WASHINGTON DC – On Monday 8 August, the FBI executed a search warrant at the former US president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The search was reportedly conducted in connection with an investigation into the handling of classified presidential documents.
”My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said in a statement on Monday, adding, “They even broke into my safe!” US President Joe Biden’s White House put out a statement saying that officials had no knowledge of the search.
It is truly extraordinary – that is, not a thing that ordinarily happens – to have a former president’s home searched by the FBI. But then, it is not ordinary for the US Department of Justice to have reason to conduct an investigation into a former president’s handling of classified documents (while also conducting an investigation into that same president’s apparent efforts to overturn the results of an election).
To put it another way: former leaders around the world – in France, South Korea, Iceland, and Israel – may face prosecution, but it is not something that happens in the United States, and it is always jarring to set a new precedent. And if Republicans come to power they could point to this to try to justify using power to prosecute their own political opponents. This is a party whose supporters chanted “lock her up” because candidate Hillary Clinton had, as secretary of state, used a private email server.
But the far worse precedent would be a former president committing crimes while in office and not facing any accountability for their actions.
[See also: Watergate in the age of Donald Trump]
“If they can do it to a former president, imagine what they can do to you”, said a tweet from the official Twitter account for the House Judiciary Committee’s Republicans on Monday night. But that’s just the point: a former president, in a country with rule of law, should be no freer from the consequences of his actions than a random person scrolling through Twitter on a weeknight. It is a federal crime for anyone to improperly remove classified documents. The fact that Trump was president and, according to his daughter-in-law, is planning on running again does not change anything.
Was there an irony in watching Republicans, members of the political party that touts itself as the champion of law and order, tweet about defunding the FBI? Yes. Was it obscene, given Trump’s alleged role in trying to force a change to the results of an election, that a personality on Fox News called the raid a “pre-emptive coup” intended to hurt Trump’s electoral chances? Yes. The raid was a reminder that the United States, for all its faults, is a country that protects the rule of law, and that no one – not even a former president – is beyond its reach.