Defenses of Donald Trump smack of elitism, politics and disregard of national security.
The receipt for property that was seized during the execution of a search warrant by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., is photographed Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Credit: Jon Elswick / AP

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While there is more to learn about the handling of the top secret documents Donald Trump took home and refused to return, it will always be true that Bruce Poliquin, Susan Collins and Paul LePage reacted initially by dissing federal law enforcement for searching Mar-a-Lago to get them back.

Under the Fourth Amendment, legal police searches require a warrant approved by a judge who found probable cause of a crime.

Yet Poliquin asserted the FBI should be investigated and he’d press for that if he was elected. Collins opined it was “excessive” if the search was “only” for document retrieval. LePage claimed the search made the U.S. look like a “banana republic.”

Poliquin’s florid statements looked like craven politics leavened with hypocrisy and extremism.

Collins — who, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is well aware of the strict protocols involving classified documents — was at best irresponsible in ignoring the possibility (which happened) that Trump had in his basement sensitive secrets that legally are supposed to be read only in highly secure facilities.

LePage’s remarks sounded like when he compared the IRS to the Gestapo in 2012 (because it collected premiums for health care).

Since police searches to recover evidence are part of the ordinary toolkit used by the criminal justice system, these responses denigrated law enforcement and our legal system, now facing unprecedented threats of violence. The judge who signed the warrant and the FBI have been threatened and last week an assailant with a nail gun and assault rifle tried to breach an FBI building in Ohio. He was killed later in a shootout with police.

Another common Republican talking point —  if this could be done to a former president like Trump it could be done to you, too — showed a strongly elitist tilt.

The notion that it’s bad or scary that a former president is subject to the same laws as anyone would have troubled our founders. Not only does the concept of equality under the law go back to the eight-century-old Magna Carta, but monarchs’ usurpations of the law animated revolts in England in the 17th century and the American revolution in the 18th century.

Indeed, our republic is based in part on the view that everyone is subject to the same laws. We take the concept of the rule of law so seriously that  “Equal Justice Under Law” is carved in the front of the Supreme Court building.

There is no asterisk or exception that puts former presidents like Trump above the laws we must follow.

The Constitution stipulates that presidents impeached and “convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law” and it nowhere states former presidents not convicted of impeachments can’t be.

Forty-eight years ago when Richard Nixon resigned, people were aware a former president could be investigated, prosecuted, tried and punished. Indeed Gerald Ford’s pardon message noted Nixon’s vulnerability prior to a pardon, saying “Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States.”

Rather than a probe of Trump’s actions making us look like a “banana republic,” treating former leaders like others respects our Constitution and laws and is how healthy  democracies operate.

Every former president is an ordinary citizen and has no legal authority to take and keep presidential papers.

That’s even more the case with the national security papers Trump took to Florida, stored in his basement and other parts of the building, and wouldn’t give back even after being subpoenaed. According to the search warrant, there was probable cause Trump violated the Espionage Act and laws prohibiting obstruction of justice and the taking or concealment of government records, each of which carries serious penalties.

Given these facts, Republican defenses of Trump smacked of intense political tribalism.

And, as Republicans used bad arguments to shield Trump, Democrats in Congress continued to govern.

Inflation and gas prices are falling and last week Democrats passed legislation that slashes prescription drug prices for seniors, cuts health care costs, tackles climate change, reduces the deficit and pays for it with taxes on the rich and huge corporations. All that has made for a rather striking contrast between the political parties.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...