The Washington Post

The FBI goes after Trump, again

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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. Americans know that Comey misled them when he said that the Democrat-funded Steele dossier was merely “part of a broader mosaic” of informatio­n presented in the FBI’S applicatio­ns to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — because the Justice Department’s inspector general found that it was in fact “central and essential” to the applicatio­ns. We then learned that FBI officials had falsified or withheld evidence presented to the U.S. Foreign Intelligen­ce Surveillan­ce Court in four surveillan­ce applicatio­ns, which led to a stinging rebuke from the court’s presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, who said the bureau’s misconduct called into question “whether informatio­n contained in other FBI applicatio­ns is reliable.”

Then, after spending two years and tens of millions of dollars investigat­ing Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III cleared Trump of engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Russia. The whole Trump-russia collusion narrative was nothing more than a conspiracy theory — and it decimated public trust in the FBI. A Harvard Caps-harris Poll following the 2019 release of the Mueller report found that 53 percent of Americans said that “bias against President Trump in the FBI played a role in launching investigat­ions against him,” and 62 percent supported appointing a special counsel to investigat­e possible abuses by the FBI.

That’s not all. Last month, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-iowa) reported that multiple FBI whistleblo­wers had come to him with allegation­s that senior FBI officials had engaged in a scheme to falsely portray credible evidence related to Hunter Biden’s financial and foreign business activities as foreign disinforma­tion to stop further investigat­ion from going forward. “If these allegation­s are true and accurate,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christophe­r A. Wray, “the Justice Department and FBI are . . . institutio­nally corrupted to their very core.” ( Wray has called the allegation­s “deeply troubling.”)

Now, an agency that has shattered public trust in its fairness and objectivit­y has decided to conduct the first search in U.S. history of the home of a former U.S. president. If the Justice Department now tries to prosecute Trump for the same crimes for which it declined to prosecute Hillary Clinton, it will cause Republican­s to rally around him. And if Democrats think he can’t win back the presidency, they should recall their shock when he won the first time.

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