What was the FBI thinking when it raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on Monday? The possibilities are plenty, but none paint a pretty picture.
Deep-State Cocoon Didn’t Anticipate the Average American’s Reaction
No matter the underlying purpose of the raid, one must wonder why none of the higher-ups in the FBI or the Department of Justice put the brakes on a search of the home of a former president of the United States — an event universally described as a modern crossing of the Rubicon.
How could the DOJ and FBI not anticipate the visceral reaction a broad swath of America would have to the Biden administration’s DOJ initiating a raid against a former commander-in-chief and the Democrat’s main political opponent? And how could government agents think securing a warrant would provide them cover?
Simply put, FBI headquarters couldn’t anticipate any shock or horror over the search because none of the many FBI agents who were willing to speak up had any qualms about the move. Rather, with FBI headquarters systemically politicized, the decision-makers likely heard no dissenting opinions, and the echo of their own leftist right-think rendered them oblivious to how middle America would react to a search of the residence of the former president.
And, significantly, that is how the public saw the raid — as a search of a former president’s home, not as a raid of Trump’s house. The DOJ and FBI likely also figured that the 50 percent of Americans who have a distaste for Trump wouldn’t care what happened to him. They were wrong.
To the extent the DOJ and FBI believed obtaining a search warrant from a federal judge would assuage the public’s concerns and assure them of the righteousness of the search, they miscalculated there too. By operating from the cocoon of fellow travelers who failed to take genuine offense in the FISA court’s abuse of Carter Page, the D.C. operators were likely blindsided by the public’s refusal to defer to a court’s judgment.
Coupling the previously proven FISA court abuse with the spectacle of a raid on a former president’s home, Americans of all walks of life responded with outrage, and it seems likely FBI headquarters did not anticipate that reaction.
Spur Protests to Paint Trump Supporters as Violent Extremists
While the FBI likely did not anticipate outrage over the Mar-a-Lago raid emanating from the center and even the left, the bureau surely foresaw the move angering Trump supporters. One must wonder if that goal served a second (intended or otherwise) purpose of the raid, with the FBI hoping to prompt large and angry protests.
With many Trump-backed candidates prevailing in midterm elections, the Democrats needed to return the former president and his supporters to piranha status. What better way than to raid his house and prompt an outburst?
After months of the Jan. 6 show trial framing ordinary conservatives peacefully rallying in D.C. as complicit in the violence that occurred at the Capitol, any Trump-related protest will play as fomenting violence. And the media cartel will be all too willing to convert conservative rallies into “mostly violent protests” no matter how peaceful they are.
Nor would it be beyond the FBI to target true anti-government extremists and entice them to engage in violence, with the corrupt press then convincing the country they represent conservatives. Such a theory might seem farfetched, but a jury already found that the FBI had entrapped at least two innocent Michiganders, using a paid FBI informant to induce them to plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Keep Trump from Office
Another reason floated to explain why the FBI took the extreme step of searching Mar-a-Lago finds its origins in a theory Democrat lawyer Marc Elias pushed soon after news of the raid broke, namely that under Section 2071 of the federal code, Trump could not run for office again if he had unlawfully concealed records he had retained after leaving office. As even Elias himself acknowledged, however, this theory is weak because the Constitution establishes the qualifications for running for office, and Congress cannot add to that list. Nonetheless, Elias and others seem to think the spectacle of a conviction would make Trump unelectable.
What the hardcore left fails to realize, though, is that the spectacle of the G-men raiding the home of a former president proves even more offensive to the American public. That does not mean, of course, that some members of the FBI D.C. cabal didn’t think the Section 2071 play was a winner. They were just wrong.
The final explanation for the FBI’s thought process requires a tad of legal backdrop to follow. In order to search a home, absent limited exceptions, the government must obtain a search warrant based on a sworn application that establishes probable cause that the place to be searched contains contraband or evidence of a crime. The search warrant application must describe with specificity the place to be searched and the items to be seized. Agents may then search any place within the home where such items could possibly be hidden. If during that search, agents find evidence related to another crime, they may seize that evidence as well.
For instance, if the agents have solid evidence that an individual is dealing drugs out of his home and the government obtains a search warrant authorizing a search of the home for drugs, paraphernalia, and any records related to the drug dealing, agents would be entitled to search the entire home. If during that search, they discovered a sawed-off shotgun and records of illegal gambling, the FBI may seize that evidence as well, and the defendant could be charged with additional crimes based on that recovered evidence.
In this case, it appears the FBI’s basis for searching Trump’s home rested on his supposed retention of classified documents. But if in searching for those documents, the FBI came across other documents it believes incriminate Trump in another supposed crime, the documents could be seized too. In other words, the FBI launched a fishing expedition at Trump’s Florida home.
In an article earlier this week, Andrew McCarthy explained his spot-on view that the FBI knew it couldn’t get a warrant to search Trump’s home for evidence related to Jan. 6 and instead sought the warrant based on the supposed missing classified documents, which would open the door for them to search for evidence to build a criminal case against Trump related to the election or the violence at the Capitol. Democrats’ obsession with Trump and their desire to charge him with something, anything, related to Jan. 6, makes McCarthy’s analysis near conclusive of the purpose of the raid.
And from a legal and law enforcement perspective, the DOJ and FBI’s plan would make perfect sense — if they were dealing with drug dealers or bank robbers. But the Biden administration was instead facing off against a former president of the United States and a political rival, leaving ordinary Americans appalled and asking themselves, what was the FBI thinking?
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist’s senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.
As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.