If President Biden and Attorney General Garland believe a conviction of Trump for any potential crime would prevent him from running again, clearing the field of the most likely candidate, they cannot be trusted to remain objective. Republicans can shut down the Senate until they provide satisfactory answers.
In the wake of the FBI raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, many are demanding answers from President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Everyone, even the former President’s most fervent detractors, describe the raid as unprecedented, though some are willing to give the Justice Department the benefit of the doubt until answers are forthcoming, effectively hiding behind the shield of the longstanding custom of not speaking about ongoing investigations. Stephen Collinson, writing for CNN takes this approach, claiming “because government prosecutors don’t typically talk about ongoing investigations unless they reach a decision to charge someone — to ensure the integrity of the probe and the privacy of those under investigation — it is unlikely there will be clarity on the situation anytime soon.” He quotes former US Attorney and long-time Trump antagonist, Preet Bharara. “The department can’t say much about it now; it’s inappropriate to talk about it now, but it’s unclear, and it’s a big deal.” Regardless, Mr. Collinson believes that “the extraordinary circumstances of a search at a former president’s home” make it “unlikely that such a politically volcanic step would have been precipitated by clerical disputes over documents or minor infringements of the Presidential Records Act. This is especially the case since an operation of this significance would have required sign-offs at the top of the FBI and the Justice Department.” He finds comfort for this view because a Federal judge, in this case a mere Magistrate, had to sign off on the warrant, noting “They had to obtain a warrant from an independent judge who had to be convinced there was probable cause that a criminal offense had taken place and that there was evidence on site to prove that was the case.” In Mr. Collinson’s mind, the entire country is just supposed to trust the system and wait until nature, or in this case, justice takes its natural course. Do you feel comforted?
Clearly, a situation of this magnitude, an act that has not been taken in over 200 years, demands a lot more. Secrecy can be important in war as well, but if President Biden were to launch an unexpected raid into Canada or Mexico, do you think Mr. Collinson and others would be so sanguine about waiting on an explanation? I did not pick Canada and Mexico by accident, either. Military adventures in those countries actually have an historical precedent in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848. The events of earlier this week, however, do not. Further, Mr. Collinson and others are paying very little attention to the simple truth that President Biden has thrown the entire country into a massive conflict of interest that threatens to explode into a true Constitutional crisis, if not a crisis of democracy itself. Contrary to prevailing opinion in the mainstream media and Democrat circles, you cannot easily untangle the obvious political implications of the raid from any legal ramifications. President Trump, whatever anyone believes he might have done or might not have done, including any crimes he might have committed or might not have committed, is a political figure by definition as is President Biden. President Trump also happens to be the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination for President, the most popular national politician in the country, and leads President Biden in the majority of 2024 polls. In other words, Biden is currently conducting multiple investigations complete with FBI raids into his most likely 2024 opponent. The phrase “conflict of interest” fails to capture the magnitude of what that means in the long term. Should there be an indictment, how can anyone claim foul play isn’t a possibility when the stakes are this high?
In the meantime, we also appear to be suffering from a collective case of amnesia. It was only three years ago that President Trump was impeached for the “crime” of pressuring Ukraine to investigate President Biden’s son, Hunter, over this business dealings in the country. President Trump made this request while the FBI was actively investigating the younger Biden as part of a probe that began before Trump was in office, meaning Trump was furthering an investigation begun by a Democrat administration. Regardless, Democrats and most of the mainstream media cried foul, declaring these actions were those of an authoritarian hell-bent on overturning the democratic process. As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi described it, “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of integrity of our elections.” CNBC reported that “Democrats have raised broader concerns about whether Trump solicited a foreign leader to dig up dirt on Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election.” Future President Joe Biden himself claimed Trump was “shooting holes in the Constitution.” “Donald Trump will do anything to get reelected, including violating the most basic forms of democracy,” he told a crowd in Rochester, NH in 2019. “It’s stunning, and it’s dangerous. This is not hyperbole: It’s a fact. No president in American history has even dared to engage in such unimaginable behavior. With his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself,” then-candidate Biden said. “By obstructing justice and refusing to comply with the congressional inquiry, he’s convicted himself — in full view of the world and the American people. Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts.”
What’s the difference this time around? President Biden can deny his involvement in the raid all he likes, but it’s his Department of Justice, operating under the leadership of his handpicked Attorney General without any oversight or accountability whatsoever. The end result is the same, and in many ways far worse: The full force of the FBI, the largest and supposedly most prestigious law enforcement organization on the planet as opposed to a notoriously corrupt foreign government, has been turned loose on the opposition party’s leading candidate for President, the man most likely to face Biden himself or his successor in 2024. This remains true and incredibly troubling regardless of whether or not there is actually an underlying crime. A conflict of interest doesn’t require a person to act on it. The mere appearance of impropriety, and there is no escaping the appearance here, is enough, especially when no one in a position of authority in either the administration, the Department of Justice, or the FBI has bothered to allege what crime supposedly occurred and what evidence they are seeking to prove it. To these most basic questions, I would add another of the utmost importance: If President Trump were charged and convicted of a crime, does the Biden Administration and the Department of Justice believe this would disqualify him from running for office again? In other words, are they operating under the assumption that a conviction for anything bars him from the 2024 field?
The answer determines whether a conflict of interest becomes a Constitutional crisis and a real threat to democracy. Most fair-minded people believe that no one is above the law and even the President of the United States can and should be held accountable if he or she commits a criminal act. This principle is not controversial in and of itself, but when there is the possibility it can also be used to thwart the democratic process by preventing a popular, potentially winning candidate from running again it quickly turns into something far more troubling. If this is the position President Biden and Attorney General Garland currently hold, it’s not possible for either of them to act impartially. We cannot reasonably expect anyone to proceed objectively when their decisions directly influence the competition in a contest to remain the most powerful person in the known universe.
This is especially true when the allegations against President Trump, at least those most often discussed in the mainstream media such as violations of the record act, obstruction of some form, or even the specter of a seditious conspiracy when no one alleges Trump actually lead any militia or directly gave any orders, are all vague and subjective. These are not crimes like murder where we have definitive evidence such as a dead body, or even a robbery as in Watergate where there was no doubt a break in had occurred and laws had been violated. In much hazier matters, discretion and judgment are required. Hillary Clinton was not charged with either mishandling classified information or obstruction, despite clear evidence she did exactly that when she destroyed 30,000 emails under subpoena. Sandy Berger likewise purloined documents directly from the National Archives and was not charged with a felony. Nor is Donald Trump the first Presidential Candidate to believe the election was stolen from him and say so outright. Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral college votes in 1824, but the Presidency was awarded to John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives in what Jackson believed was a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson had no actual proof of this. The players involved denied it, but he certainly didn’t remain silent and disappear. Instead, he railed against it, saying “The Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver. […] Was there ever witnessed such a bare faced corruption in any country before?” Given that Time Magazine conceded that there was a “cabal” and a “conspiracy” of progressive groups to influence the 2020 election against Trump, one person’s seditious conspiracy is another’s truth.
Alas, the needed tools of discretion and judgment cannot attributed to Biden and Garland, both of whom stand to benefit in the biggest way imaginable were Trump charged with some crime. Therefore, their actions in this matter are inherently suspect, even more so when they fail to make any explanatory statements. There is, unfortunately, no way to resolve this impasse until both of them start talking and clearly articulate their plans and positions. Republicans and a few reasonable Democrats have been right to demand answers, but mere demands are not nearly enough when the stakes are so high. They need to do more, and excuses that they do not currently control either the House or the Senate aren’t acceptable either. It is true that their investigative and oversight powers are limited, but that isn’t the same thing as having no power over events. Neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives can operate without a quorum of 50% of their respective members present. The Republicans do not hold enough seats in the House to deny a quorum, but they do in the Senate. If all 50 Republicans refused to participate in the business of the Senate until the Biden Administration provided the necessary answers, the legislative branch of government would be effectively shut down, unable to pursue any business of any kind, from passing legislation to approving nominations and judges. The Biden agenda, such as it is, would be completely stalled in the meantime. This is undoubtedly a drastic step, but there is no other alternative. State legislatures, even under conservative leadership like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, can do nothing to sway the Department of Justice. Potential investigations next year, assuming Republicans take control of one or both Chambers, will be too little, too late as the 2024 campaign will already be underway. As the Democrats are fond of saying, democracy itself is at risk. What’s that about desperate times and desperate measures?
PS After drafting this post, Newsweek reported that sources at the Justice Department have provided additional information about the raid. As one official put it, the effort was “a spectacular backfire.” “I know that there is much speculation out there that this is political persecution, but it is really the best and the worst of the bureaucracy in action,” the official explained. “They wanted to punctuate the fact that this was a routine law enforcement action, stripped of any political overtones, and yet [they] got exactly the opposite.” The claim is that a confidential source at Mar-a-Lago told them President Trump was hiding documents, including the locations of those documents, and the FBI was acting on that information without the approval of the Attorney General. FBI Director Wray is now supposed to be the most senior official involved, so much for Mr. Collinson’s contention that such an act couldn’t be undertaken without the appropriate oversight. This is preposterous anyhow: If anyone at the FBI truly believes they have the power to raid a former President’s home over a dispute regarding document retention, we might well be worse off than even I had imagined. It still doesn’t constitute an official statement, either. The questions I posed above still need to be answered and anonymous sources should be disregarded until they are.