WaPo: FBI resisted Mar-a-Lago raid, DoJ prosecutors demanded it. Why?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Did the FBI get a bad rap in the wake of the raid on Mar-a-Lago? According to the Washington Post, the raid took place only after months of debate between the FBI and prosecutors from the Department of Justice. The FBI argued that a request for a full search of the property would have sufficed, according to two senior officials from the bureau.


The prosecutors wanted a raid, however, and the DoJ agreed:

Prosecutors argued that new evidence suggested Trump was knowingly concealing secret documents at his Palm Beach, Fla., home and urged the FBI to conduct a surprise raid at the property. But two senior FBI officials who would be in charge of leading the search resisted the plan as too combative and proposed instead to seek Trump’s permission to search his property, according to the four people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive investigation.

Prosecutors ultimately prevailed in that dispute, one of several previously unreported clashes in a tense tug of war between two arms of the Justice Department over how aggressively to pursue a criminal investigation of a former president. The FBI conducted an unprecedented raid on Aug. 8, recovering more than 100 classified items, among them a document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities.

Starting in May, FBI agents in the Washington field office had sought to slow the probe, urging caution given its extraordinary sensitivity, the people said.

Some of the field agents wanted to end the standoff altogether. FBI executives didn’t want to go that far, according to the WaPo’s sources, but they didn’t want to escalate matters with a splashy raid when a quieter and more cooperative search might have sufficed. Part of that sprang from precedents set with Hillary Clinton and blowback the bureau received over how that was handled, but part of it was concern over the political costs of escalation.


Gee, which side ended up being correct?

Prosecutors insisted that Trump was hiding highly classified material on purpose and wouldn’t cooperate with a search request anyway. The raid did find some highly classified material, but thus far not of the sort that the DoJ believed Trump held. (In fact, since the raid, the DoJ has gotten very very quiet about that material and have thus far resisted briefing Congress on it. Hmmm.) It’s not clear why prosecutors wanted a raid rather than just ask for access first, but one can bet that they wanted a big media splash more than the FBI, and the political damage to Trump that they thought it would incur.

And then the entire matter ended up backfiring on the DoJ when it turned out that Joe Biden had highly classified material at at least one of his own residences, including material from his time in the Senate, when Biden had no custodial authority at all for such retention. Even his allies among the Senate Democrat caucus expressed amazement and criticism as to how Biden ended up with that material.

The DoJ then stepped in it all over again when they declined to raid Biden’s other residences and his Senate library at the University of Delaware. Instead, they did what the FBI wanted to do with Trump in the first place: ask for permission to search his property. And the DoJ still hasn’t looked at Biden’s Senate library to see how much classified material might be stored there.


Most of this we knew already, but not the infighting at the DoJ. So what does this leak to the Washington Post tell us? First off, it probably signals that prosecutors didn’t end up with a usable case even after the raid. Success incentivizes unity; failure incentivizes blame games. The FBI’s two “senior officials” want everyone to know it wasn’t their idea, which wouldn’t be necessary unless the raid and the prosecution has flopped.

But it might go deeper than that. This leak doesn’t quite accuse the DoJ of politicization, but it leaves that as the undeniable take-away from this sequence. How else to explain the zeal of prosecutors to get headlines while investigating Trump in a splashy, unnecessary, and unprecedented raid of a former president and likely presidential candidate in the next cycle? The FBI didn’t think it was necessary and advised against it, at least according to those two “senior officials.” If that’s true, then politicization is the obvious explanation — and the FBI may well be trying to separate itself from Merrick Garland’s trainwreck.

One has to wonder too whether we might get more leaks about other raids as well. For instance, will another couple of “senior officials” have more to say about the decision to raid Mark Houck’s residence and terrify his family? The decision to send dozens of agents to arrest a pro-life protester at gunpoint over an alleged simple assault that local authorities had dismissed raised all sorts of questions about politicization at the FBI and DoJ. And there too, failure provides a lot of incentives to point fingers at the people who created it.


What about Garland’s attempts to make parental protests at school board meetings into “domestic terrorism” incidents? None of that gets a mention in the Post’s report, but one has to wonder whether the FBI plans to get into a leak war to push Garland and his politicized appointees into the sunlight.

And another: will officials begin leaking about the FBI’s efforts to control and suppress dissent on social media? The Twitter Files exposed those unconstitutional and authoritarian actions so completely that denial is not an option. Does anyone think that really started with some mid-level functionaries at the FBI, DHS, and CDC? A couple of leaks there would be refreshing as well.

Hopefully, the Post will remain as diligent in reporting on any such leaks as they were today. If anyone within the FBI or DoJ wants to talk to me about it, though, they can contact me via secure email at [email protected]. I’ll keep that alias active for the next week or so.

Addendum: Guess who’ll be on the hot seat today at the Senate Judiciary Committee?


The timing of this leak and report is pretty interesting, no? Looks like a Beltway war from here …

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