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Opinion Garland should tune out the Trumpists — and follow the law where it leads

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Aug. 11 in D.C. (Susan Walsh/AP)

There are some things encountered during the vicissitudes of life that are difficult, if not hard, to comprehend. The FBI’s execution of a search warrant at former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida is not one of them.

As I have written on earlier occasions, a full-blown inquiry into the ex-president’s handling and safeguarding of classified information taken with him when he left the White House should have been launched immediately after the National Archives and Records Administration learned of the documents’ existence.

Some of the discovered materials were reportedly so sensitive that their unauthorized disclosure could cause, by definition, “exceptionally grave damage” to national security, according to the Archives’s Information Security Oversight Office.

To recall, this saga began about half a year ago when the National Archives raised a red flag over whether Trump had, as required, turned over presidential records for historical preservation when he left the White House in January 2021. The retrieval of 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s home, and the discovery of items “marked as classified national security information,” caused the Archives to call on the Justice Department to examine Trump’s handling of White House records.

It would have been a dereliction of duty for the FBI and the Justice Department to sit on their hands and not try to determine how materials at Mar-a-Lago were handled, who had potential access to them and what were the circumstances of their removal from the White House. An immediate damage assessment, to say the least, was required upon finding out that classified materials had been spirited out of federal control. I say this as one who gave a substantial part of another professional life to protecting U.S. classified information, including materials at the highest classification levels.

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To learn, as federal authorities reportedly did, that more classified documents were possibly still being held at Trump’s Florida residence, and then do nothing, would have constituted willful government failure. The possibility that this included documents relating to nuclear weapons in an unauthorized private home only raised the stakes. The act of obtaining and executing a search warrant to retrieve government-owned documents, including national security information, as was done by the FBI this week, was a legitimate governmental exercise — especially if those materials are believed to represent evidence connected with a violation of federal law, i.e., the unlawful possession of national security information.

Former vice president Mike Pence’s tweeted protest, “no former President of the United States has ever been subject to a raid of their personal residence in American history,” begs a question: Has any former president in almost 250 years of U.S. existence ever given cause for such law enforcement action?

No other living former president — Jimmy Carter (D), Bill Clinton (D), George W. Bush (R) or Barack Obama (D) — has ever been accused of illegally possessing classified documents taken from the White House to his private property.

And none of Trump’s predecessors has ever demonstrated that he could be so reckless with the nation’s secrets.

Trump and his devoted Republican followers can scream all they want about the Mar-a-Lago search being a politically motivated, headhunting exercise to take Trump out of the 2024 presidential race.

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To no one’s surprise, they are leaving no smear unleveled: “Gestapo-style injustice,” “prosecutorial misconduct,” “weaponization of the Justice System,” “attack by Radical Left Democrats.” More of this kind of thing can and will be said, limited only by the reach of “Roget’s Thesaurus.”

So, too, demands for Attorney General Merrick Garland to resign.

Bear in mind, some Trump worshipers would vote against the Second Coming if they thought it might jeopardize Trump.

Garland has said what he must: “We will … look at the facts and the law and take it from there.”

And, to his credit, Garland on Thursday announced that the Justice Department asked a judge to unseal the court-authorized warrant that led the FBI to search Trump’s Florida home. Trump could have simply released his copy of that on his own. Now that Garland has acted, Trump said he encourages “the immediate release of those documents.”

Meanwhile, Trump continues to stand by as his allies heap vitriol upon the FBI, the Justice Department and the federal magistrate who approved the warrant.

Trumpists may weep and wail.

Garland need say no more. The legality of Trump’s actions is the prime issue. That is, and should remain, the nation’s focus. Our national security demands no less.