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Politifact FL: Trump falsely claims Biden had FBI use 'deadly force' in Mar-a-Lago search

Former President Donald Trump speaks alongside his attorney Todd Blanche following the day's proceedings in his trial Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York.
Jabin Botsford
The Washington Post via AP, Pool
Former President Donald Trump speaks alongside his attorney, Todd Blanche, May 21, 2024, following the day's proceedings in his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Former President Donald Trump in a May 21 campaign email and social media posts falsely accused President Joe Biden of putting his life at risk in an August 2022 FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago.

"BREAKING FROM TRUMP: BIDEN’S DOJ WAS AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT ME!" read an all-caps subject line on an email from Trump’s campaign.

"It’s just been revealed that Biden’s DOJ was authorized to use DEADLY FORCE for their DESPICABLE raid in Mar-a-Lago. You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable…Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger," the email said.

Trump made similar claims in posts on Truth Social and Instagram, saying he "was shown reports" that "Biden’s DOJ" authorized the FBI to use deadly force in the Mar-a-Lago raid, calling Biden a "serious threat to democracy."

Trump’s Republican congressional allies Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., accused Biden of planning to assassinate Trump and ordering a hit on him. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., in an X post called it a "weaponization of government" against Trump by his top political opponent.

Social media users also shared Trump’s claim about deadly force being authorized. DC_Draino, a prominent conservative X account, said in a May 22 X post with more than 800,000 views that Attorney General Merrick Garland "wanted a shootout" at Mar-a-Lago.

READ MORE: Jury begins deliberations in Trump’s hush money case

Trump faces 40 federal charges in a federal case over his handling of classified documents. The claim takes Trump’s rhetoric about a politicized Justice Department investigation to new levels by invoking a threat of violence. Trump was not at Mar-a-Lago during the search. He was residing in his Bedminster, New Jersey, home, and was at Trump Tower in New York when the search happened, ABC News reported.

Lawyers in Trump’s criminal trial and a campaign spokesperson did not return PolitiFact’s request for comment. Trump’s comments followed reports by the New York Post and Fox News about newly unsealed documents in the federal classified documents criminal trial.

In a February court filing, Trump’s attorneys made a motion to suppress evidence found in the search.

Trump’s attorneys in that motion referred to an FBI "operations order" that included a policy statement about the "use of deadly force." The statement, according to Trump’s lawyers, said "law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary."

That summary of the statement is different from what the FBI said and omits language that limits when deadly force can be used.

The operations order included a policy statement on the use of deadly force, dated July 19, 2022. It said, "Law enforcement 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."

Similar language is found on the Justice Department's online manual and an FBI frequently asked questions webpage.

The operations order also included language saying that the Justice Department and FBI would notify Trump's attorney the morning of the search and request collaboration and assistance. It said that the search would require coordination with the Secret Service and Mar-a-Lago guest services.

It also noted that team leaders and on-scene command should be dressed in business attire and that case agents would be dressed in business casual attire with unmarked Polo or collared shirts, and that law enforcement equipment, including weapons and handcuffs, would be concealed.

The FBI said in an emailed statement to PolitiFact that it "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. No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter."

FBI experts told PolitiFact that law enforcement officers always have the authority to use deadly force if needed, and it’s typical for the FBI to include that written policy in an operations order, such as the Mar-a-Lago search.

The FBI also searched Biden's home in January and the Penn Biden Center in November after Biden's lawyers reported finding classified documents from his time as vice president. The FBI also searched former Republican Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana home in February 2023 after Pence reported finding a small number of classified documents.

Neither Biden nor Pence were charged in those cases. It's not clear whether operations orders were created in those cases as both searches were voluntary. The FBI did not respond to a question about those searches.

David Shapiro, a former FBI special agent and a lecturer and program director at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the "potential need to use deadly force can arise in any FBI operation," even if it's consensual.

He said the agents’ weapons were concealed in the Mar-a-Lago search and likely would have also been in searches of Biden's or Pence's homes and offices.

Luke William Hunt, a former FBI special agent and a University of Alabama associate philosophy professor, said FBI agents are law enforcement officers who carry firearms as part of their job description.

"So they're always permitted to use deadly force in a way that's consistent with the Constitution and internal policies," Hunt said.

Hunt said an operations order is standard procedure when the FBI is carrying out any operation, such as a search or arrest warrant. It details everyone's role in the plan, and there's nothing unusual about including the FBI's deadly force policy in the internal document.

"That's simply to reiterate when you can and cannot use deadly force. It's almost like a reminder," Hunt said. "That's just the standard deadly force policy the FBI always has and you would put that in any operations plan."

Shapiro said language about the use of deadly force "is normally embedded in search warrants for what should be obvious reasons," such as the "risk of conflict escalation initiated by others."

The general policy applied to the Mar-a-Lago search as it would in any operation, Shapiro said.

"The Mar-a-Lago search was ordered to be conducted according to the policies applicable generally to FBI operations," Shapiro said. "Agents facing a credible imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm to themselves, or others, were properly advised that the Mar-a-Lago search would be executed without any exceptional limitations unnecessarily endangering themselves or others."

Our ruling
Trump said "Biden’s DOJ" was authorized to use deadly force and was "ready to take me out" in its raid of Mar-a-Lago.

An FBI operations order Trump’s attorneys referred to in a court filing included language about the department’s deadly force policy — which Trump, his legal team and online supporters took out of context to back their claims the FBI was prepared to shoot Trump. The FBI statement said officers can use deadly force "only" when they reasonably believe they or someone else is in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury. This is standard protocol for search warrants. The order did not specify that Trump should be targeted; agents knew he was not at Mar-a-Lago at the time of the search.

The claim is not only wrong but ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this fact-check.

Our Sources

Jeff Cercone is a staff writer for PolitiFact.