Yesterday Merrick Garland delivered a brief press statement, apparently feeling heat with regard to DOJ’s Mar-a-Lago raid. Garland’s unimpressive performance did nothing to quell concerns about apparent political overreach by the DOJ and the FBI, so the Biden administration tried to invest the raid with seriousness by leaking to its favorite media outlets that the raid resulted from concerns about “nuclear documents.” This upped the ante somewhat from prior leaks that attributed the raid to “classified documents.”
This afternoon the federal court in Florida that issued the search warrant unsealed the warrant and the receipt that was filed after the search was carried out, describing the items that were taken. You can read those documents here. The Wall Street Journal covers the story here.
The receipt indicates that several groups of “Miscellaneous Top Secret Documents” and “Miscellaneous Secret” or “Confidential” documents were recovered. How significant this is remains to be seen. Trump and his allies have suggested that some or all of these materials were declassified prior to Trump’s departure from the White House. That may or may not turn out to be true. Trump also says that DOJ and the National Archives could have had these materials at any time. He released this statement today:
Number one, it was all declassified. Number two, they didn’t need to “seize” anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago. It was in secured storage, with an additional lock put on as per their request. They could have had it anytime they wanted—and that includes LONG ago. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK. The bigger problem is, what are they going to do with the 33 million pages of documents, many of which are classified, that President Obama took to Chicago?
At this point, we have no idea whether any of the documents contained in the 15 or so boxes in Mar-a-Lago’s basement had any particular significance. (Contrary to what some may assume, the fact that a document is stamped “Top Secret” does not necessarily imply such significance.) Nor is there reason to think there was any danger of whatever secrets may have been contained being communicated to a foreign power–which is, after all, the point.
At the same time, I find it hard to credit Trump’s assertion that the Archives and DOJ had only to ask, and the boxes would have been turned over. News reports suggest there is quite a bit of water over this dam, allegedly including a subpoena for the files. Maybe DOJ just forgot to ask for the boxes before launching a raid with 30 FBI agents. If so, it is a scandal. But almost certainly, there is more to the story than that.
In the end, I suspect this will turn out to be a teapot tempest. Likely there was nothing of much significance in the boxes, and, in any event, there is zero reason to think that any secrets contained in the boxes would be compromised. We have here a collision between two unreasonable parties, Donald Trump and the Trump-hating federal bureaucracy. It may never be entirely clear, as to this tiny group of files in the Mar-a-Lago basement, which side was more unreasonable.
I doubt there is any reason why the rest of us should care, but the raid will have political fallout, if nothing else. It put Donald Trump front and center as the midterms approach, it blackened Trump, rightly or wrongly, with a charge of careless handling of government secrets, and it outraged many millions of Republicans and independents who see the raid as the latest sign that the administrative state is out of control.
I don’t know how the political pros and cons will net out, but personally, I would rather see attention return to the disasters of the Biden administration: the Afghan debacle, the multi-trillion dollar inflation extravaganzas, the skyrocketing cost of fuel and groceries, the dissolution of the border, the devastation of America’s energy system, and so on.