The first thing you should know about the FBI raid — otherwise known as a court-ordered search warrant — on Donald Trump’s gold-plated Mar-a-Lago residence/club/hangout is that, as of this writing, we know virtually nothing about it, except that it’s unprecedented and stunning and daring and sure to be an issue in November’s midterms and probably well beyond.
For starters, we don’t know what the FBI was looking for.
We don’t know what potential crime was being investigated.
We don’t know what evidence was used to persuade a federal magistrate to issue a search warrant.
We don’t know whether Joe Biden was informed of the raid, although the White House says he wasn’t.
We don’t even know for sure — although it’s probably safe to assume — that Trump was the target of the raid.
We also don’t know — although this, too, is probably safe to assume — whether wild man Attorney General Merrick Garland signed off on the project.
But there are some things — some important things — we do know, and not just that the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, was a Trump appointee, although one he later regretted. Who knew Trump was busily adding on to the Deep State?
We do know that the lock-her-up Republican base — once so outraged by Hillary Clinton’s mishandled emails — seems entirely unfazed by the haul of classified documents and who knows what else that Trump apparently improperly (illegally?) removed from the White House. Clinton is now back to tweeting out her “But Her Emails” products.
According to several federal laws covering this issue, Trump was supposed to deliver these documents and who knows what else to the National Archives, where they become property of — and excuse the old-fashioned terminology — the American people.
We also know that Trump and the Republican Party are already fundraising off the raid, which is being variously described — without any inside information about the Mar-a-Lago search — as: an “attack by Radical Left Democrats” (Trump); something you’d see in a “Third World Marxist dictatorship” (Marco Rubio); comparable to Richard Nixon’s weaponization of DOJ and FBI, and, with the prospect of newly hired IRS agents, “they’re coming for you next” (Ted Cruz); a warning/threat for Garland to “clear out” his calendar if GOP wins control of the House (Kevin McCarthy); the use of federal agencies against the “Regime’s” opponents while treating those like Hunter Biden “with kid gloves.” (Ron DeSantis).
And this just in from Colorado, Lauren Boebert called the search “Gestapo crap” and called for the “Department of Injustice” to be “cleaned out.” She also borrowed McCarthy’s clear-out-your-calendar suggestion without, of course, crediting him. Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene went for a much simpler tweet: “DEFUND the FBI.”
And now I’ve also got some guesses.
Let’s start with the critical stuff. I’m betting that Garland, Wray and a federal judge didn’t risk their careers just to help the National Archives round up some missing documents. They’d have to be really serious documents.
The Washington Post is reporting that a Trump lawyer said FBI agents had taken a dozen boxes Monday, presumably of classified material. But we don’t know what material and whether any of it was somehow related to the January 6 riot at the Capitol. We can hope the FBI agents didn’t have to search any Mar-a-Lago commodes for flushed-away documents.
We do know that the DOJ and Trump’s lawyers have been negotiating for a while in an investigation of January 6, and that Trump has been fighting for many months about turning over records. You remember the 15 boxes that it took him more than a year to return.
In the cliché of the day, we’ve heard time and time again that the actually cautious Garland, who was once seen as reluctant to take on Trump, has “crossed the Rubicon.” If you don’t know the reference, do the Google. But even if it’s the first and very possibly last time that Garland would ever be compared to Julius Caesar, it does seem that there’s no turning back for him now. And let’s also say that although an indictment may not be imminent, the likelihood of Trump — who has been investigated like no president since Tricky Dick himself — eventually being indicted for something has probably increased significantly.
I’m guessing that in the short term, this is actually good for Trump. Accusing the FBI of raiding his house and breaking open his safe — as you probably know, Trump was the source on all of this — Trump is once again playing the victim, and the usual suspects are rallying around him. This should help Trump’s cause if he actually does want to run for president again, assuming he’s not in prison by then. And it would reduce a possible opponent like Ron DeSantis into playing Trump cheerleader. A headline in Politico is already saying that for Trump, support from Republicans on this is yet one more Trumpian litmus test.
I’d also guess in the long term, that if there is a bombshell, it could be a disaster for Trump. But, on the other hand, Trump has spent a lifetime dodging such land mines.
As for Biden, this is not great in the short term. There’s no way he signed off on this move by the DOJ. Certainly not on any move calling for a Monday morning search. Biden has been looking forward to a day he could take a real victory lap after getting his climate change plan through the Senate, as the last step in a several-month Biden roll. Now this story of Biden’s-back-from-the-grave revival is being, well, buried. If you watched Sen. Chuck Schumer being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on Monday night, the last thing he wanted to talk about was Mar-a-Lago. Several times, he offered no comment.
Meanwhile, the big argument is whether the government overreached in this case or whether it set out to prove that no one, including Donald Trump, is above the law. And the related question is whether the FBI can raid a former president’s residence without an explanation from Garland and Wray.
Republicans are demanding a public hearing on the decision. But, given that close Trump advisers have been talking to a grand jury, here’s a few more things we don’t know. Did somebody give up important information in exchange for a plea deal?
And, if Garland and Wray do open up, are Republicans sure they won’t be sorry they ever asked?
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow