It’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the impact on the elections of 2022 and 2024 of the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago and the seizure of documents stored there. The wisest course of action for all concerned is to wait and see whether and how the government chooses to prosecute former President Trump, and to demand that should there be a prosecution, it be conducted in accordance with the highest principles of the rule of law.
The wisdom of taking a wait-and-see approach to this case is well illustrated by the changing reactions of the GOP throughout the week. The first reaction of Republicans was to rally around Trump and against the Democrats and the FBI. A poll reported by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Report showed that 83% of Republicans polled were more motivated in the upcoming midterms. Support for a possible bid by Trump to secure he 2024 GOP presidential nomination solidified, much to the dismay of those working for possible rivals, and Trump himself began to successfully raise more campaign contributions following news of the raid. Were this pro-Trump attitude to be maintained, the GOP would sweep the 2022 midterms, easily capturing both houses of Congress, and be able to restore Trump to the White House in 2024.
But pro-Trump enthusiasm has begun to wane as more information about the documents seized has been made public. Of special concern was the announcement that some of the documents were highly classified and contained data on our nuclear weapons and capabilities. Last Friday, for example, the Freedom Caucus, consisting of Trump’s strongest supporters in the U. S. House of Representatives, suddenly cancelled a press conference at which denunciations of the raid and expressions of support for Trump might otherwise have been made. Cooler heads in the GOP, such as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, have expressed not only the need for caution in addressing the issue, but the principles on which the matter should be resolved. “No man is above the law,” said Hogan on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. “But everybody is innocent until proven guilty. So we just have to see where this investigation leads.”
And indeed, Trump should not be considered above the law. If the evidence collected at Mar-a-Lago shows that Trump may well have committed crimes in the retention of the documents seized by the FBI, then he must be held to the same legal standard as others have been held under similar circumstances. But his prosecution, if indeed there is to be one, must be conducted in accordance with the principles of due process as specified in the Bill of Rights. And, of course, no matter what the evidence may be, Trump must be granted the presumption of innocence unless and until guilt is proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
On the other hand, Trump should not be considered beneath the law. Even if a case can be made that he is guilty of technical violations of laws concerning document retention—even the retention of classified documents—he should not be prosecuted if, in the past, others have not been prosecuted for similar offenses despite similar evidence. For example, on July 5, 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey announced that an FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s official emails showed she had kept them on computers in her home, that some of her emails contained classified information, and that she had been most negligent in protecting them. Indeed, hostile foreign powers may have had access to them. Yet Comey nonetheless said no reasonable prosecutor would have brought charges against her, despite the fact that she seemed to have technically broken the law. If Hillary could skate, so, too, should Trump, with the understanding that he doesn’t get back the documents the FBI seized.
But in these poisonous times, the results of any investigation, no matter how fairly it may be conducted, will be rejected by a large segment of the American public. Democrats will reject any conclusion exonerating Trump as completely as they rejected the FBI’s conclusion in its first investigation of Trump that there was no provable Trump-Russia collusion. And the very fact of an investigation, regardless of its outcome, will stoke the anger of Trump’s partisans. After all, they have not forgotten that the FBI’s investigation of possible Trump-Russia collusion, even though it ultimately exonerated Trump, was based on the phony Steele Dossier commissioned and financed by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Nonetheless, if thinking Democrats and Republicans who still put store in facts and reason as valid tools of decision making want to plan rationally for the upcoming elections, they must wait and see what fair and rigorous investigative processes determine, and only then act accordingly.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.