There are examples in Bangladesh and other democracies in the world, wherein the former head of the state’s home has been raided and even incidents of arrest have taken place for obvious reasons. Although Trump has compared his house raid incident to those in third world countries, there is no way for it to be an exception considering the very interest of the state security – be it in a first world or third world country! SAQUIF AHMED delves deeper into the details
For the first time in the 245-year history of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has raided the residence of a former president at Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida and recovered 11 boxes of documents some of which contained classified material. These documents include, as reported, the information of nuclear arsenal of USA. It is feared that if it falls into the hands of a foreign enemy, it could threaten the national security of the United States. Donald Trump brought these documents with him when he left the White House after losing the election. According to US law, the sole owner of these documents is the US government, and US National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for its maintenance. Hence the burning questions are – why did he bring these documents with him? who else had the opportunity to see these documents? whether they fell into the hands of foreigners? The FBI is now investigating into the matter. According to initial reports, Trump could be charged on three grounds misappropriation of sensitive government documents, obstruction of justice, and violation of the Espionage Act. The most important of these, and dangerous for Trump, is the violation of the Espionage Act. Accusations of collection, transfer, or loss of security information under this Act can result in severe penalties if proven. Apart from this, the former president may also face trial under the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
According to the BBC report, (FBI) conducted a search operation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida on 8th August. The agency claimed to get 11 boxes of documents from there. Earlier in January, the US National Archives recovered 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago. Some of these boxes contained sensitive top-secret documents. Among the boxes recovered were letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and former president Barack Obama. Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman published photos of some torn papers lying in the White House toilet. Presidents of the United States are required to send all their letters, work documents, and e-mails to the National Archives. But officials say former President Trump illegally shredded many documents. According to the Presidential Records Act, it is against federal law to destroy papers, e-mails, and other forms of presidential communications. However, regarding the seized documents, Trump said he did not commit any crime. The documents contain nothing confidential and are secure.
THE RESENTMENT OF TRUMP AND HIS SUPPORTERS
During the raid, Trump was staying at his Trump Tower in New York. He gave a statement regarding the incident: “This incident is a dark day for the nation. This unannounced raid on my home was neither necessary nor appropriate despite working and cooperating with relevant government agencies. They even entered without taking my permission”. The former US president said adding: “This kind of harassment can only happen in third world countries. America has sadly become one of those countries. This level of corruption has never been seen before”. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters gathered around the Mar-a-Lago resort after hearing about the FBI raid along with the party flag, placards with various slogans. Trump has long accused the FBI of conspiracy against him. Several senators and members of Congress joined him in criticizing the FBI and the Department of Justice for this action. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has threatened to impeach President Biden and Attorney General Marrick Garland after taking over Congress. Trump and his loyal supporters have argued that the president has the right to keep any classified document. It is not a crime at all. Former US President Barack Obama and many others had this habit. But the point here is: analysts are of the view that since Trump is no longer a president, he has no legal right to box up and store government documents at his private residence in Mara-Lago, Florida.
Many people say that Trump will try to take advantage politically by using the incident of the search. He is already trying to position himself as a ‘political martyr’. But Trump and his supporters have been in a bit of a tailspin since it emerged that he kept topsecret security information in his private home.
Congressional Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned that a commission of inquiry could be formed after the midterm elections. And for this, McCarthy threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland to count the days of his term. Kevin McCarthy also said that the use of the Department of Justice as a weapon of politics has reached intolerable levels.
The former Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, blamed the incident on Merrick Garland. In a tweet, Pence said, “I express the deep concern of millions of Americans over the unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s private residence.” Mike Pence added, “yesterday’s action would undermine public confidence in our justice system. Attorney General Garland must answer to the American people why this action was taken.”
In addition to blaming the Attorney General, many Republicans also blamed the Democrats. National committee chairperson Rona McDaniel has asked Joe Biden to take over the investigation of the incident. The Biden administration has been saying, however, from the beginning that they are not involved in the probe. All decisions rest with the Attorney General and FBI Director. In the face of Republican criticism, Attorney General Marrick Garland was forced to hold a press conference to say that the decision was his own. He had to proceed in this way because all the efforts and other measures did not yield results.
IS IT REALLY A TROUBLE IN THE MAKING FOR TRUMP?
Politically, Trump is still quite popular among Republicans. Trump is thinking about running for the presidency again in 2024. Over the weekend he won a landslide victory in an unannounced poll of conservatives in Texas. He has announced his intention to contest the elections again. But before that, Trump is being thrown into legal trouble. But at the moment, it has become more important whether he can compete at all. According to a CNN report, Trump has asked his lawyers to know whether he can be indicted or not. However, it is clear that Trump’s legal entanglement is growing steadily and the legal complications would make Trump’s 2024 presidential run more difficult.
IS THERE ANY LEGAL RISK FOR TRUMP?
Questions have arisen as to whether Trump’s legal risk of breaking the rules and taking government documents while leaving the White House is far-fetched. Taking special steps to execute a search warrant at the former president’s home means investigators are looking for more than what the National Archives has previously recovered from Mar-a-Lago, according to legal experts. The public buzz about Trump’s legal peril revolved around the Presidential Records Act. This law was passed after the Watergate scandal. It clearly states that the ownership of certain documents during the tenure of the president is ultimately owned by the people, not the outgoing president. But it is not a criminal law. The Act is seen as a relatively unencumbered Act.
An investigative warrant and the involvement of the FBI implies that it is a criminal investigation. Other records preservation laws include criminal penalties such as the Espionage Act. However, the matter is not clear at the moment, under which criminal law this investigation is going on.
POSSIBLE IMPACTS OF THE SEARCH IN TRUMP’S RESIDENCE
In the eyes of political strategists, the FBI search of Trump’s residence could appear as a game-changing moment in USA politics. Both parties can benefit from this. US midterm election is in next November. There are many calculations going on about who will control the US Congress. In the pre-election forecast, there are indications that the Democratic Party and Biden may fall. They are trying to win out of this situation. On the other hand, against Trump, the leader of the Republican party, not only the investigation of the FBI, but also the case of various allegations is being activated. These range from overturning election results to cases of fraud and rape. Of course, Trump is also benefiting from this. Again, he came at the forefront of discussion. His supporters are presenting a new ‘conspiracy theory’ to the public. Richard Lowry, the editor of the conservative magazine National Review, wrote, “Donald Trump has more than 100 million dollars to run political battles. But more valuable to him is the FBI investigation against him. This again made him the middle man of all. Through this, he is getting a chance to present himself as a victim in front of everyone. If, after the investigation, it was found that no such confidential documents were actually in Trump’s custody; then not only the judiciary, but also the President Biden’s administration will be in trouble. Trump’s loyal supporters are already on fire. Their anger will increase if the investigation proves to be empty. There is no doubt that this will have an impact on the mid-term elections next November. But if it’s just the opposite, Trump will be in big trouble. Whatever the final outcome, it can be said for sure that the ongoing tensions over the probe will further exacerbate the Democratic-Republican divide in the United States.
TRUMP AND TRUMPISM
There can be no doubt about the truth of what happened on January 6, 2021 in Washington DC. Trump’s inner circle, including Attorney General William Barr, who is very loyal to Trump, tried to convince him that he had lost the November 2020 fair election and that he should accept the results. But Trump refused to accept defeat by breaking the basic tenets of democracy without paying attention to any of them and presented a conspiracy theory that the election was ‘rigged’. Now he got the opportunity again to present another conspiracy theory in the context of the latest FBI search operation. Many Republican leaders believe that Trump is not a ‘traditional politician’. Their idea is very correct. In fact, Trump is not a conventional politician. He established himself much like a religious leader. He has an incredible ability to drive his fans crazy. He is seen by his loyal supporters as a kind of ‘messiah’ or ‘saviour’ who can protect white supremacy from liberal elites, blacks, gays and immigrants. Not only do they support him, they believe in him as a saviour who has taught them self-worth. Now the biggest question is whether an ideology ends with the ouster of its leader or not. That is, can Trumpism survive for a long time without Trump? Although deposed, he has many admirers in the Republican Party. He will try to maintain his influence through social media. But will he be able to survive in the end? It is believed that Trumpism will survive for a while with a hard-line leader like Senator Ted Cruz. But the ‘vulgar charisma’ that Trump has, Ted Cruz lacks. Cruz is a highly educated crook and ruthless politician, but Ted Cruz doesn’t have Trump’s uncanny ability to drive people crazy. If Trump leaves the scene, the excitement that exists among his supporters will no longer exist. But his current presence in the media may add some lustre to Trumpism.
SAFEGUARDING VALUES OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS
After being elected president in 2017, some feared that Donald Trump would change the landscape of the United States with his populist right-wing ideology ‘Trumpism’. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, the Congress has stood against the inevitable conditions for the establishment of white supremacy, the creation of strict anti-immigration laws or various anti-people financial policies. Herein lies the checks and balances of power. No one can become irresistible at will. Trump tried to create the biggest crisis after the last US election. Trump has tried in various ways to cancel the results of the US elections or bring them in his favour. Cases have been filed on his behalf in several states. The appeals court dismissed the Trump’s mail ballot case in the state of Pennsylvania. A lawsuit alleging election fraud in Michigan was dismissed as moot. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, has tasked 16 federal prosecutors with uncovering massive election fraud and irregularities. All of them have stated in written letters that they have not found any evidence of any irregularities in the election. Here again, Trump could not use the state institutions in his favour. Trump has completely failed to maintain his power by capturing all the organs and institutions of the state. That is the power of independent and strong institutions of a democratic country. Yet his efforts did not stop. This time Keeping state’s secret documents in his private residence. Trump wants to present himself as a victim and a political martyr of the current circumstance and tries to win Republican support. However, the state agencies are not sitting idle. And this is why democratic, independent and strong institutions are essential. One of the conditions of a modern state system is independent and strong institutions. The role of institutions in ensuring the protection of citizens is important here. We can see how ‘separation of power’, the basic foundation of a democratic state structure, plays a role in ensuring the basic rights of citizens in the recent events of the United States. In a democratic system, this kind of scrutiny is expected to happen. There are examples in Bangladesh, India and many other countries where the former head of the state’s home has been raided and even incidents of arrest taken place for obvious reasons. Although Trump has compared the search incident to those in the third world countries, there is no way for it to be an exception considering the very interest of the state security be it a first world or third world!
Discovery of documents from Trump’s residence has intensified the discussion whether Trump will be a candidate again in the next presidential election. Two years after losing the election to Joe Biden, the fact that Trump’s name comes in such a scandal is therefore seen as political heat around the next election. Donald Trump wants to highlight the raid as a measure to satisfy the political vendetta of the Democrats. It’s not yet known how cautious Trump’s lawyers were about FBI’s recent raid. It’s also not known what arguments Trump’s lawyers have presented to the Justice Department regarding the handling of documents. Trump may also pursue legal action challenging the FBI’s investigation. Violation of the Records Act may come to the fore as to whether or not Trump can run for president. However, if Trump is convicted under the law, the question will arise about whether the law is constitutional or applicable to his presidential bid.