AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman
Talleyrand once remarked of a particularly egregious act on the part of his often temperamental master, Napoleon Bonaparte, that “it was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.” This famous quote, it seems, captures the situation Democrats now find themselves in following the raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
Stepping back from the justifiable outrage over the recent FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, and concerns over the damage it inflicted on law enforcement’s reputation and frayed respect for partisan standards, a greater mystery emerges. What specifically did the Biden administration — and Attorney General Merrick Garland in particular — hope the raid would accomplish if they approved it? And what rationale is there that would justify Democrats rejecting the argument on which they have hung their opposition to Donald Trump, both in power and out of power for the past seven years, about the importance of “ standards” versus the strict letter of what is legal?
The answers are not pretty. We now know that Attorney General Merrick Garland personally authorized the raid, apparently over a dispute over classified documents. We further know that the DOJ and FBI have been in talks with the former president’s team for months, and on two occasions, upon request, documents have been transferred to DC. Two conclusions emerge. First, that it was clearly possible to resolve these document security disputes civilly and without the use of force. Second, even if negotiations had momentarily failed on particular documents, the urgency of any search must be questioned. Whatever documents are at the center of the dispute, whether “nuclear” or linked to French President Emmanuel Macron, they had been at Mar-a-Lago for more than 18 months. The onus is on the FBI and the Biden administration to prove why their presence in Florida did not pose a national security threat justifying this type of unprecedented raid for 18 months, but somehow did. another at month 19.
Consider the most generous interpretation first. This garland, like Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s Wretched, believes that there is no potential crime too insignificant to warrant treating it as a terrorist plot. Javert was an illustration of how a blind principle could produce stupidity bordering on madness. In this case, if any of these individuals believe that the presence of unsecured classified documents at Mar-a-Lago poses a threat to national security, the nature of this raid ensures that the most critical national security issues will be impossible to accomplish. Knowing what documents are missing and where they are is far more important to US national security than recovering any of them. If the FBI knows what is missing, it can take steps to fix any vulnerabilities. Yet by raiding the former president’s home, the FBI ensured further lack of cooperation from both Donald Trump, who even if he wanted to cooperate, will not be allowed to do so by his lawyers, and by local law enforcement. Even though FBI officials were completely disinterested in the partisan dynamics of the issue, and merely concerned with the letter of the law and national security, they left themselves and the country worse off.
If the FBI can get away with stubbornness, even if malice seems plausible, the Biden administration can’t get away with it that easily. After all, along with congressional Democrats and the media, they have spent years lecturing everyone on the vital importance of “standards.”
The premise of the Democratic discourse on “standards” is that there are informal rules on which the American system is based. They may not be strictly legal or constitutional, but they serve an important regulatory function. While it has become clear that many of these norms have been distorted or hijacked by institutional capture to advance a “woke” or partisan agenda, it is true that norms have played an important role in human society. The heart of any conception of standards is that there are things you could legally do, but you don’t because the consequences of doing so would be undesirable.
The irony of the raid is that it is perhaps the best example of the clash between norms and laws. It could very well be that some classified documents were missing, that the FBI had reason to believe they might be at Mar-a-Lago, and that “technically” warranted a search warrant. It was also the case that Donald Trump was a former president, Joe Biden was his opponent in a hard-fought election, and there remains a strong prospect of a rematch. Such a raid would involve armed law enforcement ultimately responsible for Joe Biden being used to raid the home of his potential opponent in the upcoming election. Even if the raid was legal and the documents real, that would have to be weighed against the perception that the action was partisan, the destruction of faith in the institution of the FBI, and the tradition of not persecuting political opponents within of the American system.
Just as Democrats have argued that Donald Trump should have waived the legal challenges he was entitled to undertake after the election, the same argument would have been even more valid to waive this raid given the likely damage to vital institutions. . Instead, the Biden administration has decided that when it comes to standards, only Donald Trump is obligated to follow them. Their hands are tied when a partisan lawyer presents them with a brief telling them what they want to hear.
It is amazing that this is the argument they used. In the realm of public opinion, the raid took place over an issue that, even to supporters, seems petty. Even for American wine moms watching MSNBC, the so-called January 6 hearing audience, misplacing classified documents feels like a jay walk from accusations of coups, foreign conspiracies and other intrigues. The rationale for the raid is one that even those who claim the former president attempted some sort of “coup” cannot claim to believe is important.
The effect then is to destroy the relative importance of why Democratic supporters hate the former president. By suggesting that an unprecedented raid on a man who may well be running for president again in 2024 is justified on all available grounds because “he is a threat to the Constitution”, it is to confirm all charges they seek to obtain Donald Trump, specific reasons to be determined later.
The “standards” argument has always been conveniently one-sided when it comes from Democrats. This applied to Donald Trump when it came to staff appointments, personal access to Twitter, and the 2020 election, but did not apply to Democrats or their supporters when it came to the Supreme Court. . But if the argument already suffered from hypocrisy, its reduction to a technicality ultimately killed it. In ordering the raid, the Biden administration claimed that the alleged mishandling of various documents is more important than the reputation of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies or the integrity of the constitutional system in the eyes of tens of millions of people. And if, as is plausible, they saw political advantage in the raid, then they are willing to trade their own short-term political advantage for that same institutional discredit. Either way, it seems to have been worse than a crime. By destroying their own justification for opposing Donald Trump, the Democrats may have made a mistake of historic proportions.
Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and speaker on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a doctorate. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes under the name of Daniel Roman.
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