Robert Reich: A Never-Before FBI Raid on a Former President Who Is Like No Other
We have only one bulwark against this menace. It is called the rule of law.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before,” Donald Trump raged Monday evening after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida and broke open a safe, apparently looking for documents that Trump illegally took from the White House.
To set the record straight. Trump is no longer president of the United States. He’s a normal citizen. He may believe he’s still president because he never conceded the 2020 election, but he lost that election. As a result, he is subject to the same search-and-seizure provisions, under court supervision, as is anyone else.
Trump may be correct that no former president has ever before been subject to an FBI search, but, then again, nothing like Trump has ever before happened to the United States. No former president has ever attempted a coup to remain in office.
Trump claims that the search of Mar-a-Lago was intended to stop him from running for president in 2024.
There is no way the search could stop him from running, unless, perhaps, the search turns up even more evidence that he participated in an “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States—in which case, pursuant to Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress might move to disqualify him from running. But it’s far from clear that even such a congressional resolution would trigger Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On the other hand, if a grand jury determines that Trump broke the law and decides to indict him, the Justice Department could take him to court, where a jury could decide he is guilty. The court conceivably could send him to prison. This would make it difficult, although not impossible, for him to run for or be re-elected president.
We don’t know yet what the FBI agents who searched Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago were looking for, but in January, the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago that National Archives officials said should have been turned over when Trump left the White House. Evidently, more boxes were missing.
We also know that a federal grand jury in Washington has been gathering information about efforts by Trump, along with his lawyers and enablers, to try to use fake electors to block Joe Biden from formally becoming president after the 2020 election. As part of that investigation, authorities have begun examining Trump’s actions, seeking to discover what instructions he gave to subordinates, according to people familiar with the investigation.
In Monday night’s statement, Trump claimed that “such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.” If he was referring to the assault he instigated on January 6, 2021, against the United States Capitol, he is partly correct. Had that assault been successful, the United States could indeed have become a broken, Third-World country.
The search of his home, however, was done with a warrant and approved by a court. It occurred under the law.
But America might still become a broken, Third-World country, due to Trump’s and other Republicans’ continuing efforts to sow doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election. During a speech on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Trump reiterated his claim that the 2020 election “was rigged and stolen and now our country is being systematically destroyed,” despite the fact that sixty federal judges, some appointed by Trump, concluded that the election was not rigged and stolen and that Trump’s own Department of Justice came to the same conclusion. Trump, however, has systematically tried to destroy our country.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at that same conference last Saturday. Orban has turned Hungary into a Third-World autocracy. This is what Trump wants for the United States. He and his Republican enablers are still at it.
We have only one bulwark against this menace. It is called the rule of law. Finally, it seems, on the basis of the search of Mar-a-Lago, that bulwark is being utilized.
Robert Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His books include “Saving Capitalism” (2016).