For over a year, we've heard Democrats wailing about existential threats to "democracy!" Curiously, this has happened while these same Democrats in Congress have worked hand-in-glove with their fellow Democrats in the Justice Department to disregard all norms to hunt down and attempt to destroy President Joe Biden's chief political rival, former President Donald Trump, as well as Trump's top aides and even his political supporters.
Last Monday, the Biden Justice Department crossed a red line by ordering an unprecedented, unnecessary, and unlawful FBI raid of Trump's home and offices in Mar-a-Lago. The purported purpose of the highly controversial home raid with a brigade of 30 FBI agents—a raid Attorney General Merrick Garland admitted he personally ordered after his aides initially denied it—is related to 15 to 25 boxes of presidential records, some of which bureaucrats at the National Archives claim are classified and which Trump took to Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House over 18 months ago.
All presidents take mementos and other records when they leave office. They don't pack their own boxes. The National Archives takes the position that almost everything is a "presidential record." And the federal government, in general, over-classifies almost everything.
Even if Trump took classified records, that isn't a crime. The president has the inherent constitutional power to declassify any record he wants, in any manner he wants, regardless of any otherwise-pertinent statute or regulation that applies to everyone else. The president does not need to obtain Congress' or a bureaucrat's permission—or jump through their regulatory or statutory hoops—to declassify anything. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in the 1988 case, Department of the Navy v. Egan : "The President, after all, is the 'Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.' U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2. His authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security...flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President, and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant."
Thus, if Trump left the White House with classified records, then those records are necessarily declassified by his very actions. He doesn't need to label that decision for, or report that decision to, any bureaucrat who works for him. It is pretextual legal nonsense for the Biden Justice Department to pretend Trump broke any criminal statute. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Attorney General Garland apparently did not seek an opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)—the de facto general counsel for the executive branch—before ordering this home raid of his boss's chief political enemy. Perhaps Garland knew OLC wouldn't give him the answer he wanted.
In 2012, former President Barack Obama secretly told the Russian president he'd have "more flexibility" to negotiate with Russia after the 2012 presidential election. To convey that message is to clearly transmit highly classified information. So why not an Espionage Act violation? Well, because Obama was the president—period.
All former presidents also get a federally funded office, called the Office of the Former President. They get lawyers and other staff, security clearances, Secret Service protection, and secure facilities (SCIFs) for the maintenance of classified records. Even if Trump had classified records, then, they were protected and secure.
At best, then, this amounts to a dispute over the Presidential Records Act. If the boxes sought by DOJ contain presidential records, then the National Archives "owns" them—but they'll almost certainly stay with Trump in his eventual presidential library.
That's the bureaucratic dispute. That's it. This is not any crime (the Presidential Records Act is not a criminal statute), let alone one requiring a 30-person FBI brigade and unprecedented raid of a former president's home and office.
It is routine for any Office of the Former President to negotiate with the National Archives. The Archives could have also alerted Congress. The Biden Justice Department could have filed a civil lawsuit. Or the Biden Justice Department could have sought more subpoenas. Instead, DOJ went nuclear, with its unprecedented, unnecessary, and unlawful home raid—even knowing Trump had already been holding these records at Mar-a-Lago for 18 months. So why now?
To put this in perspective, former President Bill Clinton stole more than $190,000 in china, flatware, rugs, sofas, and other personal gifts from the White House. The Clintons eventually caved to public pressure and paid $86,000 for the items. There was no FBI raid.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up an illegal home server containing some of our nation's most classified records. She openly admitted to stealing and destroying records herself, putting our national security at risk. There was no FBI raid. In fact, the FBI never even questioned her.
To add insult to injury, the Biden Justice Department obtained this unprecedented, unnecessary, and unlawful home raid warrant from U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart of West Palm Beach. Reinhart had just recently recused himself on June 22, 2022, in Trump's civil lawsuit against Hillary Clinton. What's more, in 2017, Reinhart blasted Trump's integrity on Facebook: "Donald Trump doesn't have the moral stature to kiss John Lewis's feet." So, what changed over the last two months to make Reinhart's clear judicial bias (somehow) go away?
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently testified that the FBI was too busy to stop dangerous and illegal intimidation campaigns outside Supreme Court justices' homes. This was after an attempted assassin was thankfully arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home. The FBI apparently didn't have the time to investigate actual threats to the lives of constitutional officers, but it had plenty of time to raid the home of a former president over an 18-month-old records dispute—with which Trump publicly stated he was fully cooperating.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Chris Wray, the Biden National Security Division, and the rest of the Biden DOJ are dangerously blinded by their obsession with President Trump, his aides, and his supporters.
They missed this Iranian terrorist attack in America: https://t.co/iBaIGTZg1o
Attorney General Garland attempted to defend the indefensible in his political press conference last Thursday. Garland left more questions than answers. As a former federal judge and prosecutor, he should be ashamed of himself for so recklessly politicizing the Justice Department. And the politicized, highly inappropriate, inaccurate leaks out of the Justice Department about the underlying grand jury investigation further demonstrate the Biden regime is out of control in its pursuit of punishing a past and likely-future political rival of President Biden.
House Republicans must impeach Attorney General Garland and FBI Director Wray for their unprecedented and destructive politicization of the Justice Department, when they reclaim power in January. And over the long term, House and Senate Republicans must dismantle and rebuild the FBI, so political raids like this never happen again. We cannot allow our law enforcement agencies to become third-world political hit squads.
Mike Davis, the former chief counsel for nominations to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, is the founder and president of the Article III Project (A3P). A3P defends constitutionalist judges and the rule of law.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.