FBI’s Trump Raid a Defining Moment for America, Critics Say

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
August 18, 2022 Updated: August 18, 2022

News Analysis

The Aug. 8 raid on Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago was a defining moment for the United States. Never before has the home of a former president been searched by federal police. For many Americans, it was the last straw, the act that broke their trust in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI.

As new information trickles in on what was and wasn’t taken from Trump’s property, the 45th president has been sharing updates on his social media platform, Truth Social.

“Wow! In the raid by the FBI of Mar-a-Lago, they stole my three Passports (one expired), along with everything else,” Trump stated on Aug. 15. “This is an assault on a political opponent at a level never seen before in our Country. Third World!”

A day earlier, Trump said materials covered by attorney-client and executive privilege were taken.

The DOJ told the Trump team on Aug. 15 that the passports could be picked up at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, according to an email apparently from a DOJ official released by Trump’s spokesman Taylor Budowich.

The DOJ planned to return documents it identified as privileged within two weeks, Just the News reported on Aug. 15, citing unnamed DOJ sources.

The raid prompted outrage among Trump’s supporters and from some of his detractors as well. On the morning of Aug. 15, Trump said he offered, through his representatives, to work with the DOJ in light of the “tremendous anger in the country—at a level that has never been seen before, other than during very perilous times.”

“People are so angry at what is taking place,” he told Fox News. “Whatever we can do to help—because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.”

In the wake of the raid, Republican lawmakers have demanded answers on what prompted the raid, and have vowed to investigate the DOJ and FBI should, as anticipated, the GOP regain control of the House come January.

While the exact justification for the raid remains shrouded in secrecy, many commentators have already settled on the general view that such a step would have only been justifiable if the reason was grave, the timing urgent, and the evidence ironclad. Calls for transparency have come from both sides of the aisle.

Information revealed so far indicates the justification was the FBI’s investigation of potential mishandling of defense information; taking, hiding, or destroying government records; and altering, destroying, or falsifying records in federal investigations. How the statutes were supposedly violated remains unclear.

Attorney General Merrick Garland took responsibility for approving the raid on Aug. 11. The DOJ agreed to release the warrant for the raid, including what the agents were searching for and where, as well as what, in general terms, they took (pdf). While some of the documents taken were labeled in the raid inventory as “top secret,” Trump said he declassified all of them while he was still in office. The president is free to declassify information at will.

Presidential Records

Since Trump left office, National Archives officials have been pressing him to hand over presidential records that were packed up and shipped to his Florida estate. In January, he returned some 15 boxes of documents and other items, but archive officials pushed for more.

In June, several FBI and DOJ officials visited Mar-a-Lago, went over the documents at issue with Trump’s lawyers, and inspected the basement room where the materials were kept. The officials were allowed to go through the documents as they wished, Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb told The Epoch Times after the Aug. 8 raid.

“We walked them to the storage unit and showed them whatever they wanted to see and answered any questions,” Bobb later explained on a podcast with former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“And it was very cordial. Everybody was nice and friendly and very professional. So we had no reason to believe that there was any type of adversarial nature to the discussion. So going from that to a full-blown raid seemed a bit shocking.”

The officials asked if a “heftier” lock could be put on the door, which was done within a few days, only for the lock to be broken during the raid, she said.

Intrusive

Some lawyers have pointed out that before executing a search warrant, less intrusive means should have been used, such as requests for documents and subpoenas. The DOJ reportedly did issue a subpoena in May, but that still doesn’t necessarily justify a raid, according to constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

“If you want to get documents, you issue a subpoena, and then the other side protests and says, ‘No, this is not classified. This was declassified. This is lawyer-client privilege. We’re invoking the Fifth Amendment about production of this,’ and you litigate,” he told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “You go to court. You litigate. You don’t just grab the material and then say, ‘I got it. And now you have to litigate.’”

Dershowitz and others have pointed out that other officials and former presidents have faced issues over withholding sensitive documents, but none of them have had their homes raided.

President Barack Obama started shipping his presidential records to a private facility months before his second term was over. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) worked with him to secure the documents at that facility and only reached an agreement with the Obama Foundation in 2018 to transfer some classified records “to NARA-controlled facilities that conform to the agency’s archival storage standards for such records and artifacts” (pdf).

The Trump raid appears to display unequal treatment by the DOJ, Dershowitz argues.

“If I had to put a symbol on the Justice Department, it would be, ‘Due process for me but not for thee. Free speech for me but not for thee. Equal protection for me, but not for thee.’ That’s the direction in which the pendulum seems to be swinging today,” he said.

Moreover, he noted, the raid has set a dangerous precedent.

“Once the precedent is established that you can use the search as a first recourse rather than a last recourse, you can go after people based on their politics, not based on the relative culpability of the crime,” he said. “It can happen to anybody, and it has. We’ve seen more use of these draconian techniques. It’s easily possible that local prosecutors will pick this up.”

Political

Trump has denounced the raid as a part of a “political witch hunt” against him, likening it to the FBI’s ultimately fruitless pursuit of allegations that he colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election—allegations seeded and spread by operatives of his then-opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A number of commentators have raised the issue of the FBI going after Trump while he’s the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency in 2024 and while he’s campaigning for GOP candidates ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The DOJ has an internal policy of not taking over investigative steps in politically charged cases within 90 days of an election. The raid took place 91 days before the Nov. 8 midterms.

Banana Republic

A common analysis of the raid on the conservative side has held it as symbolizing the deterioration of the American justice system.

“I think we are wavering between restoring the rule of law and the Constitution and decaying into a third world banana republic system of greed, dishonesty, political power, and law-breaking on a grand scale,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in a recent op-ed.

Conservative filmmaker and author Dinesh D’Souza dove deeper into the analogy:

“The key feature of banana republics is that they make up the rules as they go along. They prosecute their opponents and they suppress basic liberties,” he said during a recent podcast. “They manipulate the election process, doing what they can to ensure that they stay in power. They preselect … the candidates if they can. So they flout the entire ensemble of basic rights and liberties that are characteristic of a republic. And we’re seeing that here.”

Moreover, he pointed out, “banana republics do all these things while pretending not to—that’s why they call themselves republics.”

He noted a mismatch between Garland’s avowals after the raid about evenhanded justice being executed “without fear or favor” and the reality that Americans can see with their own eyes.

“This is exactly, actually, what you hear from tinpot despots who are flouting the rule of law, even as they pretend to be apostles of it,” D’Souza said.

Former Trump national security official Kash Patel agrees.

“Those are terms we throw around because they used to be a good basis of comparison. It’s scary now that we have become that basis,” he told EpochTV’s Jan Jekielek.

“The American judicial system has been superior because it did not reflect those of other countries where you have a dictator, or you have tyrannical rule, like in Russia, or the Chinese Communist Party, where they suppress due process, and they execute political convictions through their intelligence law enforcement apparatus.”

What America is now witnessing, he said, is the “continuous destruction of our law enforcement apparatus because our leaders at the highest levels have chosen to politicize it.”

Future of the FBI

The raid has prompted some commentators to propose a radical reining-in of the federal police force.

Defense lawyer and former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan suggested that the DOJ inspector general may need to take over the FBI.

“I’m not so sure it can operate without oversight. That’s how bad things are presently,” he said during a recent interview with podcaster and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson went even further, proposing to disband the FBI and transfer its personnel and functions to other federal and local agencies.

“The FBI interferes with and warps national elections. It hires complete frauds as informants who are far worse than its targets. It humiliates or exempts government and elected officials based on their politics. It violates the civil liberties of individual American citizens,” he wrote in a recent op-ed.

“The FBI’s highest officials now routinely mislead Congress. They have erased or altered court and subpoenaed evidence. They illegally leak confidential material to the media. And they have lied under oath to federal investigators.

“The agency has become dangerous to Americans and an existential threat to their democracy and rule of law. The FBI should be dispersing its investigatory responsibilities to other government investigative agencies that have not yet lost the public’s trust.”

Kaplan estimated that the FBI leadership remains “obstinate” in their belief that the “fruits” of their efforts outweigh the risks.

FBI Director Christopher Wray responded to questions about the raid with a statement condemning “unfounded attacks on the integrity of the FBI” as well as “violence and threats against law enforcement, including the FBI.”

Several days before the raid, he cut short questioning by members of Congress, saying he had an urgent matter to attend to. In fact, he took the FBI private jet to his vacationing spot in upstate New York.

A Convenient Judge

Many conservative commentators have argued that the federal magistrate judge who approved the warrant, Bruce Reinhart, should have recused himself. Reinhart stepped aside earlier this year when he was to preside over a racketeering case that Trump brought against Clinton in Florida. He acknowledged at the time he couldn’t be impartial, although it isn’t clear whether his partiality had more to do with Clinton or Trump.

In 2017, the year before he was appointed to the bench by local district judges, Reinhart made comments on social media berating Trump for criticizing Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Lewis died in 2020.

Reinhart was a senior prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in 2007 when the office reached a nonprosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, who was later indicted for the sex trafficking of children and died by apparent suicide in a New York jail.

On Jan. 2, 2008, within days of leaving office, Reinhart began representing multiple Epstein associates and employees in civil cases against Epstein by his alleged victims.

Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.