The FBI must immediately reveal why it searched Mar-a-Lago; otherwise supporters of Donald Trump will recover the passion they had in January 2021.
Despite all the sensational revelations and firsts we became accustomed to in the era of Donald Trump, nothing could prepare us for the shock of the FBI searching the former president’s principal residence.
But early in the evening of Aug. 8, the 45th president announced to the world that his “beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago,” in Florida, had been subjected to an unannounced search by 30 federal agents.
Many questions remain following the event. For the good of American democracy, unity and American institutions, we should at least hope that the materials the investigators found are as serious and incriminating as possible, and that the Justice Department presents it to the public clearly and diligently. Making the search warrant public, as Attorney General Merrick Garland wants, would be a start, because such unprecedented action carries too much political risk to be based on flimsy cause.
The 1st Track
Immediately following the announcement of the search, the American press, reported that it was tied to the possibility that Trump stole presidential and government documents when he left office in January 2021.
In theory, the failure to preserve these documents as required by law justifies the measures the FBI took. In theory, every citizen must follow the law. And, in theory, flouting rules about preserving presidential documents could enjoin Trump from ever serving as president again, an important consideration as Trump publicly teases the idea of running for reelection in 2024.
In this context, you can justify the FBI’s search of the former president’s residence.
But prosecuting Trump and preventing him from entering the 2024 presidential race based solely on National Archives records laws would be extremely stupid.
Once news of the search became public, allies of the former president and members of his family rushed to repeat, ad nauseam, that Trump’s adversaries like Hillary Clinton got preferential treatment from the American justice system. And it must be acknowledged, especially if the Justice Department brings charges against Trump in connection with these documents, that they would not be wrong.
Although Clinton did not serve as president, she held the powerful position of secretary of state. While she led American diplomacy, she had a personal server installed at her private residence, allegedly to get around freedom of information rules. When the existence of the server was revealed, members of her staff actively destroyed thousands of government records that were subject to a congressional subpoena.
But the Justice Department never brought charges against Clinton nor subjected her to a search like the one conducted at Mar-a-Lago.
If the American justice system decides to set a higher threshold before indicting a presidential candidate, contrary to the principle that everyone is equal under the law, it must apply such an informal standard fairly. Otherwise, it would constitute unequal treatment under the law within unequal treatment so huge that it would be easy for Trump to call out a double standard, and claim that law enforcement has been politicized and that he is being subjected to a witch hunt.
The 2nd Track
The whole thing would even more incomprehensible as there are already clearer and, above all, much more serious grounds to indict Trump, starting with the well-documented attempts to falsify the 2020 election results.
The whole world has had access to the hour-long phone call between Trump and the Georgia secretary of state since January 2021, an official whom Trump threatened with legal consequences if he did not “find” the 11,780 votes Trump needed to be declared the winner of that state.
Does the FBI really believe it can find proof of a more serious crime in a safe at Mar-a-Lago? If there is an answer to that, we are anxious to hear it. On the one hand, we have boxes of documents taken to Trump’s home office, and on the other, we have an attempted coup.
It is not just a legal matter, it is also political. When it comes to the 2020 election and the insurrection that followed, the Republicans were, and remain, divided. Trump has already started to see his support crumble within the party, notably since the hearings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But the FBI search based for now on the illegal presence of records at Mar-a-Lago, has galvanized the Republican troops and, especially, solidified support for Trump. A Politico poll conducted after the search and published on Thursday indicated that 58% of Republican voters would vote for Trump as the Republican presidential nominee for 2024. That’s the highest level of support since the 2020 election.
The day after the search, people from radical polemicist Marjorie Taylor Greene to that of newly elected, pro-establishment Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin have condemned the FBI raid, as did former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump supporters wanted to hang on the day of the insurrection and who has since become a rival.
An American president has never been subject to such a dramatic law enforcement operation. And yet one would have to go back long before the Aug. 8 raid to find a day that has been more politically profitable for the person in question. That day should have been disastrous for Trump, though.
The very morning of the FBI search, The New Yorker reported that while still in office, Trump complained to his chief of staff that American generals showed a lack of loyalty to him. Trump asserted that the generals should have been as loyal to him as the German generals were to Adolf Hitler during World War II, The New Yorker reported.
By evening, all of that was forgotten.