The DOJ and FBI need a house cleaning
The two most striking features of the FBI’s unprecedented raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home are its bold intrusiveness and the public’s mistrust of the Bureau’s honesty and integrity. The Department of Justice could have used low-profile subpoenas to force Trump to turn over any documents, including the most sensitive ones. It didn’t. Instead, it sent carloads of federal agents to search the former president’s house. That raid was also unusual in a second sense. Although mishandling federal documents is a felony, it happens with some frequency, alas, and is almost never subject to full-scale raids.
The blowback has been a Category 5 storm. The damage has grown because the FBI and Department of Justice remained silent for three days, refusing to explain their actions.
Now, the FBI or DoJ are busy leaking their justification, alleging (anonymously) that Trump took highly-classified nuclear secrets when he left office. That would be a grave matter, if true, but it raises several obvious questions. One is whether he really did wrongly remove such materials. The second is whether less-invasive means could have been used to retrieve them. The third is whether the real purpose of the raid was to collect materials for other investigations, such as January 6 and Trump’s efforts to delay Joe Biden’s certification as president. Seized materials can be used in other investigations, but it is illegal to get warrants for one purpose when your real purpose is something else. The fourth is public skepticism about the government’s explanations.
The blowback and public mistrust are nothing new. The past few years have been hurricane season for the FBI. The Bureau and, to a lesser extent, the Department of Justice have destroyed their reputations and undermined the public trust essential for law enforcement in a democracy.
Critics of the Mar-a-Lago raid argue it is only the latest example of FBI/DoJ malfeasance:
The catalog of serious errors could go on and on. Republicans are convinced that the worst are directed against them and that Democrats, like Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton, escape harsh treatment. Democrats don’t make similar allegations against the FBI (except for the Comey press conference), but they do make them against Trump’s Department of Justice. And, of course, they don’t believe anything Trump says about the raid....
We can begin by ensuring that future raids on top politicians don’t resemble the one at Mar-a-Lago. That means we need special protections against the misuse of search-and-seizure against senior elected officials. That’s not because they are above the law — no one should be — but because they are obvious targets for partisan malice. To restore public trust, we need better safeguards, and the public needs to know they work.
Second, we need the equivalent of a 9/11 commission to investigate the systemic failures at the FBI and suggest corrections. The commission should be nonpartisan, co-chaired by law enforcement leaders with extensive administrative experience, such as Judge Michael Mukasey. One chair should be associated with each party. The committee should have subpoena power and make a public report.
While Lipson is right that an investigation is needed, I think the chances that the Democrats will agree to one are remote. They have even more to lose than they already have. They continue to defend a weak and dementia addled President.