We are living at a time when conspiracy theories abound and where over-the-top reactions to the most routine of events have become the norm. A perfect example of this has been the reaction among Trump supporters to the execution by the FBI of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, the current home of Donald Trump. While searching of the home of a former president is undoubtedly unprecedented, everything else about the process was perfectly ordinary. In fact, the department of justice seemed to have gone out of its way to do this by the book because of the its unprecedented nature.
The FBI first went all the way to the top and got approval from the Attorney General to ask for the warrant and then went, as required, to a federal judge claiming that they had probable cause for the search. You ca be sure that since a former president was involved, there was a high bar that had to be cleared in order to get the warrant. They then carried out the search with little fuss and with the cooperation of the Secret Service agents guarding the premises and with the president’s representatives apparently also present. There was no raid, no pre-dawn breaking down of the doors by armed agents, and the other kinds of things that ordinary people might be subjected to at the hands of law enforcement. In fact, no one knew about the search until Trump blasted out the news in his usual hyperbolic fashion that he was being persecuted. And as usual in their knee-jerk reaction, his loyal cult members in Congress and the nation at large responded hysterically, comparing this action to Nazi Germany and the Gestapo. They have even gone to the extent of suggesting that the FBI planted evidence at the site, a charge that they will repeat if any damning evidence is revealed. Planting of evidence by law enforcement undoubtedly happens but it seems unlikely in this case.
Usually, the details of search warrants are kept under seal so as to not jeopardize investigations. But paranoia is fostered by ignorance and the Trump cult has been using the lack of information about what was sought and what was obtained to generate anger (and of course raise funds from supporters which is the usual goal of such rage-mongering) at what they portray as the persecution of an innocent man.
This has led to much anger directed at the FBI by Republicans, a surprising turn of events for those who usually venerate the police, the military, and other agencies of government power. It got so bad that an armed man tried to forcibly enter a field office of the FBI in Ohio that resulted in a chase and the death of the man at the hands of the police. We are not as yet sure if the man was driven to this act by his rage about the search of Trump’s premises but the threats to the FBI have been so intense that its director Christopher Wray has publicly deplored it and called for an end.
In a twist, the department of justice has requested of a judge that the text of the search warrant and the list of the items removed be released to the public, provided that Trump’s attorneys agree. You can read the text of the request here that says:
At the time the warrant was initially executed, the Department provided notice directly to former President Trump’s counsel. The Department did not make any public statements about the search, and the search apparently attracted little or no public attention as it was taking place. Later that same day, former President Trump issued a public statement acknowledging the execution of the warrant. In the days since, the search warrant and related materials have been the subject of significant interest and attention from news media organizations and other entities.
Consistent with standard practice in this Court, the search warrant and attachments were each filed under seal in Case No. 22-mj-8332-BER prior to the search; the Property Receipt was filed under seal today. Former President Trump, through counsel, was provided copies of each of these documents on August 8, 2022, as part of the execution of the search.
Given the intense public interest presented by a search of a residence of a former President, the government believes these factors favor unsealing the search warrant, its accompanying Attachments A and B, and the Property Receipt, absent objection from the former President.
The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing. That said, the former President should have an opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regards to any “legitimate privacy interests” or the potential for other “injury” if these materials are made public.
It is now up to Trump to decide if he wants the material released or not. If, as he claims, he has nothing to hide, then he should not object and we can all see for ourselves if this search was merely meant to harass him.
I am still baffled about why Trump would take any documents at all, classified or unclassified, from the White House that were not personal items. What’s the point? What could he do with them?
Stephen Colbert summarizes the latest developments.
Marcus Ranum says
They’re not really paranoid -- they’re just performing the “oo oo we are worried!” Dance in order to whip their followers into getting shot by cops trying to attack FBI offices. Way to “law n order!”
Matt G says
If I were going to take documents about nuclear weapons home with me, they’d be in a waterproof box strapped to the underside of my porch, not in my safe. But maybe I just watch too many movies.
Now, how exactly do you plant evidence when the Secret Service and Donnie’s own people are there?
Sell them? It’s always about the money and grift.
Puts the $2B to Kushner in another light, doesn’t it?
consciousness razor says
At this year’s CPAC: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are all domestic terrorists….” with the frenetic red, white and blue displays also reading “We Are All Domestic Terrorists,” to begin a We Are All Domestic Terrorists panel discussion.
I have enjoyed the shocked squawks from conservative talking heads: “If they can do this to a former president, they can do it to you too!” Yes, the FBI can get warrants to search people’s houses, no shit Sherlock.
Also, WaPo claims that some of the documents sought included information about USA’s nuclear weapons.
I heard on last night’s TV news, repeated this morning on Today, that Trump has stated that he has no objection to unsealing the warrant.
I also heard that one congresscritter…I forget who…actually said, out loud, to other people, that Garland should be assassinated. Can anyone say, “third-world country”? (Democrats should scream bloody murder about the danger of turning the U.S. into a failed state, but they won’t.)
Rev Matt says
If as it’s been suggested they are about nuclear weapons systems he could certainly find a buyer for that in order to pay off some of his massive debts.
Marcus has a post suggesting that all the potential deep-pocket buyers already know how to build nuclear weapons; but a comment points out that there could be other papers that would be considered “nuclear secrets”, like the location of nuclear submarines, that could be worth something.
Mano Singham says
I find it hard to believe that Trump, however greedy and/or desperate for money he may be, could be so stupid as to think he could sell nuclear secrets and get away with it. Doing so requires careful planning, extreme discretion, and tight control over the entire process. Does that look like Trump at all?
One detail I saw last night was that Trump (and his lawyers) have copies of the warrant, the attachments which justify the warrant, and a receipt for all the documents taken. I image the receipt doesn’t include explicit details about each document found (it isn’t classified), but there is nothing stopping Donny from publishing the warrant, attachments, and receipt himself.
Well, aside from his lawyers.
Apparently, part of the process of releasing these papers is to get permission from Trump (or his lawyers) to do so. Which suggests that Trump (or his lawyers) are considering the matter or have decided to not give their okay. (I could understand Trump’s lawyers wanting to consider it for a few more days.) At the same time, it would not surprise me that Trump is saying different things publicly and privately. That Trump is unwilling to approve the release of the warrant. However, I think Garland could make a good case to the judge that Trump’s public statements should be taken at their word and release the warrant.
We’ll see how this all plays out. I don’t think it’s much more than a side-show at this point, it may develop into something more, but we don’t really have enough information to know if it will. Yet it’s fun to watch.
But let’s imagine another scenario. Trump gets a daily briefing on operational information on known locations of nuclear weapons. Because of this information may change, be updated, that would also indicate that US operatives which are finding/tracking the location of those weapons are located nearby. That information, location of operational personal, is highly classified for their own safety.
Now, let’s say that on some days Trump gets tired of the briefing, grabs the files and heads to the bathroom shouting, “I’ll read this while I’m on the can!” Then, later, after Trump’s Dump, he throws the file onto any nearby desk, mixing it up with other documents. The file gets thrown in a drawer, and then packed up with non-classified documents as part of the move.
Later, the national archives goes through the records and says, “We are missing the daily nuclear asset briefing file for the following dates: XXX, YYY, ZZZ.” Trump’s team in Mar-a-Lago does a cursory search, say’s those files aren’t there, and stops looking. Then someone in Mar-a-Lago tells the justice department that the files are there, they have seen them, but no one who could return them cares. It could have been a secret-service person for all we know. So, since repeated requests to return this information were being ignored, a search warrant was issued and it was collected.
Now, this is entirely speculation, until the details about the warrant are released (if they ever are), we won’t know. But it’s not inconceivable that top-secret material ended up at Mar-a-Lago through incompetence, and further incompetence meant that a search warrant was required to retrieve them.
I will say that Trump was treated with kid gloves compared to anyone else who was known to possess top secret documents. I’m quite certain that if I was found to have a top secret document, not only would the FBI require me to return the document, but they would impound all the equipment I might have used to copy it: computers, cell phones, cameras, all digital storage media, etc. They would also search for any possibilities that I had sent it, including checking all server records at my various ISPs for recorded uploads from phones/computers and probably even looking at the pictures the USPS takes of envelopes mail to see if they could determine if I sent it anywhere. They would also perform a thorough search of my house to ensure I hadn’t hand-copied the information and hid it somewhere. In other words, it wouldn’t have been a few hours. Depending on the value of the information believed to be contained on the document, I could very be taken to a secure facility and questioned for hours, possibly prevented from going home for days, while my house was extensively searched and all my digital information scoured.
In other words, while the documents collected from Mar-a-Lago were classified, the process used to collect them suggests that no one believed Trump attached any real value to them, or that Trump knew what they might have been worth to someone else.
Again, this is all speculation. Maybe these documents are needed for the on-going DOJ investigations into criminal wrong-doing. But I think, without further information, that it’s equally likely that this was just the only way to collect documents which Trump wasn’t going to return because he didn’t care.
Raging Bee says
…Doing so requires careful planning, extreme discretion, and tight control over the entire process. Does that look like Trump at all?
That looks like Trump to Trump. If he got a whim to do something like that, who’s gonna tell him he doesn’t have the mental chops for it?