By: Debabrata Biswas
When Donald. J. Trump, the former president of USA, left the White House after his defeat in 2020 election and shifted to his Florida residence at Mar – a- Lago, he took with him boxes of official documents which had to be handed to the National Archives Authority, under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The Archives authority announced in February, 22 that it has recovered 15 boxes of documents, after prolonged persuasion, many of which are labelled classified or top secret and some of them are torn or damaged. They reported that there are more documents of importance still held by Trump. They were asking the FBI to determine if criminal charges are warranted under the Records Act, as by its provisions such records must be turned over to National Archives when a president leaves office. If that law is breached, the offender could be prosecuted criminally and if convicted could get a prison term of 5 years along with fines.
Since then, a long tug of war was happening between DOJ (department of justice) and National Archives on one side and Trump and his allies on the other end over the retention of presidential documents. In the meantime, DOJ was able to gather information through a mole, an informant from Trump circle that there are still many secret/classified documents, and other important material of national importance, unlawfully in the possession of Donald Trump.
Ultimately, on August 8, an FBI team went to Mar-a- Lago, Trump’s residence in Florida, after serving a search warrant previously, which a judge in Florida, Justice Reinhardt, signed and issued on the basis of an affidavit filed by the FBI. The FBI team after a prolonged and intensive search, left with many boxes of seized documents. Trump was absent during the search but one of his lawyers was present and he was given receipts of the seized materials.
The incident is unprecedented. It is first time in America that a former president’s residence was searched as part of criminal investigation. The search warrant for Mar-a-Lago identifies three federal crimes-violation of Espionage Act, Obstruction of Justice and criminal handling of government records.
The reaction from Trump and GOP is horrendous. Trump called it a ‘raid’ and political ‘witch hunt’. Trump and his allies even complained that it is a politically motivated attack against a likely challenger (i.e., Trump) to Biden (or any other Democrat) in 2024 election. House minority leader McCarthy vowed to investigate the Justice department if Republicans win control of the House in November and threatened Garland in tweet to preserve records and prepare to testify next year. The search aggravated the Republican base, already charged up by constant divisive, false statements and public speeches of Donald Trump, they cry to wage a civil war.
It went so far that a man wearing bulletproof jacket and armed with Ak-47 rifle, opened fire at FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio on Aug 10. That led attorney General Merrick Garland to schedule a press conference next day. He declared that ‘I will not stand by when their (FBI) integrity is unfairly attacked.’ He confirmed that he had personally approved the search. He provided no details. When the seized list was unsealed later, it was revealed that FBI had removed 20 boxes of materials, including 11 sets of classified/top secret documents. One set is marked as ‘various classified/TS/SCI documents which is an abbreviation that refers to ‘top secret/sensitive compartmented information’s’. Among them, there are very sensitive information’s about ‘President of France’, nuclear weapons and secret CIA agents in Moscow. But Trump as usually denied their claim- he wrote in his Truth Social platform -‘nuclear weapon is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax.’ He also claimed falsely without any evidence that the nuclear papers were planted by the FBI.
The FBI’s search and seizer of documents from an ex-president’s residence is unprecedented, but Donald Trump’s ability to survive and thrive politically on such moments is also with out of precedence. Even when damaging evidences against him emerge, he has walked away unscathed in the eyes of his supporters, the GOP base, while the United States itself has been diminished. The January 6 attack on the Capitol, his plan to overturn the election results and many other heinous activities made no impact on his popularity among the Republicans’ played successfully the role of victim and martyr before his supporters. Even now, a recent survey shows that 39% of American voters believe that the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago is politically motivated. Trump has not yet experienced any legal consequences, in office or in business.
As Donald Trump considers making a third run for the White House, he faces a raft of official investigations and lawsuits. Several probes, including the recent search at Mar-a- Lago, put Trump at risk of criminal sanctions, others threaten his pocketbooks. On the background of those criminal and civil investigations, the Mar-a-Lago search comes on top a welcome streak of good news for Joe Biden and the Democrats, albeit not yet enough to provide the kind of shift in polling fortunes that Democrats need before the November midterm election. Yet Trump has prospered by weaponising such moments. It may prompt his early decision to announce his candidature for presidency in 2024.
A campaign would not surely prevent him being prosecuted. It is far from clear that conviction under the law for removing and holding Govt official records would bar him from office, as some hope. But it would raise the political stakes and might lead to him enjoying presidential immunity again. If strong lawful action is not taken now, it could become impossible in a second term Trump presidency, as he will surely show no respect for law or democracy this time.
Nonetheless, pursuing Trump over serious allegations is essential. The political field has slightly shifted from despair to hope for the Democrats to avoid imminent defeat in the forthcoming midterm election. The reaction of the voters, especially women against Supreme Court’s verdict on abortion issues is loud and strong. A recent survey shows that more than 60% of electorates are against abortion ban; the recent referendum in Kansas, a Red state, shows that 59% voters rejected state law banning abortion. This statistic is encouraging for the Democrats.
On the economic front also, Joe Biden was able to take some positive measures to contain inflation. The cost of petrol is declining since June. The Democrats could pass the ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ budgeting $ 750 billion into law (also known as Climate, Tax and Health bill) which will hopefully contain inflation, create more jobs, lower prescription drug’s price and tax super rich and handle climate change. The overall situation is ripe and favourable for the Democrats. Will they be able to take the stride in their favour in electoral politics? (IPA Service)