Why did the FBI seize Trump's passports?

AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

Did they seize Trump’s passports? He claims they did, but he also claims he was the victim of a massive vote-rigging conspiracy in 2020 that no one can prove.

He claims a lot of things.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. What are they doing seizing his papers?

The fact that he has multiple passports isn’t weird in itself. Some Americans do, and people with diplomatic credentials like former presidents certainly do. He probably has a standard U.S. citizen’s passport plus a diplomatic passport.

But back to the question: Why did the feds take them? Ask any lefty on Twitter this afternoon and they’ll all give you the same response: “Flight risk! They’re going to indict him and don’t want him to abscond!”

I doubt that. For one thing, aren’t determinations about flight risks made by courts at bail hearings? Trump isn’t facing a bail hearing. He hasn’t been charged with anything! He hasn’t even been arrested. How can the risk of him fleeing the country to escape prosecution be urgent enough to warrant seizing his passports if there’s no prosecution yet?

For another thing, I’m not convinced that he’s going to be charged. Watch GOP strategist Scott Jennings make the case, unpersuasively, that after searching Trump’s home Merrick Garland’s only options are to indict him or to resign.

If the public hadn’t seen the search warrant and attached inventory showing that “classified TS/SCI documents” (i.e. top secret/secure compartmented information) were found at Mar-a-Lago, I agree that searching the home and then not charging him would look suspicious. It would smell like a manufactured pretext to gain access to the grounds and root around in Trump’s stuff. But they did find material that shouldn’t have been there. And not only did they find it, they found it after having approached him multiple times in less intrusive ways to ask him to return it with no fuss. First they requested its return, then they subpoenaed it, then one of Trump’s own lawyers evidently certified in writing that there was no further classified material remained at Mar-a-Lago — which turned out to be a lie.

Somehow the feds found out that they’d been lied to. And having exhausted more civil means of recovering the stuff, they finally decided to go in and get it themselves by obtaining a search warrant based on three different federal laws that Trump potentially might have violated by removing it. I don’t think the point of the warrant was to obtain evidence to support a criminal case they’re building against him, though; I suspect the point was to simply get the g-ddamned documents out of there and into a safe location before they somehow fell into the wrong hands.

A former federal prosecutor told Newsweek that’s his theory too.

Richman said that in order to obtain a search warrant, the department has to provide probable cause that violations of relevant criminal offenses, like the Espionage Act, occurred. But citing those offenses to make the argument that investigators have a reasonable basis to believe there was a violation does not guarantee a search will result in an indictment.

“The search may well have been just a product of exasperation at Trump’s non-compliance with demands that he return highly sensitive materials,” Richman said. There’s the possibility that nothing follows the raid aside from the recovery of those records.

They wanted the documents back, they’d run out of options to recover them, so they sent agents dressed in khakis and polo shirts to take the material back as unobtrusively as possible. Trump is the one who told the country about the search — which he now calls the FBI “breaking in” to his home — and he did so for obvious political advantage. He wants America to be “on fire” because those are the circumstances in which demagogues thrive. My guess is that Garland will ultimately decline to charge him, maybe even citing the Hillary Clinton precedent that officials who mishandle classified information typically aren’t prosecuted unless they’re also guilty of having done something nefarious with that information.

But as far as why they took his passports, I don’t have a theory. Yashar Ali wonders if the passports might have been stored somewhere with some of the federal material recovered by the FBI and seized inadvertently. But why would his passports have been mixed in with official documents supposedly being held in a padlocked storage room?

If they did take them inadvertently, they should return them ASAP. If they took them deliberately, they should explain.

Meanwhile, British conservative Daniel Hannan is watching this sorry spectacle from afar and wondering where the GOP went wrong.

Their response to the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago makes me doubt whether the party is still in any sense constitutionalist. Rallying to the defense of their caudillo, congressmen, Fox News anchors and talk show hosts are calling for the FBI to be defunded or disbanded. Conservative agitators strive to outdo one another in their outrage — without, as far as I can tell, expressing any curiosity about whether Trump has in fact broken the law…

The same rules should apply to Trump as to any other American. Former presidents do not have a special status in law. Yet Republicans at every level seem affronted at the idea of searching the house of a private citizen…

There was a time when journalists would ask whether Trump’s latest outrage would finally push Republicans away from him — mocking the late Sen. John McCain’s military record, lying about his tax return, insulting the family of a fallen U.S. serviceman, refusing to accept an election result. This time, no one is asking. Donald Trump has not changed. But he has changed his party — malignly and, it seems, permanently.

The refrain last week from Trump toadies in Congress following the search was, If they can do it to him, they can do it to you. Uh, yes. If you take classified documents that don’t belong to you, they assuredly will search your home. They get warrants related to criminal investigations and search people’s homes every day, and have been doing so for ages. The fact that former presidents can’t get away with something you or I couldn’t get away with isn’t something to be mourned unless you’re an authoritarian.