It took Merrick Garland less than four minutes to lay out what – after days of noise – the United States might have been forgiven for thinking was a complicated case.

The attorney general, looking a little wan, broke it down last Thursday afternoon in terms that could not be confused. He said he personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant for the Florida resort-turned-household name, Mar-a-Lago; that the Department of Justice did not take the decision lightly; and that a more standard practice would have been less intrusive.

Garland added that a motion to unseal the search warrant had been filed in light of former President Trump’s hullabaloo (the DOJ did not issue a public statement on the day of the search; Trump announced it) and the “substantial public interest” in the matter.

The interest, and the surrounding debate, has been substantial indeed. Results of a recent Pew Research survey put partisan hostility at its highest point in six years. Last week, that could have been determined without a survey.

Two prominent Maine Republicans, both of whom are running for their old jobs, were quick to decide, without supporting evidence, that the search was politically motivated. “This is not what America’s about. This is not the Constitution of the United States,” was the dismissive response of former Gov. Paul LePage.

The interpretation of the investigation that led to the search of Mar-a-Lago as a political act or an abuse of power is reckless. Repeated communication of it – in increasingly conspiratorial terms – is a political act in itself. What we’re watching unfold is, as Garland so simply outlined, a prudent exercise taken step by step.


“Joe Biden and his Justice team must answer questions,” Former 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin said in a statement. “At a time when Democrats are making government bigger and more powerful, Americans are worried about their freedoms.”

LePage and Poliquin’s disregard for basic information, the rule of law and even the contents of the U.S. Constitution is deeply irresponsible and anti-democratic. Their responses’ rhetorical style is also, by now, exceedingly familiar. But these kinds of cries, despite inching ever closer to “wolf!”, will resound effectively in many quarters.

The cries and their effect distort our way of thinking. Hand-wringing about the Justice Department’s reputation should nothing come to light, for example, is misplaced. Concern among his opponents that it will needlessly fire up the Trump base, or that the FBI will eventually be blamed for bringing about his reelection, puts all the emphasis in the wrong place.

If fear of “partisan outcry” or “political firestorm” were enough to impede the appropriate retrieval of classified documents suspected to have been taken from the White House, basic safeguards of all kinds would have to be abandoned.

“Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye,” Garland said last week. “We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations.”

The Trump investigation is now, for better or worse, very much in the public eye. We cannot be taken in by the resulting political conflict.

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