FBI goes after Trump once again
WASHINGTON — The unprecedented FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla., home might go down as one of the most catastrophic mistakes in law enforcement history — one already widely seen by Republicans as an act of political retribution by a bureau whose relentless pursuit of Trump has destroyed its credibility. It also makes it far more likely that Trump will win the GOP nomination and take back the White House in 2024.
Let’s be clear: The mishandling of classified material is a serious matter. After Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, was caught removing classified documents from a secure reading room at the National Archives, he pleaded guilty in 2005 to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material and was sentenced to two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service, fined $50,000, and stripped of his security clearance for three years. He also relinquished his license to practice law to avoid disbarment.
Many — this columnist included — have cited Berger’s punishment in arguing that the same standard should apply to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for keeping classified information on her private email servers. According to former FBI director James B. Comey, those servers held 110 messages containing classified information, including “seven e-mail chains [concerning] matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level” — the highest level of classification. Worse still, the Justice Department inspector general reported that the FBI’s Inspection Division found that classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server “was compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.”
But the FBI did not raid Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y. And despite the fact that what Comey publicly called Clinton’s “careless . . . handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” allowed foreign adversaries to obtain U.S. secrets, the FBI director determined that “no charges are appropriate in this case.”
Many who argued then that Clinton’s mishandling of highly classified information was no big deal are cheering Monday’s search of Trump’s home for the same alleged crime. Clinton lawyer Marc Elias had the audacity to tweet that one of the penalties for Trump’s alleged misconduct could include being “disqualified from holding any office under the United States” (though Elias conceded that the law might not apply to a president).
While many facts are not yet known, we can know this much: The hypocrisy is rank. If Trump is now prosecuted for what might be a far less serious violation (there is no evidence that any intelligence he may have had in his possession was compromised by foreign intelligence services), his supporters will be right to cry foul.
The decision to search Trump’s residence comes at a time when the FBI’s credibility lies in tatters.