Yesterday morning, 12 federal agents visited the Florida home of former president Donald Trump with search warrants in hand. It was not a raid — there were no doors toppled, and nobody was left in the yard calling their attorney in their underwear — but it was not friendly. The agents were there all day doing their work, going so far as to crack a safe if Trump is to be believed (though, of course, we can never take that for granted), and when they had finished, they walked out into a world that had changed forever right under their feet.
Before we delve into what those agents were looking for, let us step back and marvel that they were there at all. Although some other nations regularly hold their present and former presidents accountable for their transgressions, in the U.S., there has yet to be a presidential crime deemed heinous enough to merit a full-fledged reckoning with the law. It is no small irony that the visit to Trump’s home took place on the 48th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon, who was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, thus escaping the larger punishments meted out to his subordinates in the gaudy aftermath of Watergate.
It appears that the search of Trump’s home was done by the book from beginning to end. He and his followers can call it what he wishes, but it was anything but extrajudicial.
According to reports after the “visit,” the agents were there in search of top-secret documents Trump had illegally taken from the White House when he left two Januarys ago. The National Archives had tried subpoenas on Trump to get the documents back, but only got 15 boxes in response, which is why the agents eschewed subpoenas yesterday for the blunt tool of the warrant.
The agents knew sensitive documents were still floating around Mar-a-Lago — how they knew is the subject of wide whispering regarding an insider in Trump’s circle pointing the way — and they did not trust Trump to return them intact, or at all. Recently revealed photographs of shredded documents at the bottom of a White House toilet added urgency to the agency’s actions. Floating around Mar-a-Lago, indeed.
For this all to happen, a judge would have had to look at the evidence and sign off on the action as justified under the law. FBI Director Christopher Wray — a Trump appointee — would have had to sign off on it. Because the subject of the action was the former president of the United States, and no such action had ever been taken against a sitting or former president in all of U.S. history, Attorney General Merrick Garland would have also had to approve. Keith Reed writes for The Root:
[W]hat they went looking for is almost an aside to the fact that they were there at all, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation actually obtained a search warrant for the residence of a man who was the elected leader of the executive branch of government until 20 months ago. That’s world changing. It means the Feds think the last person to have been president of this country might have evidence of a crime in his possession. It means they didn’t even bother with a subpoena and waiting to see if Trump and his team would comply.
It means they treated a billionaire former president, who’s currently considered a front-runner for the Republican nominee for that same office in 2024, like they treated my homeboy who did a couple years for some petty weight. Trump wasn’t home when the alphabet boys hit, but again, that doesn’t matter. If my cousin’s hood wisdom has any truth to it, the agents went to Mar-A-Lago knowing exactly what they were looking for, and having a pretty good idea that it was exactly where they were looking for it.
The immediate, entirely predictable reaction: Screams for blood and civil war from the MAGA/QAnon corners of the internet. “After news broke that the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on Monday, his supporters openly called for an armed violent response, and ultimately, civil war,” reports Vice News. According to NBC News reporter Ben Collins, “The posts on these pro-Trump forums tonight are as violent as I’ve seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even moreso.”
It is difficult to imagine Garland et al. would rattle that particular cage over misplaced paperwork. Not to downplay the importance of the missing documents, mind you: For all we know, Trump could have been bragging about the details of that top secret material to his courtiers, or maybe selling them, or even using them as blackmail material. That last would at least partially explain the bizarre gravitational pull he enjoys over even his most resistant followers in government.
Garland has crossed a significant Rubicon here, however, and I have to believe there is more to it than some boxed documents Trump should have left behind when he departed in defeat. It is likely, based on the standard practice of prosecutors, that the paperwork was the premise for the search, but the agents went in with eyes wide open looking for potential evidence of other crimes.
“As long as agents are conducting a legitimate search, they are authorized to seize any obviously incriminating evidence they come across,” writes Andrew McCarthy for the conservative National Review. “I believe that principle is key to understanding the FBI’s search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Monday. The ostensible justification for the search of Trump’s compound is his potentially unlawful retention of government records and mishandling of classified information. The real reason is the Capitol riot.”
One man’s opinion. The speculation will continue until the Justice Department holds a press conference and explains itself.
The search of his Florida home is an accent in the symphony of legal troubles swirling around Trump at present. He faces questions under oath about the gross mythology of his net worth in the coming days. Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm that performed appraisals of various Trump properties, just handed over nearly 36,000 Trump-related documents to New York’s attorney general after getting smacked with a contempt charge. A federal appeals court has ruled that the House Ways and Means committee can obtain Trump’s tax records from the IRS. Georgia’s district attorney labors on, as does the House Select Committee on the January 6 attack.
It may be glad tidings for many to witness a lawless president pinwheel as the walls close in, but the fact that we find ourselves in this place is nothing to celebrate, and the potential for right-wing violence is all too real.
However, for today, and just today, I am resolved to be content. I have seen something I never expected to see, something I have never seen before. I will be content today in the knowledge that a shabby, sordid, thoroughly spoiled wretch of a man who has spent his life running through the raindrops is finally getting wet. To quote the universal truth of The Wire, “Anyone can get got.” Now Trump knows it, too.