Mar-a-Lago is the wrong fight for former President Donald Trump to be in with Attorney General Merrick Garland.
On one side, Garland’s, you have the FBI doing its job. And the principle that no one is above the law.
On the other, you have Trump, whose insistence on keeping records he never should have taken in the first place has left the chattering class without any good explanation for why he didn’t just give them back. There is no good explanation, which is why they had to do the search.
Trump took them because he could. He kept them because he wanted to. No one tells Trump what to do.
Isn’t that the point?
It’s the reason this is the wrong fight. It exposes Trump’s greatest vulnerabilities just as much as the Jan. 6 hearings do.
It is almost funny to read the various explanations being offered as to why Trump would take, and refuse to return, top-secret documents that belong in secure places and not a golf club.
He liked to show off, to brag, to wave letters from foreign leaders around. Not good.
No one dared tell him otherwise. Not good.
He played fast and loose with secret intelligence. Nothing new.
He didn’t think the rules applied to him. Of course.
There is a reason former Vice President Mike Pence has warned his fellow Republicans not to attack the FBI for the Trump search.
It’s because, once again, Trump is dragging his party to the losing side of the argument.
If the FBI had found nothing, if Trump and his aides had fully cooperated and returned everything, no search would have been necessary. Instead, it appears that they found just what they were looking for. Imagine the contraband here was drugs and not documents …
The immediate fight now is over whether the affidavit that was the basis of the Justice Department’s search warrant application should be unsealed, that is, made public.
The Justice Department tries to keep affidavits like this secret because they give you a pretty clear step-by-step of the investigation to date — who did what to whom and where it is headed.
The people fighting to make it public, interestingly enough, are not Trump’s lawyers but the various news media organizations that are covering the story. They are standing in for you and me and our right to know.
Trump’s lawyers are reportedly just observing and taking no position on whether the underlying documents justifying the search should be made public. They are not clamoring for transparency. There’s a reason for that, too.
The judge, in his initial ruling, recognized the public’s right to know as much as it could and ordered the government to submit proposed redactions or edits of the documents so that at least part could be made public. Redacted documents can be hard to follow, but my guess is that they will show that the government tried and failed to have these records returned before resorting to the extraordinary step of a search.
In other words, they will show Trump being arrogant and obstinate as we know he can be, displaying his contempt for the rule of law that applies to everybody.
And they will show Garland supporting the carefully documented efforts to apply the rule of law to the one man who repeatedly has placed himself above it and yet continues to have a hold on a plurality of his party.
Now, you tell me: Who wins that fight?
— Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.