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In Mar-a-Lago scandal, Cornyn focuses on the wrong ‘precedent’

I’m glad John Cornyn is thinking about precedents in the Mar-a-Lago scandal. I just wish he were focused on the right ones.


Nearly a month after the FBI showed up at Mar-a-Lago, many prominent Republicans still want to defend Donald Trump. They’re just not sure how.

In fact, Politico reports that the latest revelations have left “all but Trump’s staunchest allies tangled in knots.” To bolster the point, the article included this head-shaking quote:

“I know the Presidential Records Act makes those not his records,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I think what [Attorney General] Merrick Garland decided to do was heavy-handed and frankly naive. What he’s done now is create a precedent that the Department of Justice can execute a search warrant against a former president when alternative means to accomplish the same result would have been available.”

Look, I realize senators are just returning to Capitol Hill this week after several weeks away. Many members traveled during their summer break and may not have closely kept up on current events.

But Cornyn, who has spent years on the Senate Intelligence Committee and knows full well just how serious this scandal is, pitched a line to Politico that’s needlessly misguided.

For one thing, as the senator really ought to understand, the Justice Department had already exhausted “alternative means to accomplish the same result.” Agencies spent months begging the former president and his team to be responsible. A senior law enforcement official — the chief of the counterespionage section of the Justice Department’s national security division — personally went to the glorified country club in the hopes of securing cooperation. There were also, of course, subpoenas included in the process.

These “alternative means to accomplish the same result” didn’t work because Trump ignored them. Even Bill Barr, the former president’s former attorney general, conceded last week, “They jawboned for a year, they were deceived on the voluntary actions taken, they then went and got a subpoena, they were deceived on that. ... The facts are starting to show they were being jerked around.”

If Barr understands this, Cornyn can, too.

But just as notable is the Texas senator’s concern about “precedent.” To hear the Republican lawmaker tell it, there’s a problem with federal law enforcement executing a search warrant against a former president. That’s certainly one way to look at this controversy.

The other way is to be concerned about an entirely different kind of precedent: What happens when a former president is credibly accused of illegally taking classified materials, refusing to give them back, and allegedly obstructing the retrieval process? What’s more, what kind of precedent would it set if such a former president, instead of facing the same kind of treatment any other American would receive under identical circumstances, were to somehow receive special treatment, thanks in part to pressure from a political party that became indifferent to accountability and the rule of law?

I’m glad Cornyn is thinking about precedents. I just wish he were focused on the right ones.