Litman: The Mar-a-Lago search could signal the end of another ‘long national nightmare’

Why now? What explains the thunderous revelation that the FBI — no doubt with the approval of the highest levels of the Justice Department — issued a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday? The apparent focus was on documents the former president had removed from the White House.

A very plausible answer is that an indictment linked to official documents could quickly and cleanly serve as the basis for a satisfactory resolution of smallpox on Donald Trump’s country.

A simpler, more prosaic answer to the question of why the warrant was served is that the Justice Department was gathering evidence of a probable reason evidence of a crime was found at Trump’s Florida home.

But of course, when the suspect is a former President of the United States, the simple answer is only the beginning.

As the Justice Department well knows, the Mar-a-Lago search represents a highly dramatic investigative move against a former president, far more dramatic than anything that happened during Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

The Justice Department and the FBI have crossed the Rubicon and they know it. It’s almost certain that Atty. General Merrick Garland should have approved such a move.

The majority of those who are the subject of federal arrest warrants are charged with federal crimes. That said, Monday’s warrant and search clearly lock Trump and the administration he once led into an arch-antagonistic stance, playing for the highest stakes and for the best.

It may seem baffling, even disappointing, that the Justice Department and FBI have decided to down the gauntlet for a crime — “concealing, removing, or general mutilation” of official documents — that is far from the most serious of our believe that the former President could have committed such as obstruction of justice, fraud against the United States and, most dramatically, seditious conspiracy.

But a charge of misuse or destruction of official documents is not a trivial offense, either under federal law (which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison) or the culture of the Justice Department, which takes it very seriously.

In Trump’s case, no surprise, the potential offense seems particularly bold and damaging. Among the documents he reportedly took and refused to return are true historical items belonging to the American people, including the letter President Obama left him when he took office and his bizarre valentines to the North Koreans Dictator Kim Jong Un.

Furthermore, an indictment based on documents, as the President alleges, would be relatively easy to prove and would circumvent 1’s problemsSt The change protected political activity, which Trump would no doubt claim if charged in connection with, say, his incendiary speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.

And most importantly, anyone who “deliberately and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, renders unrecognizable, falsifies or destroys” official documents “will be” disqualified – banned for lifefrom holding future federal offices.

If Trump were convicted of these charges, the law’s clear meaning would permanently remove him from office as a presidential candidate, and all rumors of his 2024 candidacy would be quashed. So is all the support and polarization that the mere possibility of another Trump presidency inspires.

There is a possible constitutional challenge to the provision — a Supreme Court case saying that Congress cannot supplement the constitutional qualifications for office — but it is possible that Garland may have a great solution to the enormous political, cultural and legal issue affecting Trump’s misconduct and norm-breaking actions have led to it.

The department could agree to a modest prison sentence, perhaps none at all, and refuse to pursue the laundry list of other charges; Trump, in turn, could agree not to contest the disqualification provision.

Those who yearn to see Trump in an orange jumpsuit without his fake tan and put it away for years would be left frustrated. At the same time, the former president could hardly emerge as a potent MAGA martyr.

Trump would be duly punished. If he were banned from office, it would eliminate in one fell swoop the most dangerous and divisive aspect of his continued disregard for the rule of law. To paraphrase President Ford’s words when he pardoned Nixon, Monday’s raid on Mar-a-Lago may well be the beginning of a fitting and widely – if not universally – accepted end to our recent “long national nightmare.”

@HarryLitman Litman: The Mar-a-Lago search could signal the end of another ‘long national nightmare’

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