Opinion

The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago. What's next?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

FBI agents executed a search warrant at Donald Trump's Florida mansion on Monday, sending the former president and his allies into a rage. The search is a "major escalation" into the myriad investigations into Trump's presidency, The New York Times reports, and it certainly escalated the always-intense rhetoric surrounding Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed to investigate the Department of Justice, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) likened the search to the methods of "3rd world Marxist dictatorships."

What the FBI was searching for hasn't been publicly revealed, but it appeared to be part of an inquiry into whether classified government documents were taken to Mar-a-Lago "instead of being sent to the National Archives when Trump left office," John Wagner reports for The Washington Post. Trump has reportedly been ignoring the requirements of the Presidential Records Act for years — repeatedly tearing up official documents and even (allegedly) flushing them down White House toilets during his presidency.

But would the FBI really go after a former president over document issues? And what happens next?

This is just a good start for Attorney General Merrick Garland

"FBI agents don't get to waltz into a former president's home" without a good reason, Timothy L. O'Brien writes at Bloomberg. They had to get a federal judge to approve the search warrant — and no judge would have done so in this particular instance unless investigators made a convincing case "there was evidence of crime there." That's not the kind of Watergate-style scandal that Trump alleged when he announced the FBI's raid. "That's how a proper federal investigation unfolds." The question isn't so much whether the investigation is justified, but whether Attorney General Merrick Garland "has the resolve to place all of that damning evidence before a jury, and whether that jury can be convinced that Trump broke the law." And that question has a pretty obvious answer. "Allowing Trump to end-run the law also threatens to shred the fabric of American democracy and justice."

If the FBI overreached, heads must roll

Many pundits say the existence of a search warrant suggests there's a there there, crime-wise, but "what if that isn't true?" Charles C.W. Cooke asks in National Review. While "there's nothing per se wrong with investigating presidential candidates," there is a real problem if the FBI overreached and ends up with nothing to show for it. That would be "the greatest law enforcement mistake in history." And that raises a question about the consequences for all involved in approving the raid. "Do we just move on — as if nothing ever happened?" For transparency's sake, the federal government should immediately make the warrant public. It will only be justified if officials can demonstrate that "if the target was not named Donald Trump, a similar operation would have been launched." If that's not the case, "Merrick Garland must resign or be impeached, as must the head of the FBI."

The GOP's rhetoric is irresponsible

"Trump has marshaled his army of supporters to declare, in knee-jerk fashion, any legal scrutiny of him a deep-state operation," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. That's pretty hypocritical: Remember that the Trumpist movement once delighted in "lock her up" chants about Hillary Clinton. Now Republicans and their Fox News allies are telling the former president's supporters that "if they could go after Trump like this, nobody is safe." But it's important to understand "that this investigation hardly comes out of nowhere." Trump's handling of classified government documents has long been under question — the National Archives had to retrieve 15 boxes of material he took to Mar-a-Lago — and the Department of Justice isn't dumb. Its leaders know "this decision will be harshly scrutinized." The Republican Party's decision to automatically shout "witch hunt" at the investigation "bodes very poorly for whatever comes next in this process."

Trump just got a boost for his 2024 campaign

The FBI raid "has been manna from heaven politically for Trump," Conn Carroll writes at the Washington Examiner. If this ends up being about a paperwork mixup  — and if Trump ends up convicted because of it — "mishandling classified documents is not listed as a bar to the office" in the Constitution. Instead, the whole thing smells of political abuse, especially when the Department of Justice "chooses to ignore Hunter Biden's laptop and lets far-left activists harass Supreme Court justices in their homes." While "there is still a lot we don't know" about the raid, we do know Trump stands to benefit as he prepares for a likely run for the White House in 2024: "This raid has the potential to turn Trump into a martyr."

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