The news today on every channel and every talk show is the FBI raid on President Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump released a statement yesterday that Mar-a-Lago had been raided by the FBI, and details of the raid are slowly emerging.
Apparently, 30 FBI agents in 20 black vehicles went to Mar-a-Lago with guns to look for papers that the National Archives wants. They began their search while Trump was in New York/New Jersey and would not allow Trump’s attorneys to watch what they took.
Trump has called the Democrat persecution of him and his family a “witch hunt,” and now Republican members of Congress, governors, and other leaders are using the same word. Representative Pat Fallon (R-Texas) told The Daily Signal, “Since they took office, the Biden administration has tried to weaponize the Department of Justice and the FBI to go after political enemies. While we do not know all the details yet, this raid has all the markings of a politically motivated witch hunt.”
Representative Michael Cloud (R-Texas) said, “Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the IRS targeting conservatives. We’ve seen [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] abuse. We’ve seen the Hunter Biden case…. We had the Russian collusion hoax. We had riots in cities that they didn’t follow up on.” He added, “What the American people are seeing that’s very clear right now is the two-tiered system of justice in our nation, which goes against the bedrock of what we are as a nation.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) tweeted that the Department of Justice had “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and that “when Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department.”
The FBI raid has unified Republicans – Trump supporters, Never-Trumpers, and right-leaning Independents. Those who recognize the danger presented to our nation are calling for congressional investigations and defunding of the FBI. If Republicans take the House of Representatives in November, Republican leaders in Congress promise oversight investigation.
Fred Lucas at The Daily Signal has questions about Trump’s future as well as the propriety of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press Secretary, claims that no one at the White House knew about the raid in advance. Here are Lucas’s four key questions with answers from legal experts.
1. Is a Trump Indictment More Likely?
The FBI’s rationale for the search warrant authorized by a federal judge likely concerned the Presidential Records Act, according to news reports.
The raid by about 30 FBI agents could foreshadow an indictment of the 45th president, said Michael Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven.
“It’s more likely than not there will be an indictment of the former president,” Lawlor, a former state prosecutor and one-time Democratic member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, told The Daily Signal.
“To get this type of warrant, they need to have probable cause showing they recently learned of documents in his possession. This would be recent, not something they knew about for a year or for a month,” Lawlor said….
However, Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative legal group, said he doesn’t anticipate an indictment of Trump.
“My guess is they won’t indict him over records retention,” Levey told The Daily Signal.
“If the goal is to send him to jail, no, he will not go to jail for a violation of the Presidential Records Act,” Levey said. “Would charges on that act satisfy the [Democratic Party] base? Possibly. But it would look bad, particularly since Hillary Clinton was investigated in 2016 for transmitting classified information.”
The FBI investigated Clinton for potentially mishandling classified information on an unsecure, home-based email server while she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama. The FBI determined that she was reckless, but that her actions did not warrant an indictment.
“I don’t buy that the raid in and of itself means we are on the verge of an indictment,” Levey said of the Trump case….
2. What Are Potential Penalties?
Someone who removes or destroys protected government documents faces a penalty of a fine or imprisonment under several statutes.
What Trump’s foes could aim for is a statute covering concealment, removal, or mutilation of classified information generally. Under this statute (18 U.S. Code § 2071), someone found to be guilty “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.” It’s not clear what statute could be used in the Trump case, the University of New Haven’s Lawlor said….
“Trump has been out of office for a year and a half. It’s difficult to say there is suddenly an imminent danger he would destroy or flush these documents,” Levey said.
Levey said he doubts that language in the law requiring someone convicted of mishandling classified information to “forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States” could disqualify anyone from running for president.
Constitutional requirements for running for president supersede all statutes, said Larry Schweikart, a retired professor of history at the University of Dayton and author of several history books, most recently “Dragonslayers: Six Presidents and Their War With the Swamp.”
“They will try to use the Arizona Dog Catcher Act to prevent him from running for president again,” Schweikart quipped in an interview with The Daily Signal. “The Constitution outlines who can run for president. And if he is indicted, well, Eugene Debs ran for president in 1912 from a prison cell and got 3% of the vote.”
3. Will This Further Undermine Confidence in Justice Department?
Schweikart pointed to a history of a politicized CIA used during Watergate, as comparable to a politicized Justice Department.
The Justice Department has clearly been going after Trump for four years, but couldn’t get him with two impeachments or a special counsel,” Schweikart said. “Trump could be seen as a bigger threat to the swamp out of office.” …
“The track record of this Justice Department is one hostile to the former president, such as lying on search warrants, Andrew McCabe’s lying to the inspector general, the almost three-year Mueller investigation,” Levey said.
“So there is good reason for the department to explain why this is not just a hostile act toward Trump,” Levey continued. “I would think they would try to dispel that notion. I’ve never understood Trump derangement syndrome, but it sometimes makes people do things that don’t make sense.”
4. Is This Unprecedented Action Justified?
Shirley, the presidential historian, stressed that it is Biden’s administration, not just Attorney General Merrick Garland or FBI Director Christopher Wray, that is responsible for the unprecedented action against Trump.
“This has never been done before with a president or former president in American history,” Shirley said….
This move, however, could be more problematic as the Biden administration potentially is attempting to prosecute a past and future political rival.
“This is without a doubt one of the biggest days in American history. You can’t minimize it,” Shirley said. “No president, not even Richard Nixon, did this to political enemies.”
Moreover, he compared what just occurred to Trump’s 2019 impeachment for abuse of power for encouraging an investigation affecting a political opponent – Biden – in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“This is far worse. Trump used a phone call to supposedly target an opponent,” Shirley said. “Biden is using the full apparatus of the Department of Justice. This is all political.”
The problem is that, technically, “abuse of power” is not illegal and would be a difficult basis for impeachment should Republicans choose to take that path, Levey said.
“Will Republicans go down the road of these types of impeachments, as Democrats have?” Levey said. “Will every future president be consumed with indicting his predecessor of the opposite party? Or will Republicans choose to restore democratic norms? It could be a dangerous road we are going down.”
Anyone with any knowledge about how the federal government is supposed to work is upset with the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. When even Democrats are questioning the raid, the Department of Justice and the FBI have a problem.
Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted that the Department of Justice should quickly justify the FBI raid on Trump because it looks politically motivated and could taint the January 6 investigations: “DOJ must immediately explain the reason for its raid & it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigations & legitimacy of January 6 investigations.”
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