FBI agents searched Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday in what the former president described as a "raid" that included taking items from a safe on the property. They reportedly were looking for records that Trump had removed — without authorization — from the White House.
Such an FBI search of a former president's home is unprecedented, but then so much about Trump, his presidency and its aftermath fits that description. Still, until the American people learn what specifically was being searched for and what was found, they shouldn't jump to conclusions of wrongdoing by Trump or by those investigating him. They should simply be grateful to have a rule-of-law process that pursues answers when there are questions, and that it applies regardless of person's power.
When he finally was forced to leave office, Trump apparently took White House records with him to Florida. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration earlier recovered 15 boxes of documents from the Florida resort, including some that were classified.
At that time, David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, said that "The Presidential Records Act mandates that all Presidential records must be properly preserved by each Administration so that a complete set of Presidential records is transferred to the National Archives at the end of the Administration."
Using a search warrant is unusual when dealing with top government officials. Typically, when the Justice Department or FBI has concerns about the security of classified information, it attempts to track down that information and get the cooperation of those involved. If such individuals refuse to cooperate, the agency can then resort to a search warrant, but it seldom comes to that. Such a warrant would have to be brought before a judge and demonstrate probable cause to justify a search.
Most presidents know that when they leave office, they leave almost everything from their presidency behind, from official records to the Oval Office drapes. It is, in fact, a crime to remove classified documents without authorization. And no one — even a former president — is above the law. Top Republicans decrying the search, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, should be reminded of that fact.
In responding to news of the search, McCarthy went so far as to threaten the Justice Department, saying it had reached "an intolerable state of weaponized politicization" and vowing that if Republicans win the House in November, they will investigate.
"Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar," McCarthy said.
McCarthy and others conveniently overlook that the FBI is led not by a Democratic appointee but by Director Christopher Wray, who Trump himself selected in 2017. Trump at the time described Wray as "a man of impeccable credentials."
A former assistant U.S. attorney general for the criminal division under President George W. Bush, Wray was questioned during his confirmation hearing about his approach to FBI investigations. He said in his testimony, "My commitment is to the rule of law, to the Constitution, to follow the facts wherever they may lead. And there isn't a person on this planet whose lobbying or influence could convince [me] to just drop or abandon a properly predicated and meritorious investigation."
The nation is fortunate to have that kind of leadership at a critical agency.
Several news media outlets, including the Washington Post and CNN, have reported that the Justice Department has had two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence testify before a grand jury as it investigates the plot to subvert the 2020 election. It is not known whether Monday's FBI search is connected to the grand jury proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 House committee continues to do yeoman work as it attempts to unravel the attempted coup of Jan. 6, and on Tuesday was scheduled to interview Mike Pompeo, Trump's secretary of state, and Doug Mastriano, a key figure in the attempt to keep Trump in power through the use of "fake electors." Mastriano is also the GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania.
The work of the Justice Department and the Jan. 6 committee must continue, and we must have individuals willing to, in Wray's words, "follow the facts wherever they may lead."
Until that work is completed, we should all take a breath, eschew threats of violence or hot rhetorical comparisons, and trust in a process that has proven its worth in holding public officials accountable.