As of this writing, it’s been about 12 hours since the FBI executed a search warrant at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. It’s notable because it is the first time in history the principle federal law enforcement agency has ever legally searched the primary residence of a former president.
Press reports indicate the search warrant was to identify and locate official records from President Trump’s tenure, including possible national security documents. If the President was in possession of such records, he would be in violation of several laws. Those laws carry significant penalties. Most importantly, one of those laws is the Official Secrets Act. Were the former President convicted under that law, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
There’s no way to look at this without recognizing the political and social implications. President Trump still commands a large and overly devoted following. Additionally, many more Americans may not necessarily support him, but do support the political agenda he represents. If this warrant wasn’t predicated on strong evidence, or the search didn’t yield anything of importance, then he will be vindicated in his claims of a witch hunt. The result will be an absolute decimation of the Democrat Party and complete loss of faith in the government and its institutions.
Which is why I tend to think there must have been significant evidence presented in the affadavit for the warrant. We like to think judges are impartial and free of political considerations. But there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t understand the historic implications of searching a president’s residence. There isn’t a judge anywhere who would not recognize that searching this particular president’s residence has the potential to tear the country apart. Signing that warrant put into motion the potential for political violence on a scale we haven’t seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s.
An indictment is almost certainly forthcoming. The judge who signed the warrant had to have reached the same conclusion. Without that level of evidence, they wouldn’t have taken that risk. That’s the reality of this moment.
Any ensuing trial will be the most closely watched in history. If the evidence isn’t ironclad, a large segment of society will never accept a verdict. If the charge is something spurious (a la convicting Al Capone of tax evasion), the anti-Trump part of society would recognize a pyrrhic victory. Yes, Donald Trump would be convicted of a federal crime and barred from holding office, but the “witch hunt” claims would be bolstered. Instead of removing him from the political scene, it will only make him even more influential.
These are certainly considerations made by the Justice Department. The risks associated with this prosecution are immense and there is virtually no upside unless there is a slam dunk case. For the sake of the country, let’s hope they haven’t miscalculated.