FBI Raids Mar-a-Lago, Fueling Claims of Political Persecution
Plus: Anti-piracy ads made people want to pirate, new IRS agents could fill a football stadium, and more...
Republicans have rediscovered skepticism of FBI power following a Monday raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
Many questions remain about both the origins or purpose of the raid.
It does not mean Trump will necessarily be charged with a crime, though it does make this possibility seem more likely. Getting and executing this search warrant is "hugely, historically significant," writes lawyer Ken "Popehat" White. "The feds do not seek search warrants lightly. It's a very major commitment to the case, an indication that they believe they have evidence that they think may well lead to indictment." White added that "the very unlikely (Trump being charged) has become fully plausible."
Trump was the one who first announced the raid happening, in a statement calling it "prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for President in 2024."
Since then, a number of news sources have reported that the raid was related to allegations that Trump took classified documents from the White House and was storing them at Mar-a-Lago. But no one is sure, and it could be related to other crimes that Trump—or even someone else—has been accused of.
Taking classified documents is indeed a crime, but it's a crime that's rarely prosecuted unless the documents are given to a third party, leading some legal experts to suggest that there must be more to the raid than concerns about classified documents being kept at Mar-a-Lago. "It's hard for me to believe Merrick Garland would authorize FBI agents to obtain a search warrant solely to find classified material, given that mishandling that material rarely results in a case that DOJ would charge," tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
Some have pointed to a clause in the law against mishandling classified documents that says someone convicted "shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States." But as UCLA law school professor Rick Hasen notes at the Election Law Blog, "that statute cannot trump the Constitution, which sets the exclusive qualifications for President. So this is not a path to making Trump legally ineligible to run for office."
With all the possible reasons why the feds might be raiding Mar-a-Lago—related to Trump's fake electors plan or his conduct on January 6, for starters—one needn't reach right away for explanations involving FBI corruption. It's no secret that we have little love for the FBI here at Reason, and the raid could well turn out to be conducted under a politicized pretense, but for now we don't really know what's going on.
In order for the raid to be ordered, the FBI would have had to have gotten a federal search warrant, and convincing a judge to issue one requires particular evidence and parameters. "Federal magistrate judges tend to require relatively thorough, specific, and well-documented applications, as opposed to state judges, who will generally sign a warrant that looks like something Gary Busey blew out of his nose after Fourth of July weekend," tweeted White. And "proceeding with a search on a former president's home would almost surely have required sign-off from top officials at the bureau and the Justice Department," suggests The New York Times.
Many Republicans have been framing this as an attack on conservatives generally, trying to tell supporters that they could be next. "If they can do it to a former President, imagine what they can do to you," tweeted the House Judiciary GOP account.
On one level, that's silly. There is zero likelihood that the FBI is preparing to start raiding random Republicans' homes. Conversely, the fact that a former president isn't above the law if he did do something wrong should not be upsetting to anyone. ("As a constitutional matter, DOJ's bold action is important as a message to future presidents that even though other guardrails of presidential accountability have failed, the criminal justice system still works, so…don't try to use the massive powers of the office to morph this country into an authoritarian basketcase," suggests Kimberly Wehle at The Bulwark.)
Right. This is the whole theory behind "no one is above the law." It's a very important tenant of liberal democracy. pic.twitter.com/nVGgOrLylU
— Sarah Longwell (@SarahLongwell25) August 9, 2022
But the FBI does have way too much power, it carries out operations on way too many questionable premises (hello, drug war), and it is certainly politicized in some ways. There are countless examples throughout history of the FBI monitoring, investigating, and harassing people for fighting for civil rights, protesting government action, or simply being different in a way that powerful people found suspicious. And the whims of a given administration—like the Obama-era obsession "fighting sex trafficking" by arresting sex workers—certainly influence FBI actions and priorities.
Alas: While it's exciting to see Republicans call to "defund the FBI" or "destroy the FBI," we know from experience that GOP skepticism of federal law enforcement tends to last only as long as it's politically advantageous.
a based republic is when I punish my political enemies. A banana republic is when my political enemies punish me
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) August 9, 2022
The bottom line: We shouldn't let former leaders get away with whatever they want just because the optics of investigating them looks bad. But there better be something bigger here than simply taking some documents.
In case you're having a hard time conceptualizing all the new IRS agents that will be hired as a result of the "inflation reduction" bill that passed the Senate yesterday:
People are so used to the gov't dealing in big numbers it's hard to get perspective
The Democrats just handed the IRS 6X their annual budget to more than double their workforcehttps://t.co/cqLZb3xYi6
— PoliMath (@politicalmath) August 8, 2022
A number of people who've lived through IRS audits have been responding to rhetoric suggesting that audits should be no big deal for people who haven't committed tax fraud.
"As someone who has been audited by the IRS twice, all of this 'If you did nothing wrong, it's no big deal' stuff is infuriating," tweeted The Dispatch's Jonah Goldberg. "I'd love to ask some of these people saying 'unless you're a criminal, you have no reason to worry' what they think of stop-and-frisk laws or no-knock warrants."
"Yes, the IRS needs to be able to audit people, but you shouldn't pretend that one of the biggest invasions of privacy imaginable by the federal government is fine, fun, or cost-free if you've 'done nothing wrong.' Particularly if you haven't been audited yourself," he concluded.
"We got caught up in the wave of adoption audits during the Obama administration," added David French. "In 2011 the IRS audited 68 percent of tax returns of families claiming adoption tax credits. It was incredibly frustrating, stressful, and time-consuming. For nothing."
For more on the Inflation Reduction Act, see:
- "The Inflation Reduction Act Won't Meaningfully Address the Budget Deficit"
- "There's Nothing Legacy-Defining About the Inflation Reduction Act"
- "The Democrats' New Inflation Bill Includes Tax Credits for Electric Vehicles That Don't Exist"
- "Democrats' Rejection of Permit Streamlining Resolution Doesn't Bode Well for Joe Manchin's 'Side Deal'"
Can local news be saved? Poynter reports:
More than 360 U.S. newspapers closed between late 2019 and May 2022, according to an updated report by local news guru and Northwestern University professor Penny Abernathy, and 40 of the 100 largest dailies don't publish a print edition seven days a week. In 2006, there were an estimated 75,000 journalists working in newsrooms. As of last year, that number had dwindled to less than 30,000.
But the fact is that local news is not so much dying as reinventing itself. This is happening with local newspapers, which are turning more and more to membership, community engagement and outside funding to further their missions. But it's also happening with a slew of new products adding yet another option to the local news landscape.
Anti-piracy ads made people want to pirate movies. A study published in The Information Society looked at how anti-piracy ads—particularly a widespread ad from 2004 that tried to convince people that downloading movies illegally was the same as stealing cars—may have backfired. "In fact, the study found that by hugely overstating the negative impact of piracy, the ad may have caused people to pirate even more," Vice reports.
In addition to overstating the problem—thus prompting mockery and leading people to not take them seriously—the ads failed by stressing how common piracy was. "Given that individuals tend to conform to perceived social norms, they can be leveraged to nudge people toward a given behavior," says the paper. "Informing directly or indirectly individuals that many people pirate is counterproductive and encourages piracy by driving the targeted individuals to behave similarly."
• The FDA is still harassing distillers who made hand sanitizer in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• "If you think God doesn't like it when people look at porn, just say that. Don't lie about it being a 'public health emergency,'" writes Cathy Reisenwitz.
• Mobile homes are a crucial source of affordable housing—that politicians keep trying to zone out of their areas.
• RIP Olivia Newton John.
Olivia Newton-John was the coolest. She went from 70s heartbreak ballads to 80s black-leather sex-goth synth-pop. She could do it all & she never sounded phony.
My tribute to a childhood fave I never stopped adoring. Thanks for your life, ONJ. https://t.co/r8inKRT3zK
— rob sheffield (@robsheff) August 9, 2022