August 9, 2022 12:46 PM EDT

Within hours of FBI agents searching Donald Trump’s residence at his Palm Beach, Fla. club on Monday, the Republican National Committee urged Republicans to fight back with their wallets. “In an UNPRECEDENTED move Joe Biden’s Department of Justice RAIDS President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago,” the RNC’s call for donations read. “Donate ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to show your support for the GOP to take back Congress and STOP JOE BIDEN.”

It was one of multiple signs late Monday and early Tuesday that the unprecedented move by federal law enforcement to execute a search warrant on a former President’s home was quickly serving to mobilize Trump’s base and allowing his supporters to monetize what was otherwise a stunning escalation of the federal investigations into him.

Trump, who was in New York during the FBI search, reacted angrily on Monday to learning about it. “These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said in a lengthy statement, adding that the FBI “broke into” his safe.

With few details available about the reason for the search, both Trump supporters and critics were left speculating and spinning as to its purpose. For allies of the former President, the move by federal law enforcement had nothing to do with his past actions, and everything to do with 2024.

“This continuous, irrational, obsessive quest to destroy Donald Trump is just further proof that the Biden Administration is just solely focused on politics and not addressing the issues the American people really care about,” says Hogan Gidley, Trump’s former White House deputy press secretary who still speaks with him.

Federal officials are investigating allegations that Trump mishandled classified documents while he was in office and when he moved out of the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, potentially taking boxes of papers that should have been handled by the National Archives. It was not clear on Tuesday whether those documents were the sole reason for the search warrant on Trump’s home.

Even former Trump officials who have more recently criticized the former President warned that such a rationale for sending federal agents to search Trump’s home might be interpreted as skimpy, and feed into a narrative that Biden allies were abusing their power. “This better not be chickenshit,” says a former senior Trump White House official who requested anonymity to speak more freely.

Alyssa Farah, Trump’s former White House director of strategic communications, has said she doesn’t want Trump to be President again, and has cooperated with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. On CNN on Tuesday, she expressed concern that the FBI search would be a political boon to Trump. “This, I’m hoping, goes beyond simply not complying with some archiving laws, or DOJ just handed Donald Trump the Republican nominee and potentially the presidency,” Farah said. “If it’s seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump.”

The Department of Justice appears to be accelerating investigations that may reach deep into Trump’s orbit, and possibly target Trump himself. Along with investigations into his handling of classified documents prosecutors have also ramped up the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and Attorney General Merrick Garland faces important decisions on whether there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing in that matter to bring charges against Trump himself. In a separate investigation in Georgia, close allies of Trump, including Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, have been asked to testify before a grand jury hearing allegations of interference in the 2020 election.

The U.S. District Court of Appeals for D.C. affirmed on Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service can hand over Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, potentially giving Democrats more information about Trump’s finances that he has fought to keep from public view.

The stunning news of the Mar-a-Lago search came a day after Senate Democrats passed a landmark climate and health care package, one of a recent spate of positive developments for Biden that have led Democrats to recalibrate their expectations for the midterms, after months of predictions that a GOP sweep was all but inevitable. Along with Biden’s recent legislative victories, the blowback from the Supreme Court decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade could bring more Democrats to the polls in November.

But Trump allies say the FBI search might change all that. “I think there is no question this will mobilize Republican voters,” Gidley says. “More than that, I think independents are going to ask themselves, if this egregious effort succeeds against Donald Trump, they will undoubtedly come for you and me next.”

Republicans are already planning what they will do if they regain control of the House: investigate Joe Biden and his cabinet. The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, wrote on Twitter in the wake of the FBI search that the Department of Justice “has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” McCarthy predicted that Republicans would take back control of the House and “conduct immediate oversight of this department.” He had a message for Attorney General Garland: “Preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

Trump was quick to describe the search of his home as a political power grab by Democrats to wound him before 2024. “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries,” Trump wrote on Monday. “What is the difference between this and Watergate, where operatives broke into the Democrat National Committee? Here, in reverse, Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States.”

Before the FBI can conduct a lawful search, it requires a warrant from a court, says Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian and a former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. The burglars who broke into the office of the Democratic Party in the Watergate building were working for Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President and had no warrant.

“Given the prudence with which Attorney General Garland has managed the department, you would expect he had a high threshold for making this decision,” Naftali says. “It’s a reminder to former President Trump that we do not live in a dictatorship. We live in a republic of laws.”

Nixon himself, after breaking laws as President and fighting requests for documents from federal investigators, still ended up following judicial decisions that went against him. Nixon, then still in office, fought the subpoenas for his White House recordings in court when he was investigated by a Department of Justice special prosecutor over the Watergate break in and other abuses of power. But when he lost at the Supreme Court, Nixon handed over the damning recordings. When Nixon moved out of the White House to his home overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Cottons Point in San Clemente, Calif., his materials remained in Washington.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

You May Also Like
EDIT POST