Why Merrick Garland Is Losing the People

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday held a belated press conference to explain that he had personally approved the FBI’s raid of Donald Trump’s Florida residence to seize documents deemed U.S. government property. 

A clearly agitated and nervous Garland sought to exude confidence in the raid. He went on to heatedly defend the professionalism and integrity of the Justice Department and FBI. 

But almost immediately after his sermon, the Justice Department and its affiliates were back to their usual selective leaking (“sources say” . . . “according to people familiar with the investigation”) to liberal newspapers. 

In no time, the Washington Post claimed the raid was aimed at finding Trump Administration documents relating to “nuclear secrets.” The now-familiar desired effect was achieved. “Presidential historian” Michael Beschloss quickly tweeted a picture of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, noting that in the past revealing such nuclear secrets had led to the death penalty. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, previously known for comparing Trump’s border detention facilities to Auschwitz and falsely claiming the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian “disinformation,” replied: “Sounds about right.” That is, without any proof, it was legitimate to imagine that the former president of the United States, like the Rosenbergs, should be executed for passing nuclear secrets.

So, as intended, the Justice Department and FBI leaks touched off a round of intended liberal hysteria of the sort we saw during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion with Trump’s 2016 campaign aimed at disguising government misdeeds or overreach. 

Sources Tell Us

Despite Garland’s pious assertions, we know the modus operandi of selective leaking from the career of Andrew McCabe. The disgraced former interim FBI director admitted to lying to federal investigators about his role in leaking to the Wall Street Journal. And the inspector general found McCabe lied on several other occasions about his efforts to leak to and massage the media. At this point, we should assume that “sources tell us” and “according to unnamed sources” are indications that the sources are Justice Department and FBI contacts who were given the green light to manipulate the news by their superiors.

Let’s put Garland’s decision to approve the raid on Mar-a-Lago in the context of the past seven years. The Justice Department and FBI in 2016 interfered in a presidential election in two major ways: They exonerated Hillary Clinton’s clearly illegal use of a private server and her destruction of subpoenaed data. The FBI hired Clinton operative Christopher Steele as an informant and gave its “Crossfire Hurricane” imprimatur to the entire Russian collusion hoax, feeding a 2016 left-wing mantra that Trump was a Russian “asset.” 

In 2015, we learned that candidate Hillary Clinton, as Barack Obama’s secretary of state, had emailed classified government materials using her own private server, likely as a way of skirting Freedom of Information Act requirements. 

In the thick of the 2016 campaign a year later, FBI Director James Comey reported that Clinton had, in fact, broken the law. Yet he assumed a role of federal attorney that was not his own, deciding Clinton’s wrongdoing should not lead to an indictment. 

In that improper role, Comey, not U.S. attorneys, declined to hold Clinton accountable. We learned later that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had met secretly on an airport tarmac (“a brief, casual, social meeting”) with Bill Clinton. 

Somewhere within this tangle of lies (both said they met only to talk about their grandchildren, not about whether the Justice Department would charge Hillary Clinton), we learned: 1) Lynch abdicated her role and simply let Comey play the role of investigator and prosecutor, and 2) Hillary Clinton had “bleached” thousands of emails, some of them under federal subpoena, and destroyed her communication devices and records—all federal felonies.

Trump won the election in 2016, but he never controlled the federal government. For 22 months, at a cost of $40 million, Robert Mueller investigated whether Trump had “colluded” with the Russians to take the White House. Ironically, there was ample evidence to show that Hillary Clinton may, in fact, have done exactly that. 

After all, Clinton worked with the Democratic National Committee,  which, in turn, hired the Perkins Coie legal firm, which hired Fusion GPS, which hired ex-spy Christopher Steele, who hired Russian disinformation source Igor Dyachenko, who used Moscow-based former Clintonite Charles Dolan to find dirt on Trump. Where Dyachenko and Dolan located their false dirt for Steele, no one knows for certain. Some Russian source is most likely the culprit. 

In the end, the ruse was exposed. But in the process of exposing that scandal, the Justice Department’s inspector general found that FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith had altered an application for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make it appear Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page was a Russian agent. (In reality, Page was working with the CIA.) Clinesmith’s FBI superiors had signed off on that fraudulent document that contained legions of errors. 

We learned also that two of the FBI investigators working for Mueller in 2017 were rank partisans and in their amorous exchanges before the 2016 election had texted about how to “stop” Trump amid  slanders and slurs about his candidacy and supporters. Until they were “reassigned,” both had played key roles in investigating Trump.

We also learned that the FBI had “lost” key cell phone data under court request. We were told that the point man of Mueller’s “dream team,” “all-stars,” and “hunter-killer team”—as the Left gushed of the liberal legal ensemble—former Justice Department attorney Andrew Weismann, before, during, and after his tenure on Mueller’s team was a self-admitted anti-Trump partisan. 

Mueller closed shop in 2019, finding no evidence of collusion, after putting two years of a presidency under a constant cloud of implied criminality. Mueller under oath admitted he knew nothing of the Steele dossier or the role of Fusion GPS in disseminating the fraud. No sane person could believe Mueller, given that the role of the dossier and Fusion GPS were the two chief catalysts leading to his own appointment. Was Mueller addled or simply not telling the truth?

The Walls Are Forever Closing In

Throughout this sordid nightmare, the FBI and Justice Department routinely leaked details the left-wing media serially blared were “bombshells” and evidence that the “walls are closing in.” All assured the public that Trump and his family would soon be behind bars for their ties to Russia and sundry other crimes 

No one has been held accountable for these lies. James Comey hired the lying Christopher Steele as an informant. The FBI fired him when they discovered he kept leaking secret information to his own media friends. When Comey was finally called to testify by Congress, he swore under oath 245 times that he had no memory or knowledge of the questions asked. 

Comey did admit, however, that after a private one-on-one conversation with President Trump, he immediately memorialized his version of the confidential discussion using FBI time and devices. He then acknowledged that he later leaked his version of events to the media through a third party. The goal was to prompt the appointment of a special counsel, eventually to be his friend Robert Mueller. Comey went to great but vain lengths to explain how leaking a government memo of a confidential presidential conversation, which was either classified or confidential, was not illegal. 

Comey also later bragged publicly how he sent agent Peter Strzok on a preplanned mission to surprise National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in hopes of finding Flynn in violation of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that has never been prosecuted successfully. Nevertheless, the threat of prosecution was enough to take down a high-profile Trump appointee.

After Comey was rightly fired, his deputy Andrew McCabe assumed control of the FBI. Again, he lied serially to federal investigators. McCabe oversaw the notorious email investigation that exonerated Hillary Clinton—at the very time his wife was running for office in Virginia, aided by funding from a political action committee with ties to the Clintons. McCabe, remember, also purportedly discussed wearing a wire stealthily to monitor Trump, in hopes of recording embarrassing private conversations that would help convince the cabinet to remove him under the 25th Amendment.

In 2020, the FBI sat on the Hunter Biden laptop and its analysts helped feed leaks protecting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign  from otherwise damaging disclosures. 

Some of the laptop’s contents, however, were in the public domain prior to FBI confiscation, and they had variously suggested that Joe Biden and his family were likely involved in selling influence for sizable sums to foreign governments. The laptop evidence suggested, additionally, that Hunter Biden had committed a series of tax, drug, and sex felonies. 

Yet somehow, 50 former CIA and other intelligence officials—among them prior intelligence heads John Brennan, Leon Panetta, Michael Hayden, and James Clapper—believed they had enough knowledge of the laptop on the eve of the election to assure the country it was “Russian disinformation.” Note that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other senators believe that an FBI agent and or analyst had deliberately mischaracterized the laptop as “disinformation” to protect Biden.

Merrick Garland can defend but cannot explain the strange role of the FBI informants. Aside from the infamous Steele, informants keep reappearing in almost every sensationalized political event. Twelve of them apparently were the de facto architects in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

Their nefarious role is one of the reasons why two of the charged defendants were acquitted and two were not found guilty due to mistrials. 

Nor could Garland explain the strange statement from New York Times reporter Michael Rosenberg: “There were a ton of FBI informants among the people who attacked the Capitol” on January 6, 2021. 

There is also the strange asymmetry of the FBI. It routinely now resorts to pre-dawn SWAT raids, shackling the legs and hands of elderly men, and swooping in on would-be targets on the street. Trump associates Peter Navarro, Rudy Giuliani, and John Eastman have all been confronted by the FBI, and either arrested, had their offices searched, or had their phones seized, or all three. But so far only Roger Stone, the target of an FBI SWAT team—which CNN just happened to be on hand to cover—was charged and convicted of a crime. 

Last week’s events at Mar-a-Lago are part of this pattern—raiding the home of the current Republican presidential frontrunner who would beat Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if the general election were held today.

The FBI: What Not to Do

So, to answer Merrick Garland’s scolding, how might the FBI not have lost the faith of the American people? 

It might not have altered documents to ruin the life of an American citizen. When subpoenas arrived for phone records, it could have submitted them rather than wipe them clean.

Its directors might not have stonewalled Congress while under oath or lied to federal investigators or leaked confidential government memos to the press. The FBI did not have to mislead about the contents of a controversial laptop. There was no need to hire foreign nationals during a presidential election to supply dirt on one of the two candidates. 

The attorney general did not need to meet secretly with the husband of someone under FBI investigation. Just as the FBI apparently did not need to raid Kevin Clinesmith’s home to find information about his doctoring of an email, or to put legs irons on Andrew McCabe for lying to a federal prosecutor, or to ambush Christopher Steele and grab his cell phone to ensure he stopped leaking FBI information and lying to the bureau, so too it had no need of shackling Peter Navarro or publicly seizing the phone of Representative Scott Perry (R-Pa.).

Finally, there are existential threats to the United States on the open southern border, from cartel drug runners and terrorists to child traffickers. For 120 days in 2020, Antifa and Black Lives Matter coordinated violent riots that led to over 35 dead, $2 billion in property damage, and over 1,500 law enforcement officers injured. A federal courthouse, a police precinct, and the historic St. James Episcopal Church in Washington were at various times torched. Rioters attempted to storm the White House grounds and sent the Secret Service scrambling to a secure bunker with the president. 

All of the above were mostly ignored by the FBI. Yet these and other violence and illegality posed far more dangers to the American people than do the worried Virginia parents upset about the critical race theory indoctrination of their children.

Finally, Garland has failed to explain why he had sought out a particular federal magistrate to approve the warrant to raid Mar-a-Lago—a magistrate who earlier had recused himself from another case involving Trump. Apparently, Magistrate Bruce Reinhart felt that either his own past partisanship or prior legal work made it impossible for him to remain unbiased in cases involving the former president—except on the present occasion to empower the FBI to raid Trump’s home.

But again, Garland did give a spirited, almost angry defense of the Justice Department and FBI. He was in hot denial that they were anything but professional civil servants. Yet he did not explain why “nuclear secrets,” long sitting in a locked room at Mar-a-Lago, were suddenly putting the nation in harm’s way in a manner they had not eight or 18 months ago.

That raises the question whether Garland is disingenuous or simply naïve. After all, the American people have long trusted their FBI. They want to remain confident in its leadership. Yet it was not the public, but high-ranking Justice and FBI officials themselves—among them most recently Merrick Garland himself—who squandered that confidence. And they should now look inward rather than blast critics for what they have done to themselves and to the country.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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