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Keller @ Large: Mar-A-Lago search likely means Donald Trump running for president again

Keller: FBI raid gives Trump a weapon in battle for public opinion
Keller: FBI raid gives Trump a weapon in battle for public opinion 00:36

BOSTON - One question - does Attorney General Merrick Garland have the nerve and probable cause to go hard after former president Donald Trump - has been answered.


Now we await the answer to another key question: what's in those documents the FBI seized from Mar-A-Lago Monday?

That's the key to whether the events of Monday will be remembered as an unprecedented fishing expedition at the home of a former president that will cast more aspersions on the fishermen than the fish, as Trump and his allies immediately insisted, or a search that opened up an explosive new front in the multi-faceted criminal probes of the ex-president.

After all, there is no doubt that Trump - like others before him, but never to this extent - has in the past violated the Presidential Records Act. But there are no criminal penalties provided for in that law, and if the seized documents, however classified, are on the level of Hillary Clinton's infamous mishandled emails (e.g. ephemera), it's a big nothing-burger.

But what if the documents contain national security secrets, or evidence relevant to the ongoing investigations into the attempt to overturn the 2020 election result, the meddling with the Georgia vote count, and the Trump organization's tax returns?

In time, this will all come out in the wash. However, politics abhors a vacuum and these days, rushes to fill one with the most toxic rhetoric imaginable. Garland has proven to be a careful, clandestine prosecutor in this case, moving deliberately with no leaks. Even as the House Committee on January 6 rushes to get its work done before next January, when a potentially GOP controlled House will disband them, Garland, too is under time pressure. It's worth noting that Monday's search came just outside of the 90-day window before the midterm elections that has served as an unofficial deadline for Justice Department actions with potential political impact.

The language from top Republicans and the online right is already incendiary. They've never been interested in the truth about Trump, and won't wait for the facts. Democrats and other anti-Trumpers would be wise to let the legal system do the talking, but wisdom is not the coin of the realm these days.

And Trump himself is a happy man today in one sense. The search and the predictable right-wing uproar over it likely cements his decision to run for president again, and solidifies one of his favorite modes of political self-branding as a martyr to the conspiracy theorists' favorite cause, the battle against the "deep state." Believe it or not, that also makes many Democrats happy, the ones who believe their best chance of retaining power this fall is to have the most divisive figure in US political history atop the GOP.

So as the grotesquely polluted waters of American politics whip themselves into a frenzied whirlpool over the events of Monday, sane Americans should consider a few more questions as they await actual substance: if the former president was sharing or selling national secrets, do we really want to look the other way? If he wasn't doing anything beyond his usual disregard for process and protocol, what does that tell us about DOJ competence?

The truth will come out. If anyone has the patience to wait for it.

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