Spencer wrote yesterday about a bombshell Newsweek report, several elements of which I'm really struggling to believe. The piece quotes unnamed law enforcement sources allegedly familiar with Monday's events in South Florida. If the story is accurate -- and as far as I'm concerned, that remains a very big 'if' -- it's shocking. Let's review what the report entails then consider the supposed revelations, via "senior government officials" who were described as having "direct knowledge of the FBI's deliberations:"
A confidential informer told the FBI what documents Donald Trump was hiding at Mar-a-Lago, and where. FBI decision-makers in Washington and Miami thought that denying the former president a photo opportunity or a platform from which to grandstand (or to attempt to thwart the raid) would lower the profile of the event, says one of the sources, a senior Justice Department official who is a 30-year veteran of the FBI. The effort to keep the raid low-key failed: instead, it prompted a furious response from GOP leaders and Trump supporters. "What a spectacular backfire," says the Justice official. "I know that there is much speculation out there that this is political persecution, but it is really the best and the worst of the bureaucracy in action," the official says. "They wanted to punctuate the fact that this was a routine law enforcement action, stripped of any political overtones, and yet [they] got exactly the opposite."
Even as someone who thinks the DOJ and FBI have created a serious credibility problem for themselves in recent years, I am incredulous at the idea that top "decision makers" could have possibly believed that anyone would view this operation as 'low key.' There is absolutely nothing "routine" about a law enforcement action that raids the personal residence of a former President of the United States (and someone who is likely to seek the office again). That is not routine. It is extraordinary and unprecedented. It might or might not prove to have been justified once we get more information, but it's ludicrous to pretend that this was just a normal day at the office. And it's beyond naive to think that such a raid would be "stripped of any political overtones" in the realm of public perception. If these details resemble the reality of what happened, the people in charge are arguably too stupid to continue in their positions. More:
Both senior government officials say the raid was scheduled with no political motive, the FBI solely intent on recovering highly classified documents that were illegally removed from the White House. Preparations to conduct such an operation began weeks ago, but in planning the date and time, the FBI Miami Field Office and Washington headquarters were focused on the former president's scheduled return to Florida from his residences in New York and New Jersey. "They were seeking to avoid any media circus," says the second source, a senior intelligence official who was briefed on the investigation and the operation. "So even though everything made sense bureaucratically and the FBI feared that the documents might be destroyed, they also created the very firestorm they sought to avoid, in ignoring the fallout."
Again, I'm relaying all of this with a very skeptical grain of salt, but this passage suggests two things, if accurate. First, this may have 'only' been about presidential records and classified information (mishandling classified information, which presidents have the power to declassify, is serious business -- which is why the Hillary Clinton emails scandal was a big deal, even though the evaded prosecution for clear violations). And second, the people calling the shots must have been in comas for the last six years. Are they familiar with the media? Are they familiar with Donald Trump? Are they familiar with the scandal that was Crossfire Hurricane? Since the news of the FBI operation broke, I've been mulling over three potential scenarios: (1) Trump really did something seriously criminal, justifying this dramatic and escalatory act. (2) Trump did something potentially or marginally criminal, the severity of which would set off debates among reasonable people about whether the heavy-handed tactic of an FBI raid (or a criminal prosecution) constitute overreach. (3) This was abusive overreach, a fishing expedition that did not come close to representing fair grounds for what happened.
The first option would be bad for Trump, possibly very bad. The third option would be truly devastating for the institutions of the DOJ and FBI, already facing self-inflicted trust crises. The middle scenario is tricky and gray -- and would probably descend into another partisan food fight. We'll have to wait and see what information emerges. But some of the people most fervently committed to door number one have been arguing that there's no way the Attorney General, who has resisted leftist calls to prosecute Trump ever since assuming office, would have signed off on this dramatic FBI search without having an extremely compelling reason to do so. Some conservative analysts have similarly speculated that there's no way the raid could 'only' have been about presidential records and classified material. This story not only suggests that it may very well have been just that -- it also states that Merrick Garland didn't know about the raid before it happened:
The senior Justice Department source says that Garland was regularly briefed on the Records Act investigation, and that he knew about the grand jury and what material federal prosecutors were seeking. He insists, though, that Garland had no prior knowledge of the date and time of the specific raid, nor was he asked to approve it. "I know it's hard for people to believe," says the official, "but this was a matter for the U.S. Attorney and the FBI." FBI director Christopher Wray ultimately gave his go-ahead to conduct the raid, the senior Justice official says. "It really is a case of the Bureau misreading the impact."
I have been operating under the assumption -- and frankly, I continue to operate under the assumption -- that Garland was absolutely aware of what was happening and signed off on it. But if it is correct that the FBI raided the home of the former president, especially over a presidential records dispute, without the explicit involvement and consent of the Attorney General, that would be flabbergasting. If, indeed, this was the US Attorney and FBI rifling through drawers and carting away boxes at Mar-a-Lago, without the AG's green light -- "misreading the impact" of such an event because they genuinely believed it would not be perceived as having "political overtones," I won't even know what to say. It just seems unfathomable, even in the context of our dysfunctional, insane, and sometimes otherworldly politics in recent years. I won't fully believe it until there's more evidence and corroboration. So much about all of this just smells...off. And I will not implicitly trust Trump, nor the FBI/DOJ, nor the media about any of it because none of them have earned it. I'll try to follow actual facts -- and those facts had better be unequivocally damning for Trump, or else all hell will break loose.