GOP claims Mar-a-Lago search weaponized justice system; are they right?
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Shortly after former President Donald Trump announced via social media that the nation’s highest law enforcement agency had executed a search warrant at his Palm Beach home, top Republicans were quick to politicize the unprecedented pursuit.
Many came out defending the ex-President who, himself, described the search as “an attack by Radical Left Democrats.”
“We’ve never been a country where people who take power, now use that power to persecute their political opponents,” Sen. Marco Rubio said in a nearly two-and-a-half minute video he posted to twitter Monday night. “They’re playing with fire, this is dangerous,” he argued.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is long rumored to make a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, also chimed in with a tweet stating in part, “the raid is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies,” he said.
Do GOP’ers have a point?
“Well, first of all we don’t have enough facts,” said Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis. “We have to see the warrant, we have to see what materials the FBI actually found and took away from his residence,” explained Jarvis.
But Jarvis cautions anyone trying to make the connection between the DOJ’s mission to carry out the law with the amped up climate of politics.
“The DOJ and the FBI, they are non political institutions and they have to do their job regardless of what the political fallout might be. So they had no choice if they thought that there was the possibility that a crime had been committed they had to do what they did, “ Jarvis said.
While federal authorities could have sought less intrusive means like a subpoena or court hearing to obtain the material they believe Trump had in his possession, the feds had already been in communication with Trump and his legal team about documents, they believed, were unlawfully taken to Mar-A-Lago from the White House after the Trump left office.
“The FBI had visited Trump’s residence before. They had asked for the boxes to be secured and a padlock was then put on the door. So it’s not like they did not already have discussions with Trump’s lawyers about this,” Jarvis said.
The search warrant, which is reportedly focused on classified documents Trump allegedly took from the White House required a lengthy process, an even higher threshold given his former Presidential status and approval at the highest levels of the DOJ, explained former Florida-based FBI special agency John MacVeigh.
“The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world. These are agents that are extremely intelligent, they know the laws, the management is extremely proficient. They’re not just going to go ahead and execute a warrant that they believe has no probable cause,” explained MacVeigh.
Search warrants involving ‘special circumstances’ such as politicians must go through extra layers of oversight before being presented to a federal magistrate judge for approval, MacVeigh said.
Those extra layers often include approval by the US Attorney in that circuit, the special agent in charge of the FBI division in the area the warrant is being executed, a deputy director and, in this case, MacVeigh said, the head of the FBI, Christopher Ray. Ray was nominated by Trump to lead the department in 2017.
“The search warrant is because you believe that it’s eminent that something is happening at that location. You’re basically saying you believe there’s documents in the residence and they need to be acquired now because you believe they may be destroyed or gotten rid of,” MacVeigh said.
Jarvis agreed, adding it would be naive to think the DOJ wasn’t fully aware of the political implications and consequences had agents sought a search warrant on the former President’s home that wasn’t air tight.
“I think we can be on fairly safe ground to say that the DOJ and the FBI did not take this step without lots and lots and lots of thought and consideration. It’s clearly an unprecedented situation,” Jarvis said.