I’ve read over the heavily redacted affidavit justifying the Mar-a-Lago search warrant several times because, well, it’s my job. And because it points even more directly than the warrant itself to the potential guilt of Donald J. Trump for crimes against the Constitution, truth, democracy, national security, proper filing methods, and, well, good manners, not to mention other important American laws and ideals.
By the way, those other ideals and laws would include the overriding necessity of protecting the identities of sources ranging from international spies to those with Mar-a-Lago access who apparently ratted (a favorite Trump word) on the former president.
But one critical piece of information I couldn’t find anywhere — even after listening all too closely to what too many experts on cable TV news were saying about the redacted lines — was that the FBI used Gestapo tactics in delivering its search warrant, otherwise known as a raid, on Mar-a-Lago.
The important thing to note is that the FBI walked out of the gold-plated tribute to excess that is Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence/estate/resort with boxes containing improperly stored — OK, illegally confiscated — national secrets rather than a train schedule to the nearest extermination camps.
I bring this up because, of course, the Gestapo was a go-to metaphor for Lauren Boebert — who went all in with “Gestapo crap” in a tweet — as it was for others who have taken up residence in the Trumpist sycophantic camp. Here’s Boebert’s tweeted video from the day of the search if you need a further reminder of the embarrassment that Boebert is to Colorado.
(Note: If Boebert wants to check in on the “crap” that the Gestapo and other Nazis did during World War II, here’s an overview from the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. Never forgetting is one thing. I’m guessing in Boebert’s situation, it’s more a matter of never knowing.)
What the affidavit accomplished was right in line with what the judge wanted — to redact anything that might harm those involved in future, present and past investigations and, yes, might harm the continuing investigations themselves. But also to allow enough space for people to understand that the FBI search was not a weaponization of the Justice Department, but rather just one reluctant move in overcoming a long series of Trump’s refusals to comply with the law.
It turned out that Trump defenders, with few notable exceptions, were unusually quiet once the affidavit was released. It seems the, uh, raid was nothing the Nazis would have bragged about, which doesn’t mean, of corse, that we’ve heard the last of the Gestapo comparisons. In fact, I am confident we have not.
You should read the affidavit — here’s a good CNN annotation — to understand how the National Archives and then the FBI fell over themselves to give Trump and his lawyers way-more-than-ample opportunity to return the material that he had stored in rooms all over the private residence. If Trump had simply turned over the documents, we probably wouldn’t even know that the issue existed. It was Trump, you remember, who announced the search at Mar-a-Lago — just one more misstep from Trump and his team of mostly third-rate lawyers, retained because most lawyers refuse to work for him anymore, and not just because he rarely pays his bills.
The search warrant was a last resort even as Trump kept insisting that the stuff he kept — after giving back 15 boxes in January — was “mine.” I mean, what would you do in this situation? What do you do when one of the lawyers says there are no more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, when sources — presumably with access to Mar-a-Lago — tip the FBI that lots of classified documents remain.
From the January box retrieval, which took the FBI and the National Archives months of negotiation, 25 were marked as “top secret,” 92 “secret” and 67 “confidential.” There were Special Access Program files, which, we’re told, refer to covert programs that are, well, special, meaning critical. Many of the documents were not just improperly stored but also improperly marked and improperly mixed with stuff that wasn’t at all vital, like newspaper clippings — not that I’m being dismissive of newspaper clippings. I have boxes of them myself, although with no classified material alongside them.
There are questions, of course. What is Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice up to? The warrant, after all, suggested possible crimes by Trump and possibly others.
From the affidavit: “There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.”
And more: “Probable cause exists to believe that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed … will be found at the PREMISES.”
And more still: “there is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified NDI or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at the PREMISES.”
No, I don’t know why put PREMISES all in caps unless it was to use language that Trump could understand.
Former Republican congressman and former CIA operative Will Hurd explains in a tweet thread: “You don’t store
- NOFORN (info we don’t even share with our allies)
- SIGINT (the hardest and most expensive intelligence to obtain)
- HCS (Intel obtained through human sources)
- documents next to press clippings and random office filings. (3/4)”
There are many questions left to answer aside from what we might have learned with no redactions. One might be why Trump wants these documents in the first place. And yes, I have many correspondents who insist he took them to sell or to use somehow as leverage. Trump’s a grifter and anything’s possible, but selling documents like that would surely mean eventual imprisonment. He would definitely get caught.
An even more important question is whether the new documents and all the evidence that the January 6 committee has been gathering will lead to a Trump indictment from the DOJ. I’m guessing it could. I’m not yet ready to even guess whether it would. Garland is known as extremely cautious, and indicting, however deserving, a former president who apparently plans to run again is not how democracies typically operate. In the United States, we’ve got an entire history of not operating that way, thanks, in part, to Gerald Ford’s all-purpose pardon of Nixon upon leaving office.
Charging Trump could well lead to civil disturbances, targeted killings and other nasty stuff. Not charging Trump, if sufficient evidence is there, could well lead to Trump capping off a life lived on — and over — the edge without ever paying any price. It could also be a roadmap for any other Trumpists or just routine demagogues who might ever get the top job. And there’s the excellent chance that in America, it would be hard to find a 12-person jury without a Trump acolyte or three or four to convict Trump.
And then there’s this: If Trump does run in 2024, with all the baggage, and not just boxes, that he carries with him, shouldn’t the people have the chance to reject him even more firmly than they did in 2020, with the Lebowski-style message that this aggression will not stand, man?
Of course, if Trump did lose, he’d obviously claim again the election was rigged, and now he’s got a raft of MAGA election deniers running for key offices who could make us long for that time when we managed get by with a one-day assault on the Capitol and a bunch of rejected fake electors.
I was recently reminded by a constant reader/critic of a column I wrote soon after the 2020 elections suggesting that we should try to get beyond Trump now that he had lost bigly to Joe Biden. It turns out I was naive, way too naive.
However the various investigations now looming over Trump turn out, however the 2024 election turns out, the one thing we can now be sure of is that Trump, or his shadow, will never leave us be.
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