Federal judge rules documents seized at Mar-a-lago and reviewed by DOJ/FBI must be re-reviewed by others, delaying Trump investigation.
For now, let’s just focus on this word: trust.
Justice, as we all know, is supposed to be metaphorically blind to everything but facts and evidence in courts of law. That’s why, when lacking solid evidence to the contrary, we generally believe American courts are trustworthy.
So, I was greatly disappointed this week when a federal district court judge, with eyes apparently wide open, ruled that she felt she must appoint a “special master” to re-review thousands of pages of government documents—not a few labeled “top secret”—that were confiscated last month by the FBI at defeated former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort home.
The documents, retrieved under a lawful court order signed by a federal judge, were subsequently triaged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and his political confederates.
Judge worried about harming Trump’s ‘reputation’
In her decision released September 5, which substantively agreed with the ex-president’s legal team’s broadly-maligned argument, U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon—who, incidentally, was hand-picked for her judgeship by Trump—wrote that she was, in part, trying to enhance “trust” in the DOJ’s investigation into these documents by appointing an independent reviewer.
Also, she said, she was wary about inflicting “harm” to the ex-president’s reputation if the DOJ/FBI analysis of the seized documents were the last word. As if further damaging Trump’s reputation were possible at this point.
Judge Cannon said she was acutely “mindful of the need to at least ensure the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances presented.” Not that the DOJ and FBI just doing their jobs “by the book,” as officials characterized the search/seizure, shouldn’t present the appearance of fairness and integrity, unless someone wants to claim that to make trouble.
The sad irony is that Trump got everything he wanted. Not greater “trust” in the system, which he himself had purposely corrupted, but a delay in the investigation against him and his gang. The judge not only decided to appoint a special master but also to prohibit the DOJ and FBI was using anything confiscated in the seizure for its ongoing investigation until the master finishes his or her work.
Law professors, prosecutors and other legal professionals variously characterized the ruling as “preposterous,” “crazy town,” “abuse of discretion,” and “obstruction of justice.”
It’s deja-vu all over again
We’ve seen this movie before, where the theme is ostensibly “trust” but is actually something far darker.
In fact, in this instance, claims have nothing to do with real trust and everything to do with distraction, delay, political sleight-of-hand and running out the clock to limit Trump’s potential short-term legal jeopardy as the nation approaches the all-important 2022 midterm elections in November.
As Trump surely knows, everyone understands the importance of “trust” in a democracy and its public institutions, and the need to do everything possible to bolster it. This is why he misrepresents it for his selfish purposes by gaslighting his tens of millions of uncritical, adoring acolytes.
The former president knows and has fulsomely demonstrated on many occasions that he views the evocation of “trust” only as a partisan political weapon and couldn’t care less about it as an essential element of our political system’s national character. Or his own, for that matter.
‘Stop the Steal’ campaign born of lies
Note that the bloody, lethal January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which put police and members of Congress at grave risk, was predicated by Trump and his cronies on the bogus claim—the lie, in fact—that the 2020 presidential election he badly lost was “rigged” and “stolen.”
This wholly invented claim was the centerpiece of the Trump-orchestrated “Stop the Steal” campaign that culminated in catastrophe and tragedy at the Capitol. More than 50 state and federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court dismissively tossed Trump’s election-fraud allegations as baseless.
Trump and his confederates in this scheme—including, incidentally, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni—framed its attempt to hijack the election for a do-over as necessary to protect “trust”—that word again—in American elections.
I mean, how could anyone trust an election that was so utterly fraudulent, right?
Wrong. It wasn’t only not fraudulent; Trump’s own election czar characterized it as “the most secure election in American history.”
ON THE OTHER HAND | Curated contrary opinions
The only people claiming fraud were Trumpsters and QAnon wack jobs. Virtually everyone else knew what was being peddled was nonsense, including Trump’s ethically challenged Attorney General Bill Barr, who strategically quit the administration before having to become complicit in this bogus scheme and then testified against Trump before the congressional select committee on the Jan. 6 attack .
AG Barr bailed when things got too surreal
Nonetheless, Barr had been enthusiastically complicit in many other questionable schemes, such as misrepresenting Robert Mueller’s final report in the so-called Russia-collusion investigation into the Trump administration (in which a number of top Trump aides were convicted and went to prison for lying when questioned about alleged Russian collusion).
While it’s nice to hear Barr telling truths now, his personal trustworthiness was fractured earlier in dubious service to Trump. It makes one ask oneself, “Why is he throwing Trump under the bus today when gave a hard pass to many other golden opportunities earlier?”
Since the “Stop the Steal” campaign began, right up until this present moment, Americans have endured a steady drumbeat of public statements by Trumpublicans (and amplified by right-wing “news” media) opining how important “election security” is after the so-very-fraudulent 2020 election robbed their dear leader of a second term.
What they’re saying is, no one can trust U.S. elections, considering, you know, “everything that was going on” in 2020 and before. And now.
And what Trumpians are also saying now is that because the horrible recent court-ordered search and seizure at Mar-a-lago was so “unprecedented” and invasive Americans can no longer trust the DOJ and FBI.
DOJ pleaded for Trump documents more than a year
Don’t forget that the DOJ had been pleading with Trump for over a year to return the government documents he illegally and haphazardly held at Mar-a-lago, including issuing a court-authorized subpoena. Even after Trump returned some documents and his lawyers signed an assurance that no others remained at the resort, the recent search unearthed scores more documents marked “Confidential,” “Secret” and “Top Secret.”
FBI agents seized a trove of highly sensitive government documents, some among the nation’s most closely guarded national-security secrets. Also seized were 43 empty folders marked “Classified” and an additional 28 empty folders labeled as “Return to Staff Secretary” or military aide. Nobody yet knows what happened to the missing files.
Mistrust is being misplaced here. Besides his tens of thousands of fact-checked lies during four years in the White House, most of Donald Trump’s amoral behavior has been the opposite of trust-inspiring.
If people do things that inevitably erode trust and then implore you to do things to revive that supposedly lost trust, be deeply suspicious.
Keep your eye on the ball.
The FBI isn’t the bad guy when it executes a search and seizure warrant authorized by a federal judge. This is what the FBI and judges do, at the DOJ’s behest. There is zero evidence this search was unwarranted.
Don’t forget that ex-presidents are not legally entitled to keep piles of ultra-sensitive government secrets at home in insecure closets—or anywhere. These critical papers are owned by “We The People.”
Mr. Trump needs to be held fully and legally accountable for what is tantamount to stealing and otherwise mishandling government secrets and refusing to return them when directed.
For this guy, we need to mistrust and verify.