The Mar-a-Lago raid: A constitutional ‘tipping point’?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump's residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on August 9, 2022. Trump said August 8, 2022, that his Mar-A-Lago residence in Florida was being 'raided' by FBI agents in what he called an act of 'prosecutorial misconduct.' (Photo by Giorgio Viera / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump's residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on August 9, 2022. Trump said August 8, 2022, that his Mar-A-Lago residence in Florida was being "raided" by FBI agents in what he called an act of "prosecutorial misconduct." (Photo by Giorgio Viera / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images) | Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

Early Monday morning, August 8th, in the year of our Lord 2022, at least 30 agents of the FBI swarmed former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida. The government agents were armed with automatic weapons and a “very general” and controversial search warrant.

Was the Mar-a-Lago raid a “tipping point” in the history of American freedom and why should it matter? It should matter a great deal to all Americans and particularly people of faith as a rapidly secularizing America is increasingly not sympathetic to people of religious convictions.

Whether or not Americans will look back on August 8, 2022, as a “Catastrophic Monday”—the day they lost significant constitutionally guaranteed rights—depends on whether the Biden Justice Department gets away with trampling the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in the dust and tossing it onto the ash heap of history.

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First, let’s remind ourselves of what the Fourth Amendment actually says:

“The Right of the People to be secure in their Persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or Affirmation, and particularly describing the Place to be searched, and the Person or things to be seized.”

These words were written by men who had been subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the British Crown and they knew deep in their bone marrow how debilitating such “searches and seizures” were to liberty and freedom.

Let us be clear! The Biden Justice Department violated the Fourth Amendment coming, going, and everywhere in between.

And the person whose rights were trampled is the former President of the United States. If the Federal Government can get away with abandoning the constitutional rights of a former President, who is safe from abuse? The answer in no one!

President Trump’s lawyers said it best when they filed a motion (MOTION FOR JUDICIAL OVERSIGHT AND ADDITIONAL RELIEF) on Trump’s behalf in federal court calling for a “special master” and “to enjoin further review of seized documents” until a master is appointed. This “special master” would be a judge who would supervise the FBI’s examination of the materials seized to determine what is justified by the warrants and what is not.

The motion also asked for “a more detailed Receipt for Property” seized and “require the Government to return any item seized that was not within the scope of the Search Warrant.”

The Trump lawyers’ motion indicates that the government acknowledged seizing “politically privileged materials” and explains that President Trump has thus far received “scant” receipts for property taken with woefully insufficient accounting of what was actually seized. The motion specifies that the FBI confiscated photos, handwritten notes, and other personal items.

The Trump motion also points out that the warrant itself was “overbroad” and that the warrant enabled the government to seize “any other containers/boxes that are collectively stored or found together with the aforementioned documents and containers/boxes.”

Additionally, the FBI agents would not allow Trump’s attorneys to accompany them during their search and they demanded that all security cameras be turned off during their search. They don’t say, “democracy dies in the dark” for no reason. No one was watching the federal agents as they conducted their searches. So, the government could seize anything that happened to catch their fancy.

In such a situation, would the federal agents plant evidence? Given their errant behavior since 2016, one fears that such behavior is not beyond the realm of possibility. Always remember, “the best indicator of future performance is past behavior.”

Another factor makes this whole crisis even more dangerous. Not only is President Trump a former president, he is, as his lawyers noted in their MOTION FOR JUDICIAL OVERSIGHT, “President Donald J. Trump is the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary and in the 2024 General Election…” The motion notes that McLaughlin National Survey finds the former President “leads the next potential Republican candidate by 44 pts., and leads the incumbent President by 5 points if a general election were held today."    

So, Trump is not just a former President. He is, at the moment, the most formidable challenger to President Biden.

Consequently, it is difficult for many Americans not to be tempted to attribute political motives to the Mar-a-Lago raid. This is the major reason that historically, the Justice Department has shied away from pursuing political figures in close proximity to election cycles precisely to avoid charges of “political prosecution,” a characteristic of infamous “banana republics.”

When it comes to the purported reason for the raid and Mr. Trump’s retaining “classified documents,” that argument has been eviscerated legally by two attorneys with Justice Department and White House Counsel experience in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Their conclusion: “A former president’s rights under the Presidential Records Act trump the statutes the FBI cited.”

So, how do we as Americans step back from this dangerous political precipice? First, the Biden Justice Department should quit leaking to the press, and practice transparency. If they have nothing to hide, then prove it.

If they have something serious on President Trump, let’s see it. If that doesn’t do anything, we will have to depend on the federal judiciary to defend the Constitution and hold the Biden Administration accountable in the same way Judge Sirica held former President Richard Nixon to account. As God as my witness, I would be saying exactly the same thing if former President Barack Obama’s home had been raided. This is galaxies beyond partisanship.

If that doesn’t happen, then the American people will have to take matters into their own hands by electing a majority of Congressmen and Senators of both parties in November who will take seriously their oath to defend and protect the Constitution and hold the perpetrators accountable, whoever they are.

This is about as serious as it gets. It is up to the people (that’s all of us, folks) to hold all three branches of our government accountable to keeping the guarantees specified in our Constitution. It is up to us to make certain that government “of the people, by the people, for the people” does not perish.

Let us all pray that men and women of goodwill and who love freedom will prevail—our liberties are at stake.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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