Calm Down, Everyone
The reckless rhetoric surrounding the Mar-a-Lago search is needlessly adding fuel to the fire.
On Monday night, when I heard about the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Donald Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, two thoughts immediately arose:
Wow. I wonder what this is about.
We’re about to hear some of the most uninformed and reckless hot-takes imaginable.
It took mere minutes for my forecast to pan out. Despite knowing virtually nothing about the context or grounds for the search, the operation was already being framed by scores of right-wing media pundits (along with online-commentators and armchair pundits) as an egregious abuse of power that essentially signified the end of America.
Mark Levin called into Hannity’s show to declare the search “the worst attack on this republic in modern history.”
Dan Bongino insisted that “every single person involved in this needs to be fired immediately.” He added, “Do not even let them breathe! Everyone has to go! You do not live in a constitutional republic anymore!”
“We’re at war,” Steve Bannon said on Fox News. He called the FBI “the Gestapo,” and added, “We need to choke down the FBI and choke down the Justice Department.”
“America is in a full-blown constitutional crisis,” declared Michael Caputo, former Trump administration official, on Fox America. “The FBI is the KGB. I should know. I’ve seen them both in action and I see no difference at all.”
Jesse Watters called on Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray to be fired, describing him as “corrupt.”
Watters had radio host Buck Sexton on his show who said that the search felt like a “preemptive coup” to stop Trump from running for president again in 2024. “This is the Rubicon being crossed,” Sexton added. “This is something we’ve never seen before. This is something that is outrageous. And the usage of the FBI in this way is really the nail in the coffin for so many Americans as to whether you can trust the FBI or trust the DOJ.”
Laura Ingraham claimed that the real target of investigation wasn’t Trump, but rather her viewers. “This is the deep state’s revenge. They’re trying to show all of us that we’ll be destroyed if we fight them.”
These were just a few examples (unfortunately), and again, they were all just from Monday night… when we knew next to nothing. More hysterics have been on display since then, including popular commentators (like Newt Gingrich and Jesse Watters) suggesting that the FBI, during their search, actually planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago.
A number of prominent Republican officials have echoed the chorus.
In reality, we still know relatively little about the search and broader investigation, mostly because it is procedure for the Department of Justice not to comment on the details of ongoing investigations (as to avoid compromising them). U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland commented mostly on logistical issues in his press conference the other day, but he did express that he had filed a motion to unseal the search warrant, with Donald Trump’s permission. Trump (or at least his legal team) has had a copy of the warrant since before the search began, but has chosen not to make it public. He now says he’s fine with the government doing it.
The warrant won’t provide all the answers, of course, but it will at least provide some.
What we have known from early on, I think with a good amount of confidence, is that the warrant was related to classified U.S. government documents that Trump and/or his allies had inappropriately taken, and were being stored at Trump’s residence. At least some had already been returned by Trump.
There’s been speculation that remaining documents, which were presumably collected in some of the boxes agents reportedly removed from the residence, were essentially a legal “excuse” for searching Mar-a-Lago for evidence of other criminality (perhaps related to January 6, or Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election). But that’s all one can fairly call it at this point: speculation.
Also of note, the New York Times and Washington Post are reporting that the aforementioned classified documents related to “top secret” nuclear weapons and special access programs, as well as sensitive U.S. foreign operations. If there’s truth to that, it would seem to be an extremely serious matter — one more than worthy of a judge-signed warrant, and subsequent search.
We’ll find out at some point (probably sooner rather than later) if these reports, and any of the theories we’ve been hearing, are accurate.
For now, I think it’s vitally important for people to tone down the hysterics.
Unless one believes that a former president should not, under any circumstances, be investigated for a possible crime, or be legally bound to produce property that doesn’t belong to him, there’s no objective argument (based on what we know so far) for why what the FBI or DOJ did here is corrupt.
I certainly understand why some are suspicious. The FBI’s track record, in regard to politically-consequential matters in recent years, has not been stellar. I also get the frustrations of those who believe the Russia probe was unwarranted, or who’ve seen high-level investigations of politicians on the other side of the aisle, like Hillary Clinton (with her emails), end with seemingly no justice.
There’s more nuance to these topics than a lot of people are willing to acknowledge, but let’s focus on right now.
The other day, an armed man wearing protective armor tried to breach an FBI office in Cincinnati, OH. After a chase and stand-off, he raised his weapon at police officers, and was shot and killed. The man was a January 6 participant who had bought into the “stolen election” lie, and he apparently decided on Monday night, after the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, that it was time for more serious action.
“It won't matter if we don't get violent,” he posted on Truth Social, Donald Trump’s social media app. “We see the courts are unfair and unconstitutional, all that is left is force."
Not unlike Ashli Babbitt, the “force” he deemed necessary, in response to perceived tyrannical forces, is what got him killed. Fortunately, he wasn’t able to take out anyone else with him.
The “unfair and unconstitutional” act, as the assailant perceived it in this instance, was dealt out by Judge Bruce Reinart, the judge who reportedly signed the warrant for Monday’s search at Mar-a-Lago. Reinhart has since faced so many threats that he has cancelled public appearances, in fear of his safety.
“Donald Trump is a former president, not a mystical sacrosanct being,” conservative columnist Kevin Williamson wrote the other day. “If we really believe, as we say we believe, that this is a republic, that nobody is above the law, that the presidency is just a temporary executive-branch office rather than a quasi-royal entitlement, then there is nothing all that remarkable about the FBI serving a warrant on a house in Florida.”
Williamson’s right. All that made the search remarkable is Trump’s stature, the loyalty he commands from millions, and the media people and politicians who are professionally invested in him. This wasn’t our constitutional end times, nor anything resembling it.
Let’s tone it down, folks. We’ll know more soon enough.