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The FBI, Donald Trump, and deadly force

Journalist Julie Kelly recently stirred up considerable outrage at her newest revelation in the Trump/Mar-A-Lago document case:  

An exhibit filed today by Donald Trump in a motion to suppress evidence seized during the FBI’s August 2022 raid of Mar-a-Lago revealed shocking new details about the bureau’s plans to use deadly force and even engage the former president and his security detail that day if necessary. The document is just one of many court filings recently ordered unsealed by Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over the matter in southern Florida.

Graphic: screenshot

Many commentators are aghast. What?! The FBI would use deadly force against President Trump and his Secret Service detail?! Remember Mr. Trump and his attorneys were in constant contact and negotiation with the National Archives over any dispute over documents, and not long before the raid, Mr. Trump, who was personally present, gave the FBI unrestricted access to Mar-A-Lago and implemented additional security measures they recommended. Additional measures, that is, beyond 24/7/365 active Secret Service security.

Remember also any dispute between the National Archives and former presidents are civil — not criminal — matters. We know the National Archives/GSA/FBI sent some six pallets of boxes to Mar-A-Lago before the raid. And now we’ve learned the FBI has tampered with evidence and lied about it to the Court: 

Graphic: X Screenshot

Prosecutors admitted in a court filing on Friday that ‘there are some boxes where the order of items within that box is not the same as in the associated scans.’ The prosecutors had previously told the court that the documents were ‘in their original, intact form as seized.’

‘The Government acknowledges that this is inconsistent with what Government counsel previously understood and represented to the Court,’ a footnote in the filing reads.

Understanding the entire document prosecution is political, lawfare and election interference, let’s examine a few of the issues.

That police officers of any kind may use deadly force if justified, is unremarkable. To review the criteria, which applies to everyone, including the police, for the use of deadly force, go here.  But briefly, the police may use whatever force is reasonably necessary to make a lawful arrest. They may use deadly force when they, or another, are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Keep in mind the FBI went to Mar-A-Lago to serve an unconstitutionally over-broad search warrant in a civil case. They seized all manner of items outside the scope of their warrant. They were not there, as far as we know, to make arrests, yet there were dozens of them, many armed with long arms. Even so, if they found themselves, or another, in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, there or anywhere, they would have theoretically been justified in using deadly force.

According to FBI planning documents Kelly obtained, agents were supposed to bring their “standard issue weapon, Ammo [and] Handcuffs” among other items no agent should need to be reminded to bring on such an assignment. I suppose in an agency as bureaucratic as the FBI, one doesn’t visit the bathroom without filling out forms in triplicate, but that does seem odd.

However, everything about this case, which has been indefinitely postponed while Judge Cannon and higher courts resolve all manner of issues relating to evidence, the law, and presidential immunity, is odd, or more accurately, constitutionally irregular and without precedent. No honest prosecutor should have brought such a case without first resolving such issues.

Again, police officers always have the option of deadly force, just as citizens do. That is one of the primary courses of study in any basic law enforcement academy. It’s continually reinforced throughout any law enforcement career. That’s not concerning or outlandish. What is concerning is the DOJ/FBI hierarchy somehow thought it necessary to put that to paper before the raid. That’s akin to reminding agents to insert keys into ignitions before trying to drive their vehicles.

Graphic: DaybyDay Cartoon, Chris Muir. Used with permission.

Were those Trump-hating bureaucrats trying to cover their asses just in case agents had to “engage” Donald Trump and his Secret Service detail? Were they “reminding” agents about what they hoped might happen, what they wanted to happen? Or was this merely an example of bureaucratic waste and idiocy? It would be interesting indeed to learn whether this kind of documentation is standard prior to serving search warrants across the nation, or was it confined to Donald Trump?  No possible answer to any of these, and more, questions would make the FBI look like an honorable law enforcement agency answerable to the public. Don’t get me started on the DOJ.

By the way, documents in civil cases are virtually exclusively obtained through subpoenas issued by the court having jurisdiction, not through search warrants executed by the police, but hey, it’s Donald Trump, so they’re making it up as they go along.

Mike McDaniel is a USAF veteran, classically trained musician, Japanese and European fencer, life-long athlete, firearm instructor, retired police officer and high school and college English teacher. He is a published author and blogger. His home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor. 

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