The news that the FBI executed a search warrant for certain items that were located on Donald Trump’s property at Mar-a-Lago was both stunning and unprecedented. To have taken such a drastic step, the Department of Justice must have been convinced that there was evidence of criminal conduct sufficient to persuade a federal judge to sign a search warrant. As legal commentators have uniformly mentioned, such a search warrant application would have undoubtedly been approved by Attorney General Garland himself. Garland by reputation is both cautious and conservative, so in authorizing the search warrant he must have felt he had his ducks in a row.
The significant fact is that the Department of Justice chose to utilize a search warrant to obtain the evidence rather than a subpoena. This suggests that they did not believe that the evidence in question would be produced by Trump pursuant to a subpoena, and they had to utilize the drastic remedy of a search warrant against a former President.
To me this decisive action by Attorney General Garland means that his mindset has shifted from whether to seriously investigate Trump, to how to investigate Trump, to a new focus where Donald Trump is now the target of the Department of Justice. Every person who is a target is not indicted, but being a target is a legally dangerous place to be.
The firestorm created by the execution of the search warrant was predictable. In the wake of the news reports, Donald Trump lashed out and suggested that he is the victim of a political persecution. Politicians like Ronald DeSantis, Minority Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel are arguing that the Department of Justice is weaponizing its investigations. Some right-wing extremist groups have already proclaimed that they are getting ready to go to “war.” In my view, these false and bombastic counterattacks against Merrick Garland will only make him more, not less determined. Once somebody jumps out of an airplane, there is no turning back.
As the legal hurricane approaches Donald Trump, he has many things to worry about. But his biggest fear could be that the old Hudson County saying proves true: “You are indicted by your enemies, but convicted by your friends.”