It will be some time before the nation knows exactly what the FBI was looking for, and what it found, during Monday’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home and resort. But the known factors so far all point to a strong presumption of legitimacy for the operation. FBI Director Christopher Wray is a Trump appointee. Attorney General Merrick Garland is known for his caution. A judge had to affirm the probability of finding evidence of criminality before granting the warrant.
And Trump himself has a documented history of mishandling classified records.
Yet Republicans from Florida to Washington immediately alleged corruption on the part of the FBI without citing evidence. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even threatened to investigate Garland, as if to suggest McCarthy thinks the law doesn’t apply to the former president.
Americans should withhold judgment until the facts come out, but one thing is already clear: What used to be the law-and-order party now sides reflexively against law enforcement to appease an ex-president who, among many other examples of lawlessness, defended the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump’s disregard for the rules governing presidential records has long been evident. During his presidency, Trump revealed classified information while receiving Russian diplomats at the White House. He had a habit of ripping up documents or flushing them down White House toilets. The National Archives revealed in February that it had to arrange for the return of 15 boxes of documents that Trump had improperly taken to his Mar-a-Lago resort.
The news of the FBI’s search, announced by Trump himself in a tweet with his usual self-serving air of grievance, reportedly was about more such records, though details remain vague. The FBI generally doesn’t comment on pending investigations.
But the usual Trump defenders attached the most exaggerated motive possible to the investigation. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that it is the use of “government power to persecute political opponents” and compared it to “3rd world Marxist dictatorships.” A tweet from the House Judiciary Committee’s GOP caucus asked, “Doesn’t the FBI have better things to do than harass the former PRESIDENT?,” again making the assumption the search was unjustified. One Florida lawmaker suggested that FBI agents working there should be “arrested upon sight.”
The same crowd that shouted “lock her up” after Hillary Clinton mishandled records as secretary of state seems to completely discount the strong likelihood that the search for Trump’s records was fully justified — and potentially a much more serious security breach.
Though neither presidents nor ex-presidents are above the law, executing such a warrant is without precedent. The Justice Department ultimately will have to offer a strong explanation of why this startling step was taken.
If that explanation includes evidence of criminality by the former president, it will be interesting to see whether the GOP finally regains its interest in the rule of law.
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