On Monday, August 8th, more than 30 agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stormed the Florida home of former U.S. president Donald J. Trump.
The FBI said it needed to recover “classified documents” that Trump had allegedly taken with him in 15 boxes when he left the White House at the end of his presidency. The request for the raid is said to have come from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Never before has a former president of the United States been the target of a law enforcement raid, especially one not ordered by the federal government. This raises very serious questions about the integrity of the federal government in general, and of federal law enforcement in particular.
To make matters even worse for the Biden administration: Trump is a very credible presidential candidate in 2024. What does it say about President Biden when his Department of Justice orders a police raid on the home of his most likely opponent in the next election?
Isn’t this what American politicians accuse Vladimir Putin of doing to his political opponents?
The official story, that the FBI was acting on behalf of the NARA, does not stand up to scrutiny. The NARA has itself admitted that Trump has given them what they asked for. In fact, the NARA had written a letter to the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform where they explicitly say that they have recovered all the 15 boxes from Trump.
Even if there were documents missing, there was still no reason for an unprecedented FBI raid. As the Miami Herald explains, the former president has been cooperating with the NARA all along. As the aforementioned NARA letter to Congress explains, the agency has been successful in recovering documents from Trump.
Here is where things get absurd. To begin with, according to the Miami Herald, the FBI obtained its search warrant on Trump’s home based on the fact that Trump was cooperating with the NARA:
Federal agents were able to establish probable cause for the warrant because Trump and his lawyers had already turned over some classified documents that had been sought by the National Archives and Records Administration.
If Trump had not cooperated, they certainly would have used that as a reason for raiding his home!
One of these two federal agencies is lying.
Either the NARA did not recover all that it requested of Trump and lied about it in their letter to Congress; or the FBI is lying about the real reason for its raid on Trump’s home.
Who has a reason to lie here? Not the NARA—they have nothing to gain from lying. The FBI, on the contrary, could use the reference to a missing-documents request from the NARA as a pretext. It would allow them to go on a fishing expedition for something else.
In lieu of statements from a lip-sealed Department of Justice, the news cycle is rife with hypotheses. They range from mild to wild, but they all have one common denominator: the FBI is looking for something that can disqualify Trump from running for a second presidential term in 2024.
A mild, almost technical explanation would be that the FBI actually had good reasons to suspect that Trump was withholding documents from the NARA. This theory has been proposed by Mark Elias, former lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. According to Elias, the FBI raid could find evidence that Trump has broken a section under federal law that prohibits the keeping of classified documents at an unauthorized location.
Trump may or may not have declassified those documents while still in office, a question Elias does not comment on. Furthermore, if Elias’s hypothesis is correct, the National Archives administration would have had to have lied in its letter to Congress.
Even so, would a pre-dawn raid with over 30 agents be necessary to retrieve those documents—especially since the former president was actually cooperating with the appropriate federal agency?
Given the extremely high political profile of the raid, there are only two kinds of such documents that could make the Department of Justice execute the search warrant against Trump. Either Trump had documents showing that the American government has ongoing contacts with an extraterrestrial civilization, or the FBI hoped to gather evidence on behalf of the January 6th committee.
Joe Biden may very well be so far gone in his dementia that he talks to space aliens, but a more down-to-earth explanation of the FBI raid is that it is related to January 6th.
The January 6th explanation is the more credible one. It means that the FBI de facto operated on behalf of the January 6th committee. This, of course, opens a can of worms of legal and constitutional problems that I am not going to discuss here. Briefly, though, the committee is officially charged with clarifying the events on January 6th, 2021, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.
In reality, the committee has one purpose only: to find evidence that President Trump initiated the mob storming of the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 election.
Formally speaking, the January 6th committee cannot just call the FBI and ask them to raid someone’s home. First of all, the committee has to be extremely mindful of what it does, based on its actual status. When Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, appointed the committee, she did not follow the Congressional rules for how committees are to be constituted. For this reason, it lacks the formal powers that investigative Congressional committees otherwise have.
In addition, the committee is part of the legislative branch of government. The FBI is an executive-branch agency under the Department of Justice. Therefore, the raid had to be ordered by someone within the executive branch, in this case the Department of Justice.
That said, it would not be too difficult for individual members of the January 6th committee to have an informal chat with officials over at the Department of Justice. This hypothesis, which I find credible, has an advocate in Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and columnist with the New York Post. The Department of Justice, he explains, used the possibility that Trump was still holding on to classified documents
as a pretext to obtain a warrant so it could search for what it is really looking for: evidence that would tie Trump to a [January 6th, 2021] Capitol riot offense—either a violent crime, such as seditious conspiracy to forcibly attack a government installation (which is highly unlikely), or a non-violent crime.
The non-violent crime, says McCarthy, would be a conspiracy to stop or delay the proceedings of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election results.
Based on his professional experience as a federal prosecutor, McCarthy believes it would be “foolhardy” of the Department of Justice “to indict a former president on such debatable non-violent crime charges.” The government would have to produce a formidable amount of evidence.
There is one compelling reason to believe that McCarthy is correct. Liz Cheney, the vice chairman of the January 6th committee, is fighting a very difficult battle for her own political future. Representing Wyoming in Congress, Cheney is trailing her opponent Harriet Hageman by over 20 percentage points. Hageman has Trump’s endorsement, which has helped catapult her into her commanding lead.
Unable to move the needle in her direction, Cheney has resorted to increasingly desperate measures to close the gap:
- She has explained to Democrats in Wyoming how they can register to vote as Republicans in the August 16th primary, obviously to vote for her;
- Her dad, former Vice President Dick Cheney, has come out of retirement to explain that we should all vote for Liz because she will “lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office”; and
- Her Congressional campaign has paid for a mass-mail campaign that sent out forms to voters for requesting absentee ballots.
The last point has raised a lot of eyebrows in Wyoming. Prior to 2020, mail-in voting was a relatively minor feature of American elections in general, but it was expanded dramatically as a result (or under the guise) of the pandemic. Dedicated mailboxes were deployed in many states to allow voters to conveniently drop off their ballots.
This was all nice, at least in theory. In practice, the drastic expansion of mail-in voting opened up elections to systematic fraud. Journalist Dinesh D’Souza, who investigated this very issue in his film 2000 Mules, credibly demonstrated how easy it would be to commit mail-in voter fraud at a level that could flip an election.
Cheney’s mass mail, an unprecedented move by a Wyoming Congressional candidate, has provoked reactions among Wyoming voters who see it as something left-of-center activist groups would resort to. (Cheney’s opponent has done nothing of the sort.) More than that, though, Cheney’s latest measures are exhibits of a campaign trying with increasing desperation to prevent a major defeat.
Now: if the raid on Trump’s home turns up anything that could be construed as evidence of his leading a January 6th conspiracy, it could be a reason for many voters to abandon Trump-endorsed Congressional candidates, including Cheney’s opponent.
Would it be beyond Liz Cheney to have a conversation with the Department of Justice about the raid on Trump’s home?
The Department would, of course, not perform the raid at Cheney’s request, nor would Cheney demand a raid in order to benefit her own chances in the August 16th primary. But is it too far-fetched to suggest that the timing of the raid has anything to do with Cheney’s service as vice chair of the January 6th committee?
No, it is not too far-fetched to suggest as much. Cheney, in her committee capacity, already has a vested interest in the raid; if anything were to pop up as a result of the raid that she could use to improve her chances in the primary, then yes, she would of course use it. Therefore, it is definitely possible that the timing of Cheney’s primary election, August 16th, was a factor in the FBI’s decision when to execute the raid.
If former prosecutor and New York Post columnist Andrew McCarthy and I are correct that the FBI raid is fundamentally a fishing expedition for the January 6th committee, then a whole range of serious questions open up. The very integrity of the U.S. government comes into play; since Trump is a credible contender in the 2024 presidential election, and therefore a likely opponent of Biden’s, all of a sudden it is merited to ask what the actual moral distance is between Presidents Biden and Putin.
Some Democrats are alluding to this very question. Andrew Cuomo, former governor of New York, tweeted that the Department of Justice
must immediately explain the reason for its raid & it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation & legitimacy of January 6th investigations.
Reinforcing Cuomo’s reaction, 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Andrew Yang also took to twitter, explaining that “a fundamental part” of Trump’s appeal is that he goes up “against a corrupt government establishment.” With this raid, Yang notes, government reinforces this impression in the eyes of “millions of Americans who will see this as unjust persecution” of Trump.
Cuomo and Yang are absolutely correct, but this is not only about optics. As so many commentators have pointed out over the past couple of days, unless the FBI really had a drum-tight, ironclad case for its raid, Democrat President Joe Biden has just flagged up and made explicit the political weaponization of federal law enforcement.
For anti-Trump politicians, especially within the Republican party, it is now urgent to speak up about this raid and its grave consequences for America’s constitutional integrity. Few Republicans owe that to the American people more than Liz Cheney, who took the job as vice chair of the January 6th committee precisely to protect the integrity of the constitution.
Sven R. Larson is a political economist and author. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from Roskilde University, Denmark. Originally from Sweden, he lives in America where for the past 16 years he has worked in politics and public policy. He has written several books, including Democracy or Socialism: The Fateful Question for America in 2024.