SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Was the Aug. 8 search at the Mar-a-Lago estate an action of weaponization of the FBI or was it a legitimate search?
The answer may likely depend on your political views, said Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, professor of government at Northern State University in Aberdeen.
Former President Donald Trump did bring documents to the Mar-a-Lago estate that should have been left with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Early this year, the NARA received 15 boxes of documents that under the Presidential Records Act, belong to the public.
But were there more and what else was the FBI looking for?
What evidence do they have these documents might be related to a more serious crime or that President Trump has documents he hasn’t turned over, are key questions related to the search warrant and the search, Blanchard said.
“If you think that there was an attempted cover-up with regard to the Jan. 6 the riots at the Capitol and you think there might be evidence of that in this supposedly pilfered documents, that would give an incentive for getting there fast not warning them ahead of time,” Blanchard said. “You want to grab the stuff before they can tear it up and throw it down the toilet.”
“If there’s that kind of evidence that would make a big difference,” he added. “If there’s not, if it’s just a matter of he’s got some documents and we think he’s got some documents that need to be turned over to the National Archives…then it’s very hard to understand the warrant and the search procedures.”
“…if you’re looking for evidence of a weaponized, FBI, politically motived FBI, you would notice this might be a fishing expedition,” Blanchard said.
“That would be improper but it would hard to prove that’s what they (were) doing,” Blanchard said.
In the end, there will be a conclusion, he said.
It could be the matter simply fades away like the discussion about alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia which was not proven, he said. Which, then would point to the weaponization of the FBI and DOJ, he said. “That suggests a lot of people willing to use their power for collusion,” Blanchard said.
Or it could be that Trump is tied to the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol.
“If Trump was up to no good…,” Blanchard said. If there was a direct link such as a memo to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that’s one person and several others who colluded with him.
While collusion by a number of people in power such as the FBI and DOJ is worrisome and worse, neither conclusion is healthy for the country, Blanchard said.
What about the Presidential Records Act?
The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the president from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which presidents, and subsequently NARA, must manage the records of their Administrations.
The PRA passed in 1978.
“It’s one of the consequences of the Watergate scandal,” Blanchard said. “President Nixon attempted to destroy or hide a large number of documents, including audiotapes, that he apparently considered incriminating.”
As he understands the law, the PRA states that all records produced by the president in the conduct of his office have to be preserved, Blanchard said. The records become public property president cannot destroy them and they must be transferred when the president leaves office. In effect, those documents become like museum material and if you walk out of the national gallery that’s theft.
The NARA said that in mid-January 2022, NARA arranged for the transport from the Trump Mar-a-Lago property in Florida to the National Archives of 15 boxes that contained Presidential records.
Most past presidents have been more or less scrupulous, Blanchard said. There are provisions in the law for certain things to be held from the public and those must be worked out from time to time.
“The general impression you get, and again I’m not search how much to trust, but the general impression you get is that President Trump more than usually careless in the preservation of documents,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard cited the 15 boxes of documents the NARA obtained.
It is possible that Trump has more documents at Mar-a-Lago, he said.
There are penalties for mishandling documents. The penalties could include a ban on holding another federal office.
In one viewpoint, the search at Mar-a-Lago could be an attempt to ban Trump from holding federal office again, Blanchard said.
What about Clinton’s emails?
“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notoriously had a private server in her home, illegally using public documents. The FBI thinks that server was hacked. Some of those documents were most certainly classified,” Blanchard said.
“Nobody got a warrant for her house. Nobody went in there and looked at this server,” Blanchard said. Clinton was allowed to delete items and destroy much of the information which isn’t a legal action, he said.
For some, the lack of action in Clinton’s emails supports the theory of the weaponization of the FBI in the search at Trump’s estate, Blanchard said.
But there are differences, he said.
“The scandal of Secretary Clinton’s home server and improper handling of documents was not as far as I can tell not connected to any other scandal that would have made it look more serious,” Blanchard said.
Clinton, like any other Democrat and Republican, likely wanted to control information, he said.
“The lack of serious crime or the possible connection would be one difference,” Blanchard said of Clinton and Trump.
A presidential election was coming up so intervening in that circumstance is “really big potatoes,” Blanchard said.
The FBI’s response could be defended in terms of not being sure of the intent and that the American people could decide at the election, he said.
In the case of Trump, there is the suspected Jan. 6 connection, Blanchard said. “Then maybe,” the search was not political, Blanchard said.
Yet, “From what we know publicly, there’s no reason to connect these two things,” Blanchard said of the Aug. 8 search and Jan. 6.
So, one way to view the situation is that Clinton was treated with kid gloves and Trump was treated with a hammer, Blanchard said.
“Everything will change if the information turns out to justify the search,” Blanchard said.
Why do other lawmakers, politicians weigh in on the search?
“Anybody in Congress it’s perfectly reasonable to for them to ask questions,” Blanchard said. “For them to raise the possibility that the FBI is abusing its power, that the Justice Department is abusing its power.”
At some point down the line, Congress will be asked to act on this one way or the other, Blanchard said.
Both Sen. Jon Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds issued statements that called for the FBI to justify the search and asked for more answers and transparency from the FBI and DOJ.
Gov. Kristi Noem also responded with a statement on her personal campaign Twitter account. “The FBI raid on President Trump’s home is an unprecedented political weaponization of the Justice Department,” Noem said on her account.
Governors are not going to vote to impeach or block Trump from running again, Blanchard said.
Yet, governors frequently become presidents. Noem is a skillful politician, he said.
South Dakota politicians tend to punch above their weight in national matters such as Thune’s role in the Senate.
If Noem has presidential aspirations, it’s not unreasonable for her to share her opinion, Blanchard said.
Learn from multiple sources
Blanchard said the general public must learn from multiple media and other sources about the search and related issues.
They shouldn’t just watch only Fox or just read the New York Times. They need to learn from conservative sources and progressive and liberal sources, he said.