The FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago reveals the deep-state cabal and their corrupt media partners deployed no fewer than 10 of the same tradecrafts used to push the Russia-collusion hoax. And with that, history is repeating itself with the same corrupt plot.
1. A Shocking Storyline of Trump Putting America at Risk
With the Russia-collusion hoax, Democrats and a complicit media cartel warned the country that Trump’s relationship with Russia presented a clear and present danger to America. While the reporting oscillated from Trump being too pally with Vladimir Putin to Putin having leverage over Trump, to Trump being a Russian agent, the narrative underlying the hoax was one that, if true, presented the public with a serious national security concern.
Similarly, the hoax surrounding the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home rests on claimed misconduct which, if true, raises concerns of a dire national security crisis. Like having a Russian stooge or agent in the White House, Trump keeping supposedly top-secret documents unsecured in his Florida home suggests a serious threat to our national security.
In both cases, the seriousness of the supposed threat to America’s national security seeks to justify the government’s extreme measures to target Trump.
2. The Building of a Narrative
To support the idea that Trump’s supposed misconduct created a serious risk to America, both the Biden administration and the press quickly converged on the “classified materials” narrative. But none of the crimes on which the Mar-a-Lago search warrant was premised involved crimes related to the illegal possession or storage of “classified materials.” Nonetheless, the media coverage immediately framed the raid as based on the presence of “classified” and even “top secret” materials. Supposed government sources even went so far as to claim the material kept at Trump’s home related to nuclear secrets.
Coverage of the raid sought to further cement this narrative in the public’s consciousness by quoting past public officials bemoaning Trump’s disregard for American secrets. By quickly framing the raid as concerning classified materials, the bad guys hoped the public would ignore the outrageousness of a search of a former president’s home. The backlash came nonetheless, but had the public understood that the fight concerned documents desired by the United States archivist, even stronger pushback would have been likely.
This same scenario played out with SpyGate, with the supposed standard-bearers of journalism reporting Trump and his campaign’s every connection to Russia to create a backdrop against which Trump would be believed to be a Russian collaborator. But unlike SpyGate, Americans have seen this show before and recognize the plot.
3. Leaks, Leaks Everywhere, and Not a Name to Seek
To build their preferred narrative, the Department of Justice and the FBI began leaking like a spigot. While Attorney General Merrick Garland stoically proclaimed during his press statement that he will speak through his court filings, his underlings sowed various storylines throughout the press — and always as unnamed sources.
Americans saw the same scenario from 2016 on, when leaks to the media revealed everything from the FISA surveillance of Carter Page, to the briefing of President Donald Trump on the salacious details of the Steele dossier. The leaks, then, sought to further the Russia-collusion storyline, and now they seek to push the idea that Trump committed a crime that threatens our country’s national security.
4. Same Suspicious Names
The names of the players involved in the Russia-collusion hoax and the hoax that’s going nuclear represent the fourth similarity. With the Russia-collusion hoax, the New York Times and the Washington Post served as the unofficial scribes for the government leakers, pushing whatever storylines best furthered the plots.
Shortly after news of the raid broke, the New York Times and the Washington Post began running tips from “unnamed government sources” “familiar with the investigation.” Not only were the same outlets used to peddle the DOJ and FBI’s selected and slanted leaks, but some of the same journalists involved in the Russia hoax have been covering the raid, such as Tom Hamburger whose emails with Fusion GPS exposed his connection to the scandal.
And then there’s Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who lied to the American public about the FISA applications used to surveil Carter Page. Schiff quickly expressed concern about the “top secret documents” the feds seized from Mar-a-Lago, but he remains snail-slow in apologizing for perpetuating the Russia-collusion hoax.
5. Don’t Question Authority
Schiff also pushed another ploy used in earlier get-Trump hoaxes, namely condemning criticism of the FBI. “The GOP’s unfounded attacks on the FBI are grossly irresponsible,” Schiff wrote in reference to criticism of the raid, adding that it “will only lead to further violence, if they do not stop.” Schiff’s comments add to those made by FBI Director Christopher Wray and Garland, both of whom chastised those who dared call into question the FBI’s integrity.
The country witnessed a similar going-on-the-offensive counter to complaints over the handling of the Russia investigation. But after four years of government officials defending the men and women of the FBI and the DOJ’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane, Americans discovered the rot ran straight through to the top. So the silence-them schtick seen of late is unlikely to work this time.
6. Changing Narratives
Another ploy unlikely to go unnoticed by the country after living through six years of the SpyGate scandal concerns the ever-changing justifications provided for the government’s targeting of a political enemy. Within the course of one week, a complicit media rolled out for the feds a constantly changing series of excuses for the Rubicon-crossing raid.
First, the possible presence of “nuclear secrets” justified the raid, and then when social media mocked that theory, the press moved to the need to protect “classified documents.” Next, the media floated the idea that videos suggested the documents were not secure and then changed the storyline again to say Trump people might be secretly moving the documents. Later came the theory that a confidential human source prompted the search, and later the rationale changed to the search being justified by a supposed lie Trump’s attorney told that there were no documents present at Mar-a-Lago marked classified.
The justification-of-the-day routine hearkens back to the changing rationales proffered to support Crossfire Hurricane. It was a tip about George Papadopoulos — well that and all these folks having connections to Russia. It wasn’t really the Steele dossier until it was again. But wait, the firing of FBI Director James Comey — that needs investigation too.
Nothing stood up then as a solid justification because nothing mattered but getting Trump. Everything else was a pretext. Nothing stands up to scrutiny now either.
7. Court Filings Are Too Important to Share
Another similarity between the hoaxes concerns the need to keep the court filings secret. In SpyGate, it took years before the government released the FISA applications submitted to obtain a court order to surveil Carter Page. And once released, the redactions made much of the information useless. Later, additional disclosures and the inspector general’s report on FISA abuse revealed that the FISA applications, on which the government obtained court approval to spy on Page, were replete with false representations and material omissions. Those applications proved so defective, in fact, that the government later conceded probable cause did not support the surveillance of Page.
In the case of the raid on Mar-a-Lago, the government similarly claims the search warrant application is too vital to be released. As a matter of law, the DOJ’s position is sound. As a matter of lessons learned, the secrecy surrounding the affidavit raises serious concerns that the basis for the search of Trump’s home would not withstand public scrutiny.
8. The Return of the Confidential Human Source
Among the leaks spread over the last week, the most familiar one concerned the FBI’s claimed use of a confidential human source. That CHS provided the FBI with important evidence concerning the documents stored at Mar-a-Lago and reportedly informed the government that Trump had withheld more documents than agents knew. This reporting by the CHS supposedly led the FBI to move forward with the search warrant application.
The Crossfire Hurricane investigation also involved the FBI’s use of CHS, such as Christopher Steele, Stefan Halper, and Rodney Joffe. And that experience leaves Americans leery of the news that a CHS provided the intel necessary to obtain the search warrant.
9. A Partisan Bureaucrat with a Disdain for Trump
As stories of Russia collusion began to unravel, Americans also learned of the anti-Trump sentiments shared by many of the agents on the Crossfire Hurricane team. The text exchanges between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok first woke the country to the reality that politics played a part in the probe. Later, an independent investigation into the prosecution of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn revealed a “get Trump” attitude permeated the entire investigation.
While it has not yet been even two weeks since the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, substantial evidence of a political motive already exists. First, we have the disparate treatment between the former Republican president and the Democrat president’s son who is under investigation and has been since 2018. Then there’s the difference between the FBI’s kid-glove handling of Hillary Clinton and the raid used with Trump. The latter difference proves especially enlightening because both cases involved the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
When NARA, which until late April 2022, was led by head archivist David S. Ferriero, learned of Clinton’s use of a non-governmental email account, Ferriero did not “initiate an ‘Investigation’ of Secretary Clinton’s email practices.” Instead, he communicated “with the State Department on this matter” and “deferr[ed] to the State Department’s review (and any other agencies conducting Investigations).”
In contrast, after NARA retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago and discovered some contained documents marked as classified, NARA immediately requested that the DOJ investigate the matter. The DOJ then used a grand jury to subpoena documents from Trump, as well as to obtain footage from security cameras — investigative techniques never used with Clinton.
That NARA prompted the investigation of Trump and the use of a grand jury proves especially suspect given that Ferriero led the agency at the time and later admitted to retiring to ensure President Biden could choose his successor, suggesting a partisan heartbeat inside the bureaucrat. Ferriero also called Jan. 6 the worst day of his life and claimed when he saw Trump leaving the White House for the last time with a box, he asked himself, “What the hell’s in that box?” Such a response suggests a case of Trump Derangement Syndrome — something seen throughout the Crossfire Hurricane investigation too.
10. A Quick Denial Before Downplaying the Problem
A 10th similarly seen between the Russia-collusion hoax and the latest crusade to crush Trump involves the media’s penchant for denying charges against the government only later to downplay what agents did. With Crossfire Hurricane, you saw the press denying that any spying took place on Trump or his campaign. But once it came out that the government had a confidential human source record conversations with members of the Trump campaign and that an FBI agent presented a briefing for Trump and Flynn as part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the media spun the significance of those revelations by framing them as “not spying.”
Less than two weeks into the latest investigation of Trump, the press is putting on a repeat performance as seen by the immediate denial of Trump’s claim that the FBI seized his passports. But when the government admitted to taking Trump’s passports by mistake, the press merely spun the story as a mistake promptly corrected.
The DOJ and FBI, however, are making a bigger mistake: They continue to think they can execute the same game plan they did for the last six years without the public seeing the similarities. They can’t, and the widespread backlash to the search proves Americans refuse to be fooled again.
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist's senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.
As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.
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