Merrick Garland is playing politics with the FBI's Trump raid, and it's obvious

·5 min read

Three days too late, Attorney General Merrick Garland finally on Thursday made the public appearance that someone, anyone, in the Biden administration should have made on Monday when the U.S. Justice Department raided the home of a former president, an act unprecedented in American history.

In a peevish two-minute statement, Garland asserted the high-mindedness of the department as explanation for why his Justice Department has been missing in action after Donald Trump and Republicans had the temerity to notice that dozens of FBI agents and technicians were searching Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.

Garland pushed back against GOP criticism of the FBI, but mostly asserted that this was an operation by the book.

“Since I became attorney general, I have made clear that the Department of Justice will speak through its court filings and its work,” he said. “Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”

No. Actually, that is precisely a load of bunk.

Justice Department is playing a double game

Anyone with eyes can see the Justice Department is running a subterfuge, telling us publicly they can’t in good conscience reveal details of the search while trotting out their anonymous sources to do just that.

Two of those anonymous sources assured Newsweek on Wednesday the raid was not political.

But the way the federal government has been massaging this story in the shadows tells you politics are being played. Aggressively.

Amid great speculation: Here's what we know about the FBI raid

On Thursday that meant slipping this little suitcase-nuke-of-story to the Washington Post: That the FBI was searching for “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons.”

That’s quite an explosive revelation, but their anonymous sources never tell The Post if that was based on direct intelligence of such documents in Trump’s possession or if it was a working theory that Trump might possess them.

Such details matter. They’re the difference between cumulus clouds and mushroom clouds.

The headlines contradict Garland's claims

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Regardless, Garland told us in his press conference: “Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations.”

Then came Thursday night, and The Post headline: “FBI searched Trump’s home to look for nuclear documents”.

Again, at his press conference on Thursday afternoon, Garland said, “Federal law, long standing department rules and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time.”

By Thursday night The New York Times was reporting an anonymous source who told them “investigators had been concerned” that Trump might be holding “special access programs, a designation even more classified than ‘top secret’ that is typically reserved for extremely sensitive operations.”

So is this how the Justice Department protects the constitutional rights of all Americans, or just Donald Trump’s?

We don’t cut corners,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “We don’t play favorites.”

Sure, you don’t.

Wray, Garland don't get who they're dealing with

Look, Washington is a tough town. Among prominent men and women in the Beltway, Garland and Wray have always struck me as decent human beings – the good guys. My initial reaction to Garland’s press conference was that it was late, but could begin restoring trust in the Justice Department.

Then came the screaming headlines in the Washington Post and New York Times.

They tell me these two do not understand what they were dealing with.

Their own people admitted as much, anonymously, of course, to Newsweek:

“They wanted to punctuate the fact that this was a routine law enforcement action, stripped of any political overtones, and yet [they] got exactly the opposite,” said a senior Justice Department official who is a 30-year veteran of the FBI.

“‘They were seeking to avoid any media circus,’ says (a) second source, a senior intelligence official who was briefed on the investigation and the operation. ‘So even though everything made sense bureaucratically and the FBI feared that the documents might be destroyed, they also created the very firestorm they sought to avoid, in ignoring the fallout.’ ”

“What a spectacular backfire,” the senior Justice official told Newsweek.

Be straight with Americans, or fear the aftermath

On Monday night when Democrats on his Twitter feed were “giddy” at the news of the Trump raid, Damon Linker, a former senior correspondent at The Week, tweeted, “None of you has the slightest clue how bad this is gonna get.”

In his substack newsletter “Eyes on the Right,” he expanded on his tweet:

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some on the right (I’m looking at you, Steve Bannon) are keenly hoping Garland really does go after Trump – because they suspect it could well send the country careening into a state of political chaos from which their movement to impose a new anti-liberal order on America will emerge much stronger.”

“I wish I had more confidence Americans were adequately preparing themselves for what lies ahead,” he wrote.

At The New York Times, David Brooks was sharing Linker’s apprehension:

“My impression is that the F.B.I. had legitimate reasons to do what it did. My guess is it will find some damning documents that will do nothing to weaken Trump’s support. I’m also convinced that, at least for now, it has unintentionally improved Trump’s re-election chances. It has unintentionally made life harder for Trump’s potential primary challengers and motivated his base.”

Added Brooks, “It feels as though we’re walking toward some sort of storm and there’s no honorable way to alter our course.”

If the Justice Department truly wants to rebuild confidence, it needs to end the doublegame of saying one thing publicly and another on background. Be straight with the American public.

A raid on the home of a former American president is a consequential event that requires enormous planning in the execution and in managing the aftermath.

That’s probably why, until now, it has never happened before.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Merrick Garland is playing politics with the FBI raid on Trump