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Never Before in American History: The F.B.I. Searches a Former President’s Home

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WASHINGTON — The fight between former President Donald J. Trump and the National Archives that burst into the open when F.B.I. agents searched Mr. Trump’s Palm Beach estate has no precedent in American presidential history.

It was also a high-risk gamble by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland that the law enforcement operation at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s sprawling home in Florida, will stand up to accusations that the Justice Department is pursuing a political vendetta against President Biden’s opponent in 2020 — and a likely rival in 2024.

Mr. Trump’s demonization of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department during his four years in office, designed to undermine the legitimacy of the country’s law enforcement institutions even as they pursued charges against him, has made it even more difficult for Mr. Garland to investigate Mr. Trump without a backlash from the former president’s supporters.

The decision to order Monday’s search put the Justice Department’s credibility on the line months before congressional elections this fall and as the country remains deeply polarized. For Mr. Garland, the pressure to justify the F.B.I.’s actions will be intense. And if the search for classified documents does not end up producing significant evidence of a crime, the event could be relegated by history to serve as another example of a move against Mr. Trump that backfired.

Mr. Trump faces risks of his own in rushing to criticize Mr. Garland and the F.B.I., as he did during the search on Monday, when he called the operation “an assault that could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.” Mr. Trump no longer has the protections provided by the presidency, and he would be far more vulnerable if he were found to have mishandled highly classified information that threatens the nation’s national security.

A number of historians said that the search, though extraordinary, seemed appropriate for a president who flagrantly flouted the law, refuses to concede defeat and helped orchestrate an effort to overturn the 2020 election.

“In an atmosphere like this, you have to assume that the attorney general did not do this casually,” said Michael Beschloss, a veteran presidential historian. “And therefore the criminal suspicions — we don’t know yet exactly what they are — they have to be fairly serious.”

In Mr. Trump’s case, archivists at the National Archives discovered earlier this year that the former president had taken classified documents from the White House after his defeat, leading federal authorities to begin an investigation. They eventually sought a search warrant from a judge to determine what remained in the former president’s custody.

Key details remain secret, including what the F.B.I. was looking for and why the authorities felt the need to conduct a surprise search after months of legal wrangling between the government and lawyers for Mr. Trump.

The search happened as angry voices on the far-right fringe of American politics are talking about another Civil War, and as more mainstream Republicans are threatening retribution if they take power in Congress in the fall. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader in the House, warned Mr. Garland to preserve documents and clear his calendar.

“This puts our political culture on a kind of emergency alert mode,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “It’s like turning over the apple cart of American politics.”

Critics of Mr. Trump said it was no surprise that a president who shattered legal and procedural norms while he was in the Oval Office would now find himself at the center of a classified documents dispute.



How Times reporters cover politics.
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For nearly 35 years, the tug of war over presidential records — and who controls them — has been a largely bureaucratic one waged in the halls of the National Archives and debated among lawyers in courtrooms.

Former President Richard M. Nixon spent nearly four years after Watergate fighting for control over millions of pages of presidential records and hundreds of hours of the audiotapes that helped force his resignation. Mr. Beschloss said that Nixon initially reached a deal with President Gerald R. Ford that would have given him control over his papers as well as the ability to destroy them. But an act passed by Congress after Nixon left office in August 1974 forced him to take his fight to court. He eventually lost in the Supreme Court, in a 7-to-2 decision.

The dispute led to the passage in 1978 of the Presidential Records Act, which for the first time made it clear that White House records are the property of the federal government, not the president who created them. Since then, presidents from both parties have haggled over how and when the archives may release those documents to the public.

Presidents and their aides have also been subjected to other laws concerning the handling of classified information. Over the years, a handful of top federal officials have been charged with illegally handling classified information.

David H. Petraeus, the Army general who served as C.I.A. director under former President Barack Obama, admitted in 2015 that he provided his highly classified journals to his lover, pleading guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, a misdemeanor.

Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser for former President Bill Clinton, paid a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to removing classified documents from the National Archives in 2003 to prepare for his testimony to the 9/11 Commission.

But there has never been a clash between a former president and the government like the one that culminated in Monday’s search, said Lee White, the executive director of the National Coalition for History.

Mr. White, who has met frequently over the years with officials at the National Archives, said they usually work hard to resolve disagreements about documents with former presidents and their advisers.

“They tend to be deferential to the White House,” Mr. White said of the lawyers at the National Archives. “You know, these questions come up about presidential records and they are like, ‘Look, our job is to advise the White House.’ But they are not, by nature, an aggressive group of attorneys.”

Mr. Beschloss and Mr. Brinkley both said the search of Mr. Trump’s house had the potential to become a flash point in the struggle between those investigating the former president’s actions and the forces who supported Mr. Trump’s frantic efforts to stay in office.

But they said there were also risks for Mr. Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill, who on Monday rushed to attack Mr. Garland and the F.B.I. in the hours after the search.

“You now have Kevin McCarthy — something else we’ve never seen before in history — making ugly threats to an attorney general, obviously trying to intimidate him,” Mr. Beschloss said.

Mr. Trump’s defenders did not wait to find out what evidence the F.B.I. found or even sought before using the search to ratchet up longstanding grievances that the former president stoked throughout his time in office. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, quickly distributed a short video on Twitter accusing the Biden administration of acting like the regime of a dictator in a third-world country.

“This is what happens in places like Nicaragua,” Mr. Rubio said in the video. “Where last year every single person that ran against Daniel Ortega for president, every single person that put their name on the ballot, was arrested and is still in jail.”

“You can try to diminish it, but that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Mr. Rubio said.

The historians said the events are a test of the resilience of American democracy when it is under assault.

“We are in the middle of a neo-civil war in this country,” Mr. Brinkley said. “This is a starkly unprecedented moment in U.S. history.”

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills

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The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists

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This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
BRIGITTE STELZER

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’

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Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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