Disputes over documents are becoming dangerous for Trump

The raid on the former president does not concern allegations of corruption or the storming of the Capitol, but documents that may have been illegally stored. However, that makes them all the more delicate for the Republican.

Trump’s careless handling of partially confidential documents was well known. He may even have committed a crime.

Octavio Jones / Reuters

Donald Trump had a questionable handling of files. He regularly tore up important documents so that his employees had to laboriously glue them back together, as the media reported years ago. When he left the White House, he simply took 15 boxes, some of which were confidential material, with him to Florida. Only after lengthy negotiations with his lawyers did they end up in the National Archives in January, where by law all documents relating to the exercise of the presidency must be kept.

It was also known that he sometimes flushed scraps of paper down the toilet. Just on Monday, photos of this quirk appeared for the first time: snippets in a toilet bowl, labeled with a thick black felt-tip pen, which Trump also used to sign laws.

On the same day, FBI agents raided the former President’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. The raid was apparently motivated by the suspicion that government documents were still illegally located there.

Nobody is above the law

This is an unprecedented and delicate step. Never before in the long history of American democracy have investigators invaded the private sphere of a sitting or former president. Trump’s supporters are even right when they point out that such an approach is reminiscent of banana republics. If politically controlled law enforcement agencies target a representative of the opposing camp, it always seems as if they want to eliminate him – especially when, as in the case of Trump, it is still the most promising rival in the next presidential race.

Against the background of the deep political divisions in the USA, this creates a problematic precedent. Various Republicans have already announced that they will take revenge once they are back in power. One cannot and does not want to imagine an America in which a politically motivated judiciary arbitrarily pursues opponents.

Supporters of the former president demonstrate against the search in front of his estate in Florida.

Supporters of the former president demonstrate against the search in front of his estate in Florida.

Marco Bello / Reuters

At the same time, one of the founding myths of the country that emerged in the struggle against the British monarchs is that no one is above the law. While lawsuits have now been brought against more than 800 people because of the violent storming of the Capitol, Trump, as the instigator of the attack, has not been punished under criminal law.

This has drawn much criticism from Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must authorize such investigations. Fearing the political consequences, he treats the former president with kid gloves, allowing such an attempted coup to be viewed as legitimate.

Garland’s reluctance suggests that he is not acting lightly in the dispute over allegedly embezzled documents. The Attorney General was undoubtedly aware of the Mar-a-Lago raid, as was Trump’s own FBI Director, Christopher Wray. The search also had to be authorized by the court. In this politically charged climate, it can only be justified if there is a clear suspicion – whether this is the case is not yet known.

Republicans could benefit more than Democrats

In view of Trump’s turbulent tenure with lies, allegations of corruption and, at the end, a violent uprising, the case of allegedly illegally stored material seems irrelevant, even downright silly. But unlike the allegations made in connection with January 6, 2021 a criminal offense clearly formulated by law, and whether it is fulfilled should be much easier to clarify. It is therefore reasonable to press ahead with the investigation.

However, the consequences are serious. Aside from further poisoning the political mood, the authorities face a debacle if the allegations against Trump are proven to be unfounded. If they substantiate, an ex-president could be sentenced to a fine for the first time. That would hurt him in the argument for another candidacy, it may even make it impossible for them. Even among Republicans, some are acknowledging this with relief.

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