Opinion

SHAPIRO: We’re Looking At A Political Crisis

If there is no extraordinary basis for this raid, then what we are looking at is a crisis in American governance right now.

DailyWire.com

This week, we learned that the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago — some of the biggest news in years. According to The New York Times, “Former President Donald J. Trump said on Monday that the F.B.I. had searched his Palm Beach, Florida, home and had broken open a safe — an account signaling a major escalation of the various investigations into the final stages of his presidency.”

Here is the bottom line: The F.B.I. is not trusted by a significant percentage of Americans. A majority of Republicans and Independents do not trust the F.B.I., according to polling data. What the F.B.I. just did requires extraordinary institutional trust. But this is an FBI under the auspices of a current administration raiding the home of the leader of the last administration and the likeliest potential nominee for the opposition come 2024. 

The raid appears to be pretextual — because if you’re going to do something like this, there had damned well better be a crime. The crime can’t be something like “the President of the United States brought stuff with him when he left office.” Bill Clinton brought half the White House with him when he left office, and he was never raided. It can’t be “the President of the United States has a battle with the National Archives over material” — especially if what we are talking about here is not particularly important material. It must be more than that.

Then there’s the problem that the President of the United States has plenary authority to declassify anything he wants while he is in office. So all the other cases being referenced this week with regard to situations in which people have mishandled classified material are referring to people who were not the President of the United States. For example, former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger received a misdemeanor charge in 2015 for stuffing classified documents down his pants, and, in 2016, the F.B.I. investigated Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified documentation. She could not declassify anything; she was the Secretary of State. She was not the President of the United States. And she was never actually raided. Remember, they grabbed Anthony Weiner’s laptop; they went in a variety of directions trying to garner Hillary Clinton’s emails. Despite the fact that James Comey announced that it was actually “[p]ossible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account” because of her mishandling of the classified documents, her house was never raided. Her offices were never raided by the F.B.I..

And then for several years under President Trump, the F.B.I. actively attempted to undermine the President of the United States on pretextual information provided by the Clinton campaign on the basis of the Steele dossier. James Comey, when he was head of the F.B.I., approached Donald Trump to launder the Steele dossier into the press — knowing that there was nothing in the Steele dossier that had been verified. Comey told him about it simply so that the media could then run with the story that the Steele dossier had been presented to President Trump and, therefore, was newsworthy. That prompted years and years of investigations down rabbit holes that led nowhere with regard to Russiagate. 

Trust in the FBI is at an all time low, and yet it’s the F.B.I. under Christopher Wray — apparently with a warrant that had to be signed off on by the DOJ and Attorney General Merrick Garland — now initiating a raid into the former president of the United States. 

Could there theoretically in some world be a rationale for this sort of activity? Sure, there could. But is that going to have to be a damned extraordinarily solid — bedrock solid — rationale with serious underlying evidence? It had better be – or what we are looking at is a political crisis. When a current administration is investigating former administrations to the point of sending the F.B.I. into their home to pick up documents on the basis of not handing them over to the National Archives — even during negotiating — it looks more like an attempt to take Donald Trump out of the running come 2024 than anything else. Or maybe, nefariously, it’s an attempt to elevate Trump for 2024. We don’t know. But here is what we do know: If there is no extraordinary basis for this raid, then what we are looking at is a crisis in American governance right now. It looks like the intelligence apparatus is being weaponized against the opponents of a political administration. 

And down the road, if this comes to nothing and Donald Trump runs and loses, do you think that there are going to be a lot of people who are going to trust that he actually lost? Again, the trust in our institutions is so low right now, and they’re exacerbating all of the worst possibilities in American politics. 

And I’m amazed to see so many people on the Left today, people highly critical of the cops, are saying things like, well, you know, they wouldn’t do this without a basis. Really? Wouldn’t they? You guys were defunding the police five seconds ago, but now when they’re targeting your political opponents, you’re all in favor of it?

I’m on the conservative side of the aisle, and at the very beginning, I was willing to let the F.B.I. have a lot of rope when it came to, for example, Russiagate. Then it became clearer and clearer that the whole thing was a farce, and my trust in that institution was undermined, just as many Americans’ trust in that institution was undermined. Now, I have some very serious questions as to what the hell they think they’re doing, so they’d better get out there with the evidence and with the warrant. 

The people who are doubtful — the people who think this is a crisis — are not wrong so far until the evidence is shown. No one is taking this one on faith. No one. Christopher Wray of the F.B.I. needs to show us what he’s doing. Merrick Garland needs to show us what he’s doing, considering that he’s spent his presidency going after police departments for no reason, suggesting to go after states if they don’t cram down gender affirming health care (i.e., sex changes on small children). Why exactly would I trust you? 

According to The New York Times, “The law governing the preservation of White House materials, the Presidential Records Act, lacks teeth, but criminal statutes can come into play, especially in the case of classified material. Criminal codes, which carry jail time, can be used to prosecute anyone who ‘willfully injures or any depredation against any property of the United States’ and anyone who ‘willfully and unlawfully conceals from those mutilates, obliterates or destroys’ government documents.”

This is amazing. The statute that Hillary Clinton was investigated under did not suggest that she needed to have intent to, for example, give the documents to a foreign adversary. All it suggested was that negligence in the handling of the documents was criminal. But Comey completely rewrote the statute. Why? Because he didn’t want to indict the actual nominee of the Democratic Party at the time. So now there’s somebody just as important as Hillary Clinton was in 2016 — more important because he’s been President of the United States — and they’re trotting out the Presidential Records Act here? 

According to The New York Times, “The items in the boxes [seized by the F.B.I.] included “documents, mementos, gifts and letters. The archives do not describe the classified material it found other than to say it was ‘classified national security information.’ The question of how Trump handled sensitive material and documents is complicated because as President, he has the authority to declassify any government information. It is unclear whether Trump, before leaving office, had declassified the materials the archives discovered in the boxes.”

They don’t even know whether he declassified this material, and they’re still raiding him? If that is what this boils down to, some sort of miscommunication in which the F.B.I. goes after the former President of the United States for a raid on his home because there was some miscommunication about the identification of documents, there’s going to be hell to pay. The adjudication of how this is going to work in our politics going forward  — if all of the institutions of our government are mobilized against one side — is going to get really ugly.

This piece is adapted from an episode of The Ben Shapiro Show.

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