Those who identify the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago as a crisis of the Republic are quite correct, and I am gravely concerned it’s a bigger crisis than anyone is thinking.
The reason for that is what ensued a few hours after the raid, which reportedly occurred in the “pre-dawn” hours of 8 August 2022 in Palm Beach.
Numerous TV news commentators pointed out Monday evening that nothing like this raid on the former president’s home has happened before in U.S. history. Americans aren’t the only ones who know that. We’re also not the only ones who know that proper procedure was ignored by the raiding team, according to witnesses. The FBI team should have allowed Trump’s lawyers to be present everywhere items were seized, but didn’t (the lawyers were reportedly excluded altogether); the FBI should have looked through the material being seized while they were inside Mar-a-Lago, to identify items responsive to a warrant, but didn’t; the FBI shouldn’t have peremptorily broken into a safe in Trump’s home, but did (and reportedly, as of Monday evening, found nothing in it).
Worth noting here: this is the perfect set-up for evidence-planting. Preventing such a set-up is exactly why the procedures are followed. If the FBI wanted to get a case thrown out of court, they couldn’t have conducted the raid better to achieve that objective. Such a reality is a bracing counterpoint to assumptions that there’s anything to legitimately pursue Trump over in the material taken from Mar-a-Lago.
The Russiagate hoax was one tremendous exercise in evidence-planting, in key elements of which the FBI and DOJ were complicit. There is no presumption of honesty at this point.
That said, the narrative that this raid was prompted by National Archives concern about the “handling” of classified material at Mar-a-Lago also doesn’t parse. Nothing that could prove improper “handling” could still be at Mar-a-Lago, and solely at Mar-a-Lago. Either documents are missing or they aren’t; if they were “mishandled” during their sojourn at Mar-a-Lago, seizing other documents in a raid can’t provide unique proof of that.
But the raiding team’s failure to verify what they were removing from the residence informs us that, whatever was in the warrant, they weren’t really looking for specific items of evidence anyway.
Foreign governments have no trouble recognizing this as a gross breach of the rule of law and due process in the United States. They didn’t even have to hear about the procedural violations to recognize it for what it is. Raiding a former president’s home is unprecedented in the U.S. (including the Clinton home when Hillary was known to have deleted over 30,000 emails she’d been directed to retain, at a time when she was known to have processed, as secretary of state, verifiably classified emails via a private server on the Clintons’ property).
So it matters that it was just a few hours after the Mar-a-Lago raid that the government of Russia, out of the blue, announced a suspension of on-site inspections of Russian nuclear sites under the New START treaty – i.e., the last vestige of a nuclear arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia. This is what our current president would refer to, as he famously did when Obamacare was signed into law, as a “big [effing] deal.”
The AFP tweet, which was turned into the story at the link above, was put out at 12:52 PM EDT on 8 August 2022. The raid in Palm Beach occurred in the dark of pre-dawn, according to news video, so presumably it was some 6-7 hours before the Russian announcement (taking into account news processing time from the moment the announcement was issued).
I haven’t seen a list of the sites where Russia has suspended inspection access. (Information on inspection protocols is here.) I don’t know if we even will; the Western media may not cover the story properly. They may not demand answers about that.
But this is as much a crossing of the Rubicon by Russia as the raid on Mar-a-Lago is by the Biden Justice Department.
This means U.S. treaty inspectors have no access to most if not all of the nuclear weapon sites operated by our chief adversaries: Russia and China. We have no treaty with China. The treaty with Russia has just been effectively rendered non-functional for verification and accounting purposes.
I’m well aware that Russia has been complaining for a long time about U.S. pressure over perceived Russian violations of New START. That’s not the explanation for this timing. It’s a longstanding premise behind the action. What matters is that after literally years of that U.S pressure and Russian complaints about it, Russia suddenly suspends inspection access.
It’s not reasonably possible that this game-changing shift in Russian posture had nothing to do with seeing the U.S. government go rogue in its treatment of an ex-president. (We can assume with high confidence that Russian intelligence was aware of the raid before the American public was.) The raid wouldn’t be the only factor; independent Russian intentions would be the other. Such intentions probably have to do with priorities on Russia’s perimeter, including Ukraine.
But it can’t be overstated how big a signal the raid on Mar-a-Lago is that expectations about the rule of law are in grave peril in the United States.
Now is the time for our foreign adversaries to make big moves. Consider this point: they may assume, as we do not, that the government that has just moved against Trump will begin behaving tyrannically much faster than we the American people imagine. We imagine a period of uncertainty and darkening confusion ahead. Russia and China may foresee rapid moves against their interests, from a U.S. government apparently prepared to act without accountability and restraint.
Whether they see a window opening, or one closing, it’s a signal development from their standpoint. Since 1792, the government of the United States has never looked like this, with a figurehead president meaningfully embarked on senility, with no accountability as to who is making decisions, and apparently ready to violate good faith in its actions of government.
The nature of the action in Mar-a-Lago is key. It might be one thing if the raid were an action appropriate to the alleged gravity of the presidential records situation. But it’s not.
On Fox News Monday evening, Alan Dershowitz made the obvious case that, if the National Archives or DOJ has grounds to believe Trump is holding documents improperly, a subpoena for specific materials should have been issued, and the situation worked through Trump’s lawyers. There was no realistic possibility of the response to a subpoena being criminal destruction of material by Trump; he’s not even at Mar-a-Lago.
Several commentators, including Jonathan Turley, pointed out that Trump handed over a known set of 15 boxes of material to the National Archives months ago (it was reportedly in January 2022), and DOJ subpoenaed the Archives for access to those documents in May (“two months ago”). Access was granted. The Archives haven’t claimed there are any more materials still being held at Mar-a-Lago, nor has there been any publicized claim (e.g., from DOJ or a grand jury) that the boxes’ inventory was incomplete. With an ongoing process and demonstrated cooperation by Trump, there doesn’t appear to be any basis for a raid.
The bottom line, ultimately, is that there shouldn’t be a raid on Mar-a-Lago at all. There is nothing Trump could have there that justifies a raid, much less a raid conducted with egregious violations of procedure. Even if there’s an indictment coming, there’s very little chance it will actually have anything to do with this raid. (The point will be to create the appearance that the raid was related to it. It’s unlikely the product of this raid could be used in court.)
The fevered and hysterical of brain, who think Trump is a walking constitutional crisis justifying every form of excess, are just that: fevered and hysterical.
Addressing “Trump” cannot in any way justify a break with due process and constitutional restraints. If you can’t account for the continued enthusiasm for and loyalty to Trump in the voting population, look for it right there. There’s no justifying abuse of due process in approaching Trump, but that’s precisely how he has been repeatedly approached, starting with the numerous instances of evidence-planting and misconduct in the Russiagate hoax.
Those who approve of such measures, deeming Trump to be a throbbing crisis and entertaining themselves with hearsay tales about him, come off not as noble or judicious but as demented Kool-Aid drinkers. They’re exactly like their “tinfoil-hat” counterparts among the right-wing opposition to Obama and Biden, the ones who give an ear to the worst kind of scurrilous gossip from anonymous sources.
Many among the people are appalled by what the approvers approve. Abusing the law and legal procedure doesn’t become acceptable just because these tools are being used against someone the authorities and the media hate. Seeing it happen is alarming to the people.
Thoughtful observers would find it just as alarming if it were being done to Hillary Clinton or Hunter Biden. As much actual evidence as there appears to be against them, they’re entitled to the same due process, standards of proof, transparency of procedure, and presumption of innocence as everyone else.
So is Donald Trump. The Mar-a-Lago raid lacks the tokens of bona fides we have a right to expect if it’s a legitimate law enforcement action. It looks more like a political attack, intended to create an adverse impression: to paralyze and impugn Trump to the extent that he can’t attempt to run for president again.
No euphemistic word salad will override that indelible appearance of politicized action. It would take actual evidence of some kind of extraordinary crime that could only be approached with exigent misuse of law enforcement powers. We aren’t going to see that. If there were a dead body or a foreign spy base at Mar-a-Lago we’d already know it, and other than that, nothing justifies such excesses.
A few notes on the timeline in the U.S. government. John Solomon noted on Monday that this raid comes a week after the revelation from Senator Chuck Grassley that alleged whistleblowers had described to him a suppression by the FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO) of the Hunter Biden laptop, along with other material from an FBI investigation of the Bidens, as Russian “disinformation.”
Solomon thought that was concerning, particularly in light of the WFO having deployed the 30-man raiding party to Mar-a-Lago. His host in a Fox interview, Sean Hannity, suggested it would have been more routine to rely on a team from the local (Miami) field office. (My aside: I don’t know that in such an unusual action, we can draw special conclusions about special measures. That said, even if someone from the WFO might have been sent to ensure the items in the warrant were identified correctly, (a) it would still be common to add such an agent or agents to a local team rather than sending down 30 from several hundred miles away; and (b) no such care was being taken during the raid anyway, if witness reports are accurate.)
At any rate, Solomon’s point is worth some reflection. Mark Levin, interviewed by phone a few minutes later on Monday night, pointed out that a complex raid like the one on Mar-a-Lago is planned over a relatively long period. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment action. It’s probably been on the shelf, planned and ready to go, for some time. (Again, my aside: one of the chief features is having to deal with the Secret Service to get into Mar-a-Lago. It struck me immediately that the FBI waited until Trump was away from his Florida residence to perform the raid. That probably had nothing to do with any urgency of the presidential documents issue, and everything to do with the situation at Mar-a-Lago in terms of Trump’s and his security detail’s presence.)
It’s quite likely, in fact, that when Christopher Wray was testifying to the Senate last week, he already knew this raid would be conducted within a few days.
It’s noteworthy to me – we’ll see if the juxtaposition of events has explanatory staying power – that the last thing of note before the raid, in terms of U.S. government activity, was the Senate Democrats getting their controversial bill through on an excruciating 51-50 vote.
The most important aspect of the bill is its 87,000 new IRS agents. For an increase of 870 or even 8,700 agents, a justification of casting a wider sampling net in the audit pool would fit. But an increase of 87,000 fundamentally alters the basis of the federal government’s relationship with all taxpayers, signaling that blatant fishing expeditions will become the norm, and will hold everyone at risk, rather than being a sampling tool.
This will be a powerful form of intimidation and harassment, in part because the IRS can lead off by freezing all a taxpayer’s financial accounts, even before it documents by due process that it has found anything.
It can’t help standing out in strong relief that immediately after that victory was secured, with its ominous implication for government’s relations with the American people, the FBI conducted an unprecedented and almost certainly meritless – but clearly foreseen and long-planned – raid on the home of a former president.
The growing recklessness of what’s being done right now can’t escape notice. I think key foreign observers see it more clearly than we do. All of them know the signs of democratic collapse into political confusion and tyranny. Those signs have been well documented since Greek historians started recording the fluctuating fortunes of ancient Athens, and continue to this day in the “banana republic” model.
That’s what America looks like at the moment. We can hardly believe it might happen to us, but none of the foreign observers is as invested as we are in assuming it wouldn’t. Their vision may be jaded and biased, but in some ways it’s clearer than ours.
In light of these observations, it doesn’t seem random that suddenly, on Monday, at the same time Russia suspended on-site inspections under New START, the negotiators in Vienna announced there was some kind of outline for a potential Iran “deal,” which the parties to the talks are now repairing to their capitals to process.
The only certain thing is that Vienna is suddenly empty and talks are on pause. We’ve been given a reason for that, but it lacks the kind of specifics that would make the reason credible. The main point we’ve been made aware of is that Iran wants an IAEA investigation of undeclared nuclear materials to be closed out, without further ado. That’s a major sticking point, but we’ve been spotted no information on what, if anything, has been un-stuck in the last few days.
There’s a sense of the negotiations being suspended with a lame excuse, and I wouldn’t count out the possibility that a U.S. weak and in internal disorder is seen as an opportunity on this front, as on others. (It’s certainly not credible to suggest that in the space of a few days – since the talks resumed, for no apparent reason – negotiators reached an important milestone due to any U.S. strength or initiative. We’re barely participating at this point.)
One of the other fronts is off the coast of China. China wrapped up the military exercises around Taiwan over the weekend. On Monday, Beijing promptly started a fresh set of exercises around Taiwan. That, plus the Russian suspension of New START inspections, and the odd, uninformative notice of a purportedly hopeful pause in the Iran talks, is an awful lot of major muscle movement going on at once – all within hours of the unprecedented FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago.
Remember, the site inspections of the New START treaty aren’t of significance solely to U.S. security calculations.
When Russia announces that the U.S. won’t be allowed to do on-site inspections, the whole world – Ukraine, Europe, Central and South Asia, the Middle East, the Far East – is on notice that there won’t be Yanks with clipboards visiting Russia’s nuclear facilities, looking out for everyone’s interests. And there’s not even a suspended treaty standing between the world and China.
Bonus cultural note: Hillary never lets a crisis go to waste.
Feature image: During 8 August 2022 FBI raid, Secret Service agents stand guard at entry access point for Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump’s Palm Beach home. Via KHOU 11 video, YouTube.