AP Photo/Terry Renna

Yes, the Mar-a-Lago Raid Was Extraordinary, but the ‘Deadly Force’ Language in the Ops Order Wasn’t

If you’re like me, you were likely gobsmacked when the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in August 2022. Even without knowing all the details regarding the documents and items seized (we still don’t), the show of force by Joe Biden’s DOJ seemed like a gross abuse of power — and highly political. 


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It left me with a sick pit in my stomach — and I was in the camp of those willing to entertain the possibility that the former president did break the law. Please note: I said “possibility.” To be clear, I did not want that to be the case. 

Nor did I want it to be the case that our government was so corrupt — so far gone — that any rule could be broken so long as it was in the service of “getting Trump.” Yet, I have to acknowledge what we’ve seen play out over and over again in the past eight years. And watching the circus that’s unfolded in a Manhattan courtroom over the past six weeks hasn’t disabused me of the belief that that is exactly where we are at this moment in time: Anything goes, and all means are justified for the ends of ending Trump’s political career. 

But does it even go beyond that, with the aim of ending Trump himself? 

One interpretation of documents unsealed on Tuesday in the case arising out of that raid at Mar-a-Lago is that, indeed, that was the aim of that raid — or, at least, the Biden administration would have been fine had that been a byproduct of its unprecedented action against the former president. 

So, we’ve seen a number of headlines along these lines: Biden administration authorized ‘Use of Deadly Force’ in Mar-a-Lago raid.

Technically, that’s accurate. 

The Biden administration authorized the use of deadly force during the FBI’s raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in August 2022 as part of its investigation into classified records, court documents revealed.
An “Operations Order” produced in discovery as part of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s alleged improper retention of classified records revealed that the “FBI believed its objective for the Mar-a-Lago raid was to seize ‘classified information, NDI, and US Government records,’” as described in the search warrant.
The order, according to a court filing, contained a “Policy Statement” regarding “Use of Deadly Force,” which stated, for example, “Law Enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary.”

From the unsealed Motion for Relief Relating to the Mar-a-Lago Raid and Unlawful Piercing of Attorney-Client Privilege, we see the following: 

According to an “Operations Order” produced in discovery, the FBI believed its objective for the Mar-a-Lago raid was to seize “classified information, NDI, and US Government records as described in [the] search warrant.” Ex. 3 at USA-01285174. The Order contained a “Policy Statement” regarding “Use Of Deadly Force,” which stated, for example, “Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary . . . .” Id. at USA01285183. The agents planned to bring “Standard Issue Weapon[s],” “Ammo,” “Handcuffs,” and “medium and large sized bolt cutters,” but they were instructed to wear “unmarked polo or collared shirts” and to keep “law enforcement equipment concealed.” Id. at USA-01285184.

Here’s the thing: The language reflected in the Operations Order and related documents was standard language — the sort of language you’d find in most orders of that nature. Don’t take my word for it — let’s see what those who’ve actually executed such warrants and/or been present at briefings involving them have to say: 

In other words, while the thought of “deadly force” being contemplated in any way in connection with a former president or his residence is abhorrent, the “Operations Order” and briefing documentation related to the Mar-a-Lago raid were neither unique nor enhanced because of their target. If anything, what they show is that Biden’s Justice Department was determined to treat “citizen Trump” just like any other old schmoe they’d set their sights on and not give him any deference. 

Which, again, to be perfectly clear, in no way justifies the raid or his prosecution. This is simply to point out that the “deadly force” authorization language was not extraordinary, even while the raid itself was. 

One more point on this: Questions have been raised about language in the “Contingencies” section of the documents pertaining to the FBI and Miami field agents “engaging” with the Secret Service. Some have interpreted this to contemplate a physical confrontation between the Secret Service and the FBI agents. 

But what that interpretation appears to overlook is the full sentence at issue: “Should USSS provide resistance or interfere with FBI timeline or accesses, FBI MM EM will engage with [redaction] and [redaction] will engage with USSS POC’s per existing liaison relationship.”

The reference to “POC’s” (points of contact) and “existing liaison relationship” make it clear that the provision is describing how the agents conducting the raid should use existing relationships with the Secret Service to address any resistance or interference — not instructing them to engage the Secret Service with deadly force.

Of course, the next “contingency” in that section references the search team going door-to-door to determine the “occupant status” of any Mar-a-Lago guests if the resort’s Guest Reception personnel declined to provide them with that information. So, characterizing the entire enterprise as overkill, heavy-handed, ridiculous, unconscionable — and a few other choice adjectives — is wholly justified. 

But, no, to those — including a sitting Congressman — characterizing the revelations in these documents as meaning the Biden administration “ordered a hit” on former President Trump, that simply isn’t the case. Was it a disgusting political hit? Absolutely. 


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