COMPASS: The raid that shook the country

August 15th, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

In an absolutely shocking event with no historical precedent, the FBI last Monday raided the Florida home of former president Donald Trump. According to the release of the warrant (but, critically, not the affidavit), the raid was based on a dispute over Trump’s handling of classified documents, and in fact accuses the former president of violating The Espionage Act – the same statute used to charge Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, and which the Obama administration used at least eight times against people for talking to the press.

Never mind the fact that, as president, Trump has the power to declassify whatever document he chooses. Never mind, also, that former FBI head James Comey set an extremely consequential law enforcement precedent when he refused to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her gross mishandling of classified material through use of a private email server – actions which would seem to violate the exact same sections of the Espionage Act used to accuse Trump.

“No one is above the law,” the corporate media chatterers cackle with unvarnished glee. They don’t even try to hide how joyful they are at the thought of the Bad Orange Man being led away in cuffs – the fulfillment of a years-long fever dream for the segment of the country which never accepted the results of the 2016 election. Apparently it’s never dawned on them that a murkily justified FBI raid of a former president, and likely the future political opponent of the current sitting president, is an earth-shaking development in the history of the United States.

For the past two and a half centuries, America has worked very hard to avoid even the mere appearance of using the levers of power to prosecute, degrade, or even tarnish the reputation of political opponents. It is why Ford pardoned Nixon, and presumably why Hillary Clinton was never prosecuted after the 2016 elections for her well documented cavalierness toward classified documents. This restraint and humility toward the preservation of institutional trust and the respect, above all, for the American voter is what separates republics from dictatorships.

But that norm is what Biden’s Department of Justice – led by Attorney General Merrick Garland – has recklessly cast upon the rocks. And as a country, we will be worse for it.

What many of us have long suspected has now become plain: there are two standards of justice in America. One for the connected and the powerful – and, critically, for those whose political allegiance aligns with those who control the major government, corporate, and educational institutions in America – and one for everyone else. Moreover, there is an ideological cohort that sits atop and within the governing institutions that has no regard for the voters, and intends to impose their will upon the country, elections be damned.

To this latter point, I’m reminded of an essay I wrote reflecting on the Trump presidency in late 2020. One of the takeaways of Trump’s time in office was for the swamp to unmask itself. Under Trump, bureaucrats were no longer faceless drones whose influence was rumored but never proven. They were real, with names, faces, and overt political agendas like Alexander Vindman, Sally Yates, James Mattis, Kevin Clinesmith, James Comey, Lisa Page, and Peter Strzok. While the Trump presidency may have revealed how deep the rot really runs, it is painfully obvious that the rot will continue to spread as long as they know that no accountability is coming.

“If the DOJ’s actions turn out to be unjustified, then responsible officials should be held accountable,” The Dispatch’s David French said recently on Twitter while tut-tutting the rest of us for having the gall to “presume” that an abuse of power was taking place. But he’s wrong. Even if the DOJ, and Merrick Garland, who “personally approved” the raid, will be shown to have completely screwed up, there will be no accountability.

There should be, of course. But the cynical attitude that many of us have toward the FBI and other government institutions is well-earned: no one of their ideological persuasion and position of power ever gets punished for incompetence, much less ideologically weaponizing governing agencies against half the country.

It’s why Kevin Clinesmith, the FBI lawyer who falsified evidence to the FISA court to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign – perhaps the most egregious breach an attorney can make – was only given probation and had his law license reinstated a year later.  It’s why the DOJ never enforced a criminal contempt referral against Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, but does against former White House staff Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, while raiding the home of former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark. It’s why DOJ and FBI officials who bought and spun the specious Russiagate hoax and orchestrated the entrapment of defendants in the Gov. Gretchan Whitmer kidnapping continue to fail upward.

It’s why Lois Lerner got off with a wrist slap for using the power of the IRS to target conservative institutions.  It’s why the left makes the condescending quip “but her emails!” about Hillary Clinton, but flies into a self righteous rage about a former president acting within tradition to keep documents generated during his presidency. It’s why Hunter Biden is still flying around with his dad on Air Force One while the FBI and DOJ cover for him.

Should conservatives take over Congress in 2023, they must rectify this. While all the calls for hearings and investigations are well and good, the people in power will continue to enforce a double standard of justice, and the people who work for them will continue to impose their political agenda on the country, even against a sitting president, unless they know there are consequences.

Those who currently control the institutions of power in Washington seem bent on exacting vengeance on anyone they deem a political enemy. They will not stop until they feel the force of that same fire turned against them.

Conservatives, should they take power again in Washington, must be relentlessly focused on bringing Washington’s institutional power centers to heel. Bureaucrats must be fireable, select committees must be established, subpoenas must be issued and enforced, agency funding must be withheld or severely conditioned, authorizations must be re-written, and old congressional powers must be resurrected.

The bureaucracy, the swamp, the deep state, whatever you want to call it, must be reined in. Washington’s permanent class must actually fear the changing the guard as determined by the American voter. Without this check, it is hard to see a way forward that doesn’t result in the rise of strongman politics, violence, and an increasingly unstable country. In other words: the collapse of the American experiment.

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One More Thing…

As I mentioned earlier, though the warrant has been unsealed related to the raid on Mar-A-Lago, the affidavit has not. The affidavit would likely describe the basis for believing classified documents, including those related to nuclear weapons, were at Mar-A-Lago, the assertion of probable cause that Trump had committed a crime, and the information gathered through surveillance or through informants. Judicial Watch has filed to have the DOJ unseal all the warrant materials, including the affidavit. The DOJ’s response to that filing is due today. America First Legal has also launched a demand for records related to the raid under the Freedom of Information Act.