'It was obvious the raid would ignite a country that is a tinderbox'

Armed FBI agents conduct a search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday evening, Aug. 8, 2022. (Video screenshot)
Armed FBI agents conduct a search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday evening, Aug. 8, 2022. (Video screenshot)

A court has announced that at least some of the affidavit the FBI used to insist on a public raid of President Donald Trump’s home in Florida will be made public, but those details remain yet to be seen.

What is obvious, however, according to constitutional expert Jonathan Turley, is that Merrick Garland, Joe Biden’s attorney general, repeatedly has missed opportunities to earn the public trust on the dispute.

In fact, Garland’s recent news conference about the issue “had all of the substance of a Hallmark care that read, ‘Trust us, we’re the government.'”

The raid, just a few weeks ago, apparently was over some documentation that Trump moved with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago when he finished his first term.

Garland approved the raid, and boxes of documents were taken.

In court, where the dispute likely will end up, there’s already a precedent established in a case involving Bill Clinton that a president can declassify a document without following all the procedures others must use, and if it’s in his possession, it’s presumed to be his property.

Turley explained the DOJ could have worked with Trump on the issue.

“It is unclear why Garland opted for a search warrant rather than a second subpoena like one used in June to seize boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s team claims to have communications from the FBI reflecting that they cooperated with the search, then followed the FBI’s request to reinforce security on a storage room. It is unclear what communications occurred after the June meeting — or, if remaining documents were a concern, why the DOJ did not immediately issue a second subpoena,” Turley noted.

“While the DOJ claimed time was of the essence to retrieve national security material, Garland reportedly waited weeks before signing off on the search warrant application and the FBI waited a weekend to execute the search. There was plenty of time to seek a voluntary surrender or consensual search.”

Then, he said, the DOJ wrote the warrant with such broad language “it was virtually the legal version of Captain Jack Sparrow’s ‘Take what you can … Give nothing back.'”

Johnny Depp stars as Capt. Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean.'
Johnny Depp stars as Capt. Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’

“If Garland wanted to assure Americans of an apolitical motive, he could have crafted that warrant more narrowly. Instead, the government scooped up everything, from passports to attorney-client material.”

The raid, with up to 40 officers and a dozen vehicles, also was unneeded.

“This is a search that could have been done by a few inconspicuous agents without risk,” Turley said.

Then, he explained, “It was obvious the raid would ignite a country that is a tinderbox, particularly before a major election. Garland could have issued a statement reassuring the public and immediately secured the documents, asking for an independent special master or federal magistrate to sort out any material beyond the warrant’s scope, including attorney-client material.”

That could have minimized speculation about the DOJ having a pretext for the search.

There have been accusations that the FBI was frantic that Trump would have documentation about its conspiracy chaos from 2016 in which it participated in a scheme to make up claims that Trump’s campaign was colluding with Russia, a claim that has been debunked.

“Garland now has a fifth opportunity in responding to a magistrate’s order to recommend parts of the affidavit for public release. Garland initially refused to release the affidavit, then implausibly asserted that nothing in it could be released in the interests of national security,” Turley noted.

“Most affidavits have sections that can be released without damaging an investigation or compromising witnesses, including information already known to the target. In this case, Garland could, at a minimum, release the account of the communications with the Trump team. It may be discomforting for DOJ officials accustomed to total control over such information, but it would reassure the public in a growing political crisis.”

He said, “What is clear is that Garland’s ‘trust us’ mantra has done little to assuage concerns. Indeed, that seems almost comical to many people, given the Crossfire Hurricane debacle and the fact that this investigation is being handled by the same section,” Turley warned.

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