The first rule of politics: Play to your strengths. Glenn Youngkin won his office in a massive upset over Terry McAuliffe in large part by campaigning against the Department of Justice’s ham-handed attempts to intimidate parents out of school board meetings, a shameful politicization that backfired on Democrats.
After taking his time, Youngkin loops that and Merrick Garland’s refusal to enforce the law into the decision to raid Donald Trump’s home last night:
A stunning move by the DOJ and FBI.
This same DOJ labeled parents in Loudoun County as terrorists and failed to enforce federal law to protect Justices in their homes. Selective, politically motivated actions have no place in our democracy.
— Glenn Youngkin (@GlennYoungkin) August 9, 2022
That makes two of Trump’s potential 2024 competitors now weighing in on the raid. Ron DeSantis came out of the gate early, within minutes of the raid, accusing the “Regime” of “weaponizing” the federal bureaucracy against its political opponents. People question whether DeSantis will run in 2024 but Youngkin has less reason to remain on the sidelines. Let’s not forget too that Youngkin’s term-limited tenure in office expires in 2025, and that he has enough personal wealth to kick-start a campaign if he desires.
Youngkin’s less-instant response does a better job of connecting those dots in a manner that will immediately resonate — and immediately remind Republican primary voters who has already been on the front lines of this fight. And this does raise questions that have percolated all through Garland’s tenure as Attorney General. The smearing of parents objecting to school policies as “domestic terrorists” clearly came as assistance to the politically connected teachers unions, whose preferred policies were at the heart of those protests. The refusal to enforce the federal law (18 USC 1507) that explicitly protects federal judges from public intimidation is particularly germane, given the assassination plot against three Supreme Court justices that hinged off the doxxing campaign of the protesters.
Even if the DoJ can justify this raid, the pattern of politicized enforcement and non-enforcement under Garland will still remain an issue. Other Republicans will press it, and in fact are beginning to, er, pounce, as Politico reports. And they’re going to pounce on any non-pouncers, too:
Donald Trump’s team and allies are moving swiftly to draw political benefit from an unannounced search by FBI agents at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home on Monday. And they’re keeping tabs of Republicans who aren’t, in their view, sufficiently rushing to his defense.
For hours, word of the search was kept to a close group of aides, lawyers, and Trump family members as it was taking place in real time. Then, Trump confirmed the news in a lengthy statement, only after it leaked out late in the afternoon that agents had left Mar-a-Lago. The bombshell set off frantic, hasty-arranged calls among Trump allies to discuss how to calibrate a response. And, soon enough, a clear narrative emerged from them: The search represented a deliberate political targeting, one that underscored the Democrat’s perception of Trump as a political threat.
“They’re going to drastically use this to rally their allies, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill and juice for his political agenda and run for 2024,” said a person close to the Trump operation. “If there was a 99 percent chance it’s 100 percent now. He makes it part of his platform – going after the FBI.”
This argument could fall apart if the DoJ is pursuing something bigger than just a documents case. If Garland is pursuing a case that involves January 6 or corruption and is merely using the documents issue as a predicate for a wider search and sticks the landing with an indictment, it will cool off the rally-around effect. Youngkin’s criticisms, and DeSantis’ as well, are a lot more bulletproof.
But is that what the DoJ has in mind? Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy believes that’s exactly what took place — a predicate for a wider-scope investigation:
In late June, I referred to a “stealth inspector-general investigation of Donald Trump.” The FBI had suddenly executed search warrants for (a) the home of former DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who colluded with then-President Trump in an ultimately abandoned plan to convince states, falsely, that the DOJ had uncovered real evidence of election fraud; and (b) the cellphone of John Eastman, the constitutional-law scholar and putative architect of Trump’s scheme to convince Pence to discount electoral votes. Since these searches were pursuant to warrant, one would have assumed that the DOJ had convinced a court that there was probable cause of crimes — obstruction of Congress and fraud on the government. But at least according to the reporting, the pretext for the searches was an internal investigation, by the DOJ’s inspector-general, of whether Clark’s conduct had violated DOJ rules and regulations.
Clark hadn’t been a DOJ official for over a year. Eastman was not a DOJ official at any relevant time. If you think the DOJ is investigating mere bureaucratic irregularities, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy. No, the DOJ was using the pretext of investigating bureaucratic irregularities to conduct a search for evidence of Capitol-riot-related crimes. The DOJ just issued grand-jury subpoenas to a pair of Trump’s White House lawyers – Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin – for one reason and one reason alone: It is trying to make a case against Trump on Capitol-riot-related crimes.
Same thing with the Trump search.
For months, the Justice Department has had in its hip pocket a probable crime, the mishandling of classified documents, that could be used as a justification for searching Donald Trump’s estate. But in searching the estate, I don’t believe the FBI was looking for classified documents or other missing government records — not really. Just as in the searches of Clark and Eastman, the Bureau and Justice Department prosecutors were looking for evidence powerfully showing that the former president and his confederates knew their stolen-election claims were false. That’s what the DOJ needs, at a minimum, to indict Trump for crimes arising out of the January 6 uprising.
If that’s the case they’re pursuing, then Garland had better make it stick. Otherwise …
In a powder keg, AG Garland is trying to turn up a smoking gun. Unless he can make a convincing violent-crime case against Trump, though, an indictment based on extravagant theories of fraud or mishandling of classified documents will blow up on the Justice Department.
It will corroborate the accusations of Trump, DeSantis, and Youngkin of politicization of the DoJ under Garland. And it will add to the red-wave backlash against Joe Biden that has already been forming for months.
Update: Mike Pence just weighed in as well, demanding an explanation from Garland:
I share the deep concern of millions of Americans over the unprecedented search of the personal residence of President Trump. No former President of the United States has ever been subject to a raid of their personal residence in American history.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) August 9, 2022
Yesterday's action undermines public confidence in our system of justice and Attorney General Garland must give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken and he must do so immediately.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) August 9, 2022
Given Pence’s standing as a potential victim of the January 6 riot, that should carry a little more weight. Pence is also reportedly going to seek the 2024 GOP nomination and may be assuring Republicans that he plans to drain the swamp too, although without embracing Trump’s post-election actions.