Richard Nixon, resigned from office, told interviewer David Frost, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Howls of scorn met that remark. Donald Trump and his supporters evidently agree with Nixon.

Regarding the FBI’s seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago, the far right’s protests against the Department of Justice and FBI include many accusations. One: Searching a former president’s home is unprecedented.

True. Sadly. But justice must be no respecter of persons.

To obtain a search warrant, the FBI followed established legal requirements. It filed an affidavit reviewed by Attorney General Merrick Garland. It detailed probable cause that Trump had committed criminal offenses relating to obstruction of justice, mishandling of government records and violations of the Espionage act. 

Yesterday, federal judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the affidavit unsealed by next Thursday. After being redacted, it may reveal little.

Re the search, vociferous blowback has come from many Republicans and most Trump supporters. Violence has been threatened. Incidents have occurred in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. 

Given the prospect of January 6-style upheaval, should DOJ drop the investigation?

In his August 11 New York Times column, “Did the FBI Just Re-elect Donald Trump?”, David Brooks hedges. Trumpists claim grievances. Trump’s railing against corrupt coastal elites “has a core of truth to it. Highly educated metropolitan elites have become something of a self-enclosed Brahmin class. But the Trumpian propaganda turns what is an unfortunate social chasm into venomous conspiracy theory.”

Brooks ponders whether if Trump is arrested, widespread political violence from the right will follow. That can’t be allowed. “America absolutely needs to punish those who commit crimes.” But have recent events further energized the base to swing the 2024 election to Trump? Writes Brooks, “. . . America absolutely needs to make sure that Trump does not get another term as president.” 

What to do?

If DOJ backs off to prevent Trump’s election as a “martyr,” that’s political. Justice suffers. The powerful can always lay claim to a Get Out of Jail Free card. If DOJ indicts Trump to bar him from running for office, that’s also political and equally appalling. 

Brooks’ quandary: “It feels as though we’re walking toward some sort of storm and there’s no honorable way to alter our course.”

There is, according to Times columnist Michelle Goldberg in “The Absurd Argument Against Making Trump Obey the Law” (August 11). “Trumpists are already issuing death threats against the judge who signed off on the warrant, and a Shabbat service at his synagogue was reportedly canceled because of the security risk.” That’s alarming. But Goldberg rejects . . . “an insurrectionists’ veto. The far right is constantly threatening violence if it doesn’t get its way. Does anyone truly believe that giving in to its blackmail will make it less aggressive?”

Times columnist (August 13) Maureen Dowd agrees that the law applies to everyone: “ . . . Donald, you are not the Republic.”

If America is to remain a nation of laws, the law must be applied equally to each of us. Donald Trump faces several criminal investigations, including one regarding attempts to alter voting results in Fulton County, Georgia. These reflect truly unpresidented Oval Office behavior (not forgetting Nixon). 

DOJ must follow the facts and, if warranted, follow through with an unprecedented legal response.

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  1. David Newman on August 19, 2022 at 10:50 am

    All too true, David. As an ex-federal attorney who dealt tangentially with the Justice Department, I am certain that the decision to seek a search warrant was made only after an excruciating analysis at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ. Garland is nothing if not careful, and he was well aware of the possible consequences. The mere fact that he approved seeking the warrant tells me that there is more here than would usually justify a search warrant.

    And Michelle Goldberg is right: if we permit the threat of violence to veto a legitimate criminal investigation (and possible prosecution), we are giving into a right-wing tantrum. I was very dubious of prosecuting Trump, but I’m now convinced that it would be right thing to do if the evidence warrants it. “Woe is me, the country is already so divided and this will make it worse” is wrong. That path leads to some sort of Peronista-style autocracy.

    I would cry for you, America!

    • David Perlstein on August 19, 2022 at 11:09 am

      We are agreed, David. I fear, however, that we might be in for worse than a Peronist government. I point to my novel “2084” as a model for what America may have in store.

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