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The latest red herring in the Mueller probe: The Roger Stone raid

Roger Stone said the Jan. 25 raid on his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home was conducted with "a greater force than was used to take down bin Laden or El Chapo." (Video: Reuters)

Roger Stone’s complaints about the pre-dawn raid of his Fort Lauderdale home last week have now gone mainstream. On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he wants answers from the FBI about the Stone’s arrest on charges of witness tampering, obstruction and perjury. Now, President Trump is echoing those concerns.

It’s deja vu all over again.

One of the mainstays of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference is the near-constant criticism of law enforcement from the Trump side. What better way to insulate yourself from potentially adverse findings than to undermine the entire process? But to accomplish that, conservative media and Trump’s supporters have employed a series of red herrings related to law enforcement procedures.

Starting with the so-called Nunes memo, they have repeatedly cried foul on processes legal experts broadly agree are rather unremarkable and even standard operating procedure. But suggesting otherwise gives Trump backers already predisposed to believe in his persecution something to grab hold of.

In the Nunes memo, then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) argued that surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and, by extension, the launching of the Russia probe, were flawed and politicized. To make that argument, the memo spotlighted the normally confidential process for obtaining warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and particularly its use of the controversial “Steele dossier” full of unverified claims about Russia and Trump.

The main claim was that the FBI failed to disclose that the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the Steele dossier. Except the actual FISA application included a footnote that disclosed the dossier did have political origins. It did not say who, but it avoids naming specific people elsewhere, too. There is no reason to believe this FISA application was exceptional or that the judge who granted the warrant had no idea.

Something similar happened recently with former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Conservative media cheered when a judge looked as if he would review suggestions from Flynn’s legal team of prosecutorial misconduct. Flynn’s lawyers said Flynn was not told lying to investigators was a crime and was not urged to get a lawyer. Some commentators alleged a “perjury trap" and even “entrapment.”

Except Flynn’s treatment was completely standard procedure for someone in his position, voluntarily giving an interview in which he was not in custody. The judge, contrary to the hopes of Trump backers, drove this point home and forced Flynn to take full accountability for his actions.

And now it is happening all over again with the Stone raid. Legal experts generally agree that an armed raid is generally warranted in the case of someone who stands accused of obstructing justice and witness tampering. It is logical for law enforcement to assume someone accused of those crimes might destroy evidence and be considered a flight risk. As with FISA law, people can agree or disagree about whether this should be the standard, but that does not change the fact that it is. Stone’s treatment does not appear exceptional.

Stone on Thursday also suggested that the FBI failed to read him his Miranda rights — without noting that such rights aren’t necessary unless someone is being questioned. And if there were one example that crystallized this entire trend, that might be it.

In fact, about the only thing that seems remarkable about the raid is it was filmed by CNN, whose reporters say they connected the dots and surmised Stone might be arrested that morning. This raid was, by most accounts, similar to the arrest of former Trump campaign chairman — and former Stone business partner — Paul Manafort. But now people can see for themselves what these things look like.

And Trump backers have seized on what they see as another opportunity to inject doubt about the motives of the FBI, and all of law enforcement, including Mueller. Never mind that Stone himself initially said the FBI agents were "extraordinarily courteous.”

These arguments would hardly ever fly in a court of law, mind you. In Flynn’s case, they were expressly rejected by the court. But Trump’s fate will be handled in the court of public opinion, through a possible impeachment process and his 2020 reelection campaign. And the standard for reasonable doubt there is far different and more susceptible to bad-faith process arguments.

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