The FBI Search of Mar-a-Lago: “We hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest”

Back in 1970, Simon and Garfunkel recorded their album Bridge over Troubled Waters which contained the song, the Boxer. There is a penetrating line in the lyrics which says, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” This is a sad, but true, commentary on human nature. Although most people say that they strive to follow the truth, in fact, many of us reach our conclusions largely by our previously held beliefs rather than by the evidence and the truth.

On Monday, August 8, 2022, former president Donald Trump’s residence, Mar-a-Lago was searched by FBI agents with a warrant. They removed eleven sets of classified documents from his time in the White House. Many Trump supporters had an immediate, knee-jerk reaction and claimed the search was an illegal “raid” implemented by a politically motivated order by Attorney General, Merrick Garland. On the other side, many Democrats also had a knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction, gleefully claiming that the former president was finally declared guilty for his multiple crimes. Both sides jumped the gun and “heard what they wanted to hear and disregarded the rest”.

CNN anchor Michael Smerconish (previously a Republican, now a centrist Independent) created an imaginary conversation between two co-workers, one a Republican, and the other a Democrat:

I can just imagine a conversation between a Republican and Democratic co-worker, they’re gathered around the Keurig and the Democrat says, “Ah, the ‘New York Times’ reported Thursday that there was a subpoena issued, so when Trump didn’t comply, the search was necessary.” And the Republican response, “Yes, but he had produced certain documents and he was cooperating. He even greeted the people from the archives when they came to his house in June. So why didn’t the Feds file a motion to compel or issue another subpoena?” The Democrat says, “If Trump really was a victim, he’d have produced the warrant and inventory that day it happened.” And the Republican response, “The warrant and inventory, they’re meaningless. Show us the affidavit.” The Democrat, “The Washington Post said they were classified documents relating to nuclear weapons. So, there was urgency in conducting the search.” And the Republican response, “The warrant was signed on a Friday, executed on a Monday. That’s not urgency.”

People on both sides “hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest”. As the dust is slowly settling, we all need to take a deep breath and wait for the facts to play out.

Democrats were right when they affirmed that a subpoena had been issued in June, 2022. Not all the documents were turned in. (even though a lawyer for Trump falsely declared that all the documents had been turned over)

Republicans were right in being somewhat skeptical andy reques they appropriately requested that the warrant and the receipt of materials be made public. Merrick Garland released them. The warrant revealed there was probable cause that three laws had been broken: (1) the Espionage Act; (2) the destruction of documents; and (3) the obstruction of justice. If true, these are serious crimes and we need to see if the Department of Justice brings charges or not. According to the receipt, the FBI search obtained eleven sets of information (in about 20 boxes).

  • 1 set of top secret information /  SCI Sensitive Compartmented Information
  • 4 sets of other top secret information
  • 3 sets of secret information
  • 3 sets of confidential documents

This does not bode well for the former president. At the very least, it shows deep carelessness. If it is shown that Trump had knowledge and intent, he might be indicted.

Trump, many Republican leaders and major news outlets have all asked that the affidavit (that was used to justify the warrant) be released to the public. I doubt that this will take place because it deals with super sensitive information (it possibly contains names of our spies and informants, nuclear weapons, methods of espionage, etc.). What I do suggest is that the DOJ reveal the affidavit to the ranking bipartisan members of the Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. These members already have special clearance to handle delicate information and should be trusted.

I also request that we pay attention to what we don’t want to hear even if it is spoken by the “other side”. If it is true, we need to include it in our conclusions. If it is false, we should gracefully refute it. Our democracy is in a fragile situation. Seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and heeding the truth are more necessary than ever.