The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s raid last week on the home of former President Donald Trump in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, ostensibly for the purpose of retrieving documents containing classified information pertinent to national security, has undermined public trust in federal law enforcement and the Department of Justice (DOJ), experts say.
Though the affidavit that shows the DOJ’s justification in seeking the search warrant remains unsealed and many details have yet to emerge, observers interpret the raid as a symptom of the growing politicization of the DOJ under President Joe Biden and its willingness to bend the law in pursuit of its objectives.
The warrant, unsealed on Aug. 12, showed that Trump was being investigated for potential breaches of three U.S. laws relating to the handling of records, including defense information and records used in federal investigations.
The timing of the raid—just days before a deposition during which the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, in the context of an inquiry into his family’s business dealings—is particularly concerning, observers say.
No Rush to Judgment
Opinion within the legal community is divided as to the legality of the raid, and it is important not to jump to conclusions as more details about the deliberations and the legal basis for it—if any—continue to emerge, legal experts caution.
Mark Graber, a law professor at the University of Maryland, dismissed theories raised by Trump and allies suggesting that “the FBI is controlled by the radical left in the United States or that it is there to persecute the Republican Party.”
Rather, he said, “There may be some reason to believe that the FBI is searching Donald Trump’s residence because they have significant evidence and believe that they will find something illegal.”
Graber described the raid as an event that did not happen spontaneously or without any warning, but rather, as the culmination of a process in which the National Archives made requests to Trump for a return of documents taken from the White House at the time of his departure last year, and waited a long time before receiving only some of the requested items.
“These requests had been going on for months. Should they have sent one more email, saying ‘Please return the documents’? I can’t say, but it’s very clear, the government tried to play nice and got nowhere,” Graber told The Epoch Times.
Trump and his lawyers, however, dispute the appropriateness of the FBI’s actions, saying they had been cooperating with investigators for months and they would have provided documents if asked by the feds. Trump has also argued that all the documents were “declassified.”
Federal law enforcement may be vulnerable to charges of having double standards and having subjected Trump to treatment that others with political views more congenial to the current administration have avoided.
Graber said it is likely that Trump’s legal team will make the case that the DOJ applied standards to Trump from which other political figures have been exempt.
“We should expect Trump’s lawyers are going to argue that Trump was singled out, they will argue that the FBI never raided Hillary Clinton’s home” during the scandal that arose over her mishandling of classified information as the 2016 presidential election drew near, Graber said.
While law enforcement agencies in theory have a responsibility to carry out their duties in a politically neutral manner, Graber said the unavoidable reality is that interpretations of the law will vary from one administration to another.
“We can anticipate that, under a Democrat administration, the Department of Justice will adopt a broader interpretation of some laws and a narrower interpretation of other laws than under a Republican administration,” he said.
Graber said that the Biden administration is not investigating Republican political figures en masse, and if anything, some Democrats are disappointed with what they see as the relative paucity of enforcement actions.
“We don’t see the Biden administration investigating Republican after Republican,” he said.
But for other observers and commentators, the FBI has committed an invasion of privacy that cannot fail to erode public trust in the Bureau and recall abuses of power more typically associated with the authoritarian regimes and dictatorships that were common during the Cold War.
Van B. Poole, a former member of Florida’s state senate and former chair of the Florida Republican Party who works today as a political consultant, told The Epoch Times that many Floridians he has spoken to in recent days object vehemently to the raid and have given up according the Bureau any credibility.
“It’s a sad story, because people have always looked up to the FBI, and the leadership is really giving the Bureau a bad name, and the rank and file, men and women who work hard for the FBI, are getting the brunt of it, and people don’t trust them now at all,” Poole said.
“Attorney General Merrick Garland is just a puppet doing what the administration wants, and this is terrible for the country,” he added.
Poole said he could not think of a time during his time in the Florida senate, from 1979 to 1983, or his chairmanship of the state Republican Party, from 1989 to 1993, when such public frictions existed between federal law enforcement and the rights and liberties of the people of the state.
“If there was anything going on, if they were looking into something, we always cooperated with law enforcement,” Poole said.
In public remarks delivered in Washington on Aug. 18, Garland defended the legality and appropriateness of the DOJ’s actions, adding that the decision to seek the search warrant was one that he personally approved.
“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing,” Garland said.
Garland’s remarks did not reassure all observers about the operation’s legality or the politically-neutral stance of the DOJ.
“We don’t know what the nature of all these documents is. There’s an inventory list, which includes, for example, pictures of Trump with other foreign leaders, and a reminder to call someone. I can’t see how that’s an issue for national security,” said Richard Conley, a professor of political science at the University of Florida and the author of a number of books on U.S. politics.
In Conley’s view, this matter may have arisen partly out of the chaos of the transition when Trump prepared to leave the White House and as the events of Jan. 6 unfolded.
“My understanding is that the FBI found those documents, and instead of taking them, which they could have done at the time, they asked Trump and his associates to put additional locks on the door” when storing the boxes, Conley added, referring to comments made by Trump in the wake of the raid.
Conley sees a double standard at work in the FBI’s treatment of Trump, as compared to federal law enforcement’s failure to prosecute the Bidens over the contents of the younger Biden’s laptop.
“How do you go to China and come back with $85 million, yet nobody seems to be investigating this. Yet Trump is going to be charged under the Espionage Act. All this undermines the credibility of the FBI, and we’ve known for a long time, whether it’s the IRS or the FBI, that people in law enforcement are going after political enemies,” he said, referring to Hunter Biden’s business dealing with Chinese businessmen with connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
The Epoch Times has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.