge’s Decisions in Documents Case Play Into Trump’s Delay Strategy.” New York Times. 8 May 2024.

FBI. “What is the FBI’s policy on the use of deadly force by its special agents?” Accessed 23 May 2024.

Goldin, Melissa. “FACT FOCUS: Trump distorts use of ‘deadly force’ language in FBI document for Mar-a-Lago search.” Associated Press. 23 May 2024.

Kessler, Glenn. “How Trump used his own court filing to claim an ‘assassination’ attempt.” Washington Post. 23 May 2024.

RealClear Investigations. Author Archive: Julie Kelly. Accessed 23 May 2024.

U.S. Department of Justice. Justice Manual.

U.S. Department of Justice. Justice Manual. 1-16.200 – Deadly Force. Accessed 23 May 2024.

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