Seldom in the annals of public controversy have so many certainties been expressed in the face of such great ignorance. With very few exceptions, the Republican Party has rallied around Donald Trump and expressed its firm belief that the Justice Department’s decision to serve a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was a grotesque abuse of power.
There’s a notable problem with that finding: The American public still hasn’t seen the search warrant. Trump’s lawyers have it, and they’ve described it in vague terms, but they haven’t released it. One of his lawyers, Christina Bobb, appeared on Real Americas Voice (an obscure far-right media network) and said the warrant was for classified documents, evidence of a crime as far as classified documents are concerned. and presidential records.
This revelation, which corroborates the revelations of anonymous sources immediately after the search, tells us little of real value. The term classified documents encompasses a wide range of documents, from relatively benign documents to documents that, if in the wrong hands, could cause real damage to the national security of the United States.
During my military career, I handled thousands of classified documents. More than once I have read an email or reviewed a document and wondered why it was marked secret. Overclassification is a real problem in the military, and we keep many documents confidential that the public might see without consequence.
At the same time, I would examine other documents and immediately understand the reason for the caution. Their disclosure could jeopardize military operations and cost lives. And I haven’t had access to anything like the sensitive documents that the president sees.
In short, Americans shouldn’t really know what to think of research. We can hope that the momentous decision to search the former president’s residence met proper legal standards and merited the historic intervention of the DOJ. We may fear that the warrant represents either a politicized attack or an unnecessary police escalation of a politically perilous investigation. But we simply cannot know if the DOJ’s actions were appropriate until we see their legal and evidentiary support.
A copy of the warrant will not resolve the dispute, but it may help the public understand what is at stake. The DOJ does not release warrant requests (and this request would be sealed), but it does release the warrant itself. even to the owner of the property sought by his agents. And that warrant will typically detail both the items sought and the federal criminal laws relevant to the search.
Trump is not just the former president; he is the current frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination. He is the former and potentially future President of the United States. And he holds in his hands a document extraordinarily relevant to his suitability for public service. A responsible politician would release this information to the public. Still, a source close to Trump told NBC that Vaughn Hillyard, No, was not releasing a copy of the warrant.
The reason is obvious. Hanging on to the mandate could be bad for the country, leaving us largely in the dark, beating ourselves furiously over assumptions, but for now, it’s very good for Trump.
To understand why, it is important to understand how Trumpism thrives. Trumpism as a cultural and political movement depends very much on both the extraordinary loyalty of its supporters and the overreaction of its opponents. Each phenomenon feeds on the other.
Loyalty was evident from the moment Trump confirmed the search. Without knowing anything about the reason for the search, the right exploded with rage. Trump didn’t have to refute the allegations, excuse the embarrassing revelations, or even do anything other than express outrage at his alleged mistreatment; the right always rallied to him.
Why publish a document that could complicate the case? As that same source told Hillyard, there’s a complete circle of wagons around Trump. It does not need to be transparent to preserve its base.
At the same time, the refusal to release the warrant is fueling rampant speculation on the left. What is he hiding? How bad is that? This rather perverse speculation is good for Trump. The right-wing media chooses the most unlikely allegations and uses them to reaffirm the Republican claim that the left is unbalanced. And the wilder they perceive the left to be, the more Trump supporters on the right see him as the only leader truly prepared to fight the enemies of the republic.
Make no mistake, recent examples of irresponsible speculation abound. The infamous Steele dossier, for example, led countless Americans to believe that Trump was a totally compromised Russian asset. The truth that Trump campaign officials and his allies had inappropriate contacts with Russian officials and assets, and lied about those contacts was bad, but it was never as grim as the record claimed. .
The result was a right-wing audience vaccinated against even the worst revelations of the Mueller report. If they weren’t as bad as the wildest allegations had made them out to be, then, in their minds, Trump had won.
A similar dynamic may be unfolding. Trump doesn’t have to vacate the warrant to maintain his support. The GOP is on his side. In fact, his arms locked with such emphasis that he might make would-be Republican presidential candidates think twice before deciding to challenge Trump.
At some point, Trump could still release the mandate, even if the GOP doesn’t hesitate. As bitter experience of the past dictates, conduct that is unacceptable but not as severe as Trump’s most vocal critics had speculated is seen by his supporters as complete exoneration. If the warrant refutes the worst allegations, Trump wins.
Were left with a bleak bottom line: For Trump to be transparent is in the public interest, but not his primary concern. He could let us see the warrant, but not when it’s good for the country. Hell let’s see it when it’s good for Trump, because good for Trump is the only standard that really matters to the man and the cult he created.
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