WASHINGTON (AFP) - The dramatic FBI raid on Mr Donald Trump's palatial Florida residence has supercharged the bitter, polarising political debate around the slew of judicial investigations facing the former president as he considers another White House run.
Monday's (Aug 8) shock action marked a stunning escalation of legal probes into the 45th US president, drawing cheers from his political foes and condemnation from his allies.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before," the 76-year-old Trump said of the day-long FBI search of his luxury Mar-a-Lago resort.
He denounced the FBI raid as "prosecutorial misconduct" and "weaponisation of the Justice System" by "Radical Left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for President in 2024".
The FBI declined to provide a reason for the unprecedented move against a former chief executive.
But multiple US media outlets said federal agents were conducting a court-authorised search related to the potential mishandling of classified documents that had been sent to Mar-a-Lago after Mr Trump left the White House in January 2021.
Mr Trump has also been facing intense legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Since taking his last Air Force One flight from Washington to Florida on Jan 20 last year, Mr Trump has remained the country's most divisive figure, continuing to sow falsehoods that he actually won the 2020 vote.
Leading Republicans quickly rallied around the former president, who was not present at Mar-a-Lago when the raid took place, while top Democrats reacted cautiously or withheld comment.
"The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponised politicisation," said Mr Kevin McCarthy, a California lawmaker who is seeking to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans win back the chamber in November's midterm elections.
Ms Ronna McDaniel, the Republican Party chairwoman, called the raid "outrageous".
"Countless times we have examples of Democrats flouting the law and abusing power with no recourse," Ms McDaniel said.
"Democrats continually weaponise the bureaucracy against Republicans."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said "launching an investigation of a former president this close to an election is beyond problematic".
After denouncing the raid in a lengthy statement on Monday evening, Mr Trump's team put out a fund-raising message on Tuesday asking "every single red-blooded American Patriot to step up" and donate to fight what he called "this NEVERENDING WITCH HUNT."
Mr Dan Scavino, Mr Trump's former social media manager, urged him to accelerate an announcement that he would run again.
"DO IT - 45! #TRUMP2024," Mr Scavino tweeted.
Mrs Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was asked about the raid during an appearance on NBC.
"No person is above the law," she said, "not even a former president of the United States."
In his statement, Mr Trump did not give any indication about why the FBI raided his home but said "they even broke into my safe!"
Mr Andrew McCabe, a former deputy director of the FBI, said he believed the bureau may have been looking for "something specific" related to its probe into the alleged mishandling of classified information.
The National Archives said in February that it had recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago and asked the Justice Department to look into Mr Trump's handling of classified information.
The recovery of the boxes raised questions about Mr Trump's adherence to presidential records laws enacted after the 1970s Watergate scandal that require Oval Office occupants to preserve records.
Speaking on CNN, Mr McCabe said "there had to be a suspicion, a concern and indeed specific information that led (the FBI) to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over".
Mr Trump's former communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin told CNN that the raid could fire up his supporters, a small number of whom rallied outside Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday.
"If it's seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump," Ms Farah Griffin said.
For weeks, Washington has been riveted by hearings in Congress about the Jan 6 storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters and his attempts to overturn the election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Attorney-General Merrick Garland has been been careful not to tip his hand when asked whether the Justice Department is building a legal case against Mr Trump over the Capitol riot.
"No one is above the law," Mr Garland has said, while adding recently that he intends to "hold accountable every person who is criminally responsible for trying to overturn a legitimate election".
Mr Trump is also being investigated for his efforts to alter the 2020 voting results in the state of Georgia, while his business practices are being probed in New York in separate cases, one civil and the other criminal.