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John M. Crisp: First, let's stop calling it a raid

John M. Crisp, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

If you search the internet for the term “raid,” two results precede all others: The second one refers to the popular bug-killing product Raid, which has been almost synonymous with the term “insecticide” since 1956.

The first is the execution last week of an FBI search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s seaside mansion Mar-a-Lago, which nearly everyone is calling a “raid.”

On the far right, the clientele at Gab.com, a social media site that specializes in complaint and grievance against just about everything, were outraged. One Gab poster fulminated: “This unelected, illegitimate regime crossed the line with their GESTAPO raid!”

More conventional conservatives were scandalized, as well, if somewhat more measured. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said: “The raid at MAL [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” Trump himself complained that his “beautiful home … is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”

This sort of overwrought rhetoric is predictable in the Trump era of aggrieved bombast, even though it hasn’t the remotest connection with the facts. The execution of a search warrant duly approved by a federal judge based on evidence of probable cause is a concrete embodiment of our American system of the rule of law. It bears no resemblance to the traditional definition of the term “raid,” which nearly always connotes violence, irregularity and sometimes illegality.

That’s why I cringe a bit when mainstream news sources such as Newsweek and The New York Times, as well as left-leaning commentators such as Rachel Maddow, refer to the search at Mar-a-Lago as a raid.

Our republic probably will not be destroyed by the careless use of a term such as “raid,” but it’s a mistake to underestimate the capacity of pernicious rhetoric to rile people up.

It’s unlikely that every investigation into ex-president Trump’s activities — from Trump University to the allegations of sexual assault to his obvious effort to strong-arm Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into investigating a political opponent — is a “witch hunt” or a “hoax.” Yet the terms reliably stoke the outrage of Trump’s base.

How many times have you heard the House committee’s investigation of the Jan. 6 attack called a “kangaroo court,” even though it’s not a court, at all, and its proceedings are well ordered, deliberative and transparent?

Language such as this keeps Trump’s angry base at a steady boil, but, even worse, it blinds them to the fact of how well our judicial system actually works, albeit sometimes imperfectly.

 

If you’re still outraged by the “raid” at Mar-a-Lago there’s a decent chance you stopped reading this column some time ago. But if you’re still with me, may I try to change your opinion?

First, let’s stop calling it a “raid.” The Department of Justice tried several less-intrusive methods — including a subpoena — prior to executing the search warrant. And the search itself appears to have been orderly and entirely within the guidelines of the law.

Second, it appears that Trump did, indeed, violate the Presidential Records Act, as well as other laws, by removing both classified and unclassified documents, which the law says, quite rightly, belong to us, not to him.

Was his violation intentional or inadvertent? How serious was the violation? How sensitive are the documents in terms of national security? These are reasonable questions that the search is designed to answer.

It’s possible, of course, that the search will discover nothing out of order, in which case Trump will enjoy a considerable political victory and Attorney General Merrick Garland will have egg all over his face.

But can we wait to find out before we settle into our preconceived opinions? Of course we can, and doing so confirms our commitment to the careful and fair administration of the rule of law.

Our judicial system isn’t perfect, but by comparison with what has prevailed during humankind’s long history and what is current in much of the world, it’s more than very, very good. It would be a shame to allow careless, imprudent rhetoric and hasty conclusions to undermine one of our nation’s finest achievements.

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