By By Kimberley A. Strassel | The Wall Street Journal
Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement on the recent FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Washington, Aug. 11.PHOTO: JIM LO SCALZO/SHUTTERSTOCK
What went around Monday will come around hard for the Democrats when Republicans control the Justice Department and FBI.
Trump derangement syndrome has a curious way of scrambling coherent thought. Witness the Democratic-media complex’s blind insistence the Justice Department raid on Donald Trump’s home is just and necessary—rather than a dangerous move for their party and the republic.
In descending on Mar-a-Lago, the department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation shifted the U.S. into the category of countries whose ruling parties use government power to investigate political rivals. No attorney general has ever signed off on a raid on a former president’s home, in what could be the groundwork for criminal charges.
Yet to read the left’s media scribes, Monday’s search was a ho-hum day in crime-fighting. The Beltway press circled the wagons around Attorney General Merrick Garland and primly parroted Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s piety that “no one is above the law.” “The Mar-a-Lago Raid Proves the U.S. Isn’t a Banana Republic,” pronounced the Atlantic, clearly worried readers might conclude the opposite. It is “bedrock principle” that those who “commit crimes” “must answer for them,” it lectured.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake attests it’s totally standard to investigate presidents—look at Israel! The New York Times soothingly explains that prosecutors “would have carefully weighed the decision,” and that the investigation therefore must be “serious.” Roll Call produced a law professor to remind all that a judge had to sign off on a “detailed affidavit that established probable cause.” The last time we got this level of reassurance about federal law enforcement’s professionalism was at the height of the Russia-collusion hoax.
If you have doubts about all this, you’re unhinged and lawless. The Washington Post quoted “extremism trackers,” who explained that any GOP statements “delegitimizing the government” were “nudges toward violence.” Said one: “They use events like this to feed into this fantasy they’ve co-created with their supporters.” Several outlets claimed Republicans’ criticism of Justice and the FBI was little more than an effort to “inoculate” themselves against any probes.
Yet not even the Justice Department is so simple-minded. It has longstanding guidelines on politically “sensitive” investigations, particularly close to an election. The guidelines reflect a recognition that it’s impossible to strip politics out of political probes, and that a claimed crime must be severe to outweigh the risk of irreparably landing the department with a reputation as a politicized or corrupt agency. The probe also has to be worth the risk of setting off a toxic cycle of reprisal and escalation.
The bar has always been at its highest when the investigation involves a former president. Even more so when the former president remains a contender for the office. Mr. Garland breezed past all this history and complexity in his “equal under the law” statement Thursday, even as he expressed outrage that anyone might mistrust the department and the bureau that brought us the Steele dossier and the Carter Page wiretaps.
Democrats may be betting that adverse coverage of Mr. Trump will help them in November, or in 2024. They’d better hope so. Their media defenders recklessly ignore the boomerang history of unleashed governmental powers and the long-term political danger of violating precedents and norms. A Democratic Congress enacted, and Jimmy Carter signed, the first independent counsel law in 1978. Two decades later it led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
If anything, a perceived political persecution of Mr. Trump could help him to a second term. And he would be even more unrestrained as the 47th president than he was as the 45th. A second Trump administration wouldn’t have the caliber of grown-ups who signed up for the first tour. Mr. Garland’s raid has made even the highest political figures fair prosecutorial game, and the media’s new standard is that the department can’t be questioned as it goes about ensuring “no one is above the law.” Let’s see how that holds when a future Republican Justice Department starts raiding the homes of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, James Comey and John Brennan.
Payback could come even sooner. Democrats set a new low with their Ukrainian impeachment circus, and a GOP House next year might be up for a reprise. Get ready for a few more select committees—perhaps excluding the minority party, as the Democrats effectively did with the Jan. 6 committee—to investigate Mr. Garland’s politicized department or Hunter Biden’s finances. Watch them subpoena sitting Democratic representatives, as the Jan. 6 committee did to Republicans. Reps. Adam Schiff, Ilhan Omar and Eric Swalwell may find themselves on the back bench with a new Republican majority eager to follow Mrs. Pelosi’s example and strip the opposing team’s members of committee assignments.
All this tit for tat will further undermine our institutions and polarize the nation—but such is the nature of retributive politics. Which is why the wholesale Democratic and media defense of this week’s events is so reckless. Both parties long understood that political restraint was less about civility than self-preservation. What goes around always comes around. What went around this week will come around hard.