Never before in American history has the FBI searched the home of a former president.
The Justice Department’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence is a high-risk bet, but Mr. Trump faces hazards of his own.
Former President Donald J. Trump served four years in office. Trump demonised the FBI and the Justice Department, making it more difficult for the institutions to conduct an investigation.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S.The spat between former President Donald J. Trump and the National Archives, which erupted after F.B.I. officers raided Mr. Trump’s Palm Beach estate, has no precedence in American presidential history.
President Biden’s opponent in 2020 — and a likely rival in 2024 — also took a high-risk bet that the law enforcement operation at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s sprawling Florida estate, will withstand accusations that the Justice Department is pursuing a political vendetta against President Garland.
During his four years in office, Mr. Trump demonised the FBI and the Justice Department to undermine the legitimacy of the country’s law enforcement agencies even while they pursued charges against him. This has made it even more difficult for Mr. Garland to examine Mr. Trump without facing blowback from supporters of the outgoing president.
The decision to search on Monday jeopardised the Justice Department’s credibility months before legislative elections this fall, at a time when the country remains fiercely polarised. Mr. Garland will face great pressure to justify the F.B.I.’s actions. And if the search for classified materials does not provide sufficient proof of a crime, the incident may be put into history as another example of a miscalculated attempt against Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump is putting himself in danger by rushing to criticise Mr.Garland and the F.B.I., as he did during the Monday hunt. When he described the operation as “an assault that could only take place in broken, Third-World countries,” he was correct. Mr. Trump no longer has the protections that come with being the president, and he would be significantly more susceptible if he was proven to have mismanaged highly sensitive information that jeopardised the nation’s security.
According to several historians, the search, while unusual, appeared appropriate for a president who has flagrantly broken the law, refused to acknowledge defeat, and has helped coordinate an effort to reverse the 2020 election.
“You have to presume that the attorney general did not do this carelessly in this environment,” said Michael Beschloss, a seasoned presidential historian. As a result, the criminal suspicions — we don’t know what they are yet — must be quite serious.
In the case of Mr. Trump, archivists at the National Archives learned earlier this year that the former president had taken classified materials from the White House following his defeat, prompting federal officials to launch an inquiry. They eventually requested a search warrant from a judge to establish what was still in the former president’s possession.
The F.B.I. was looking for something specific, and the authorities felt the need to conduct a surprise search after months of legal sparring between the government and Mr. Trump’s lawyers.
The search occurred at a time when angry voices on the far-right fringe of American politics are discussing another Civil War and as more moderate Republicans warn of retaliation if they gain control of Congress in the fall. The Republican leader in the House, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, cautioned Mr. Garland to save documents and clear his calendar.
“This puts our political culture on high alert,” said Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University presidential historian.”It’s tantamount to upsetting the apple cart of American politics.”
Critics of Mr. Trump said it was unsurprising that a president who destroyed legal and procedural norms while in office would suddenly be at the heart of a classified paper debate.
For nearly 35 years, the tug of war over presidential records—and who controls them—has primarily been a bureaucratic one, fought in the halls of the National Archives and discussed in courtrooms among lawyers.
After Watergate, former President Richard M. Nixon fought for nearly four years for possession of millions of pages of presidential documents and hundreds of hours of audiotapes that helped force his resignation. According to Mr. Beschloss, Nixon first agreed with President Gerald R. Ford to grant him power over his files as well as the ability to delete them. However, a law established by Congress after Nixon left office in August 1974 required him to take his case to court.
He was subsequently defeated by the Supreme Court in a 7-to-2 ruling.
The debate resulted in the passing of the Presidential Records Act in 1978, which made it plain for the first time that White House records are the property of the federal government, not the president who generated them. Since then, presidents of both parties have argued about how and when the archives should make those materials public.
Other restrictions governing the handling of sensitive material have also been imposed on presidents and their advisers. Several prominent federal officials have been charged with improperly handling secret information over the years.
In 2015, David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director under former President Barack Obama, admitted to giving his highly classified journals to his partner, pleading guilty to a misdemeanour count of illegal removal and retention of classified data.
Sandy Berger, former President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, paid a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to stealing sensitive materials from the National Archives in 2003 to prepare for his testimony to the 9/11 Commission.
But, according to Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History, there has never been a clash between a former president and the government like the one that culminated in Monday’s search.
Mr. White, who has met with National Archives personnel on numerous occasions throughout the years, said they often try hard to address document differences with former presidents and their aides.
Mr. White described the National Archives lawyers as “subservient to the White House.” You know, these questions regarding presidential records come up, and they say, ‘Look, we must advise the WhiteHowever, they are not a very confrontational group of lawyers.
Mr. Beschloss and Mr. Brinkley both stated that the search of Mr. Trump’s home had the potential to create a flashpoint in the conflict between those probing the former president’s activities and those who backed Mr Trump’s desperate attempts to remain in office.
However, they warned that there were risks for Mr. Trump and his congressional backers, who raced to criticise Mr. Garland and the F.B.I. in the hours following the search.
“You now have Kevin McCarthy making horrific threats to a solicitor general, obviously to frighten him,” Mr.Beschloss added.Mr. Trump’s supporters did not wait to see what evidence the F.B.I. discovered or sought before using the investigation to ratchet up long-standing grievances that the former president fueled during his presidency. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, instantly released a short video on Twitter accusing the Biden administration of operating like a dictatorial dictatorship in a third-world country.
Mr. Rubio remarked in the video, “This is what happens in areas like Nicaragua.” “Whereas last year, everyone who ran against Daniel Ortega for president, everyone who put their name on the ballot, was jailed and is still in jail.”
“You may try to downplay it, but that’s precisely what happened tonight,” Mr.Rubio remarked
According to historians, the events constitute a test of the tenacity of American democracy when under attack.