Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images
the national interest

Wall Street Journal Columnist Says Presidential Houses Are Free-Crime Zones

The most persuasive defense of Trump yet.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal’s (excellent) news reporters have revealed that the FBI’s operation at Donald Trump’s home occurred after a source inside Mar-a-Lago told the agency that the former president had lied to the bureau and was keeping classified documents. This is a straightforward account. But if the Journal’s readers are seeking a more entertainingly deranged account, they can turn to a column on the paper’s rabidly partisan editorial page by the venerable Daniel Henninger.

Henninger’s position — to call it an “argument” would give him too much credit — consists of a few key assertions. First, he asserts that the FBI team that seized allegedly classified material from Mar-a-Lago was abdicating other responsibilities:

Let us assume that for 99.99% of the U.S. population in early August 2022, the last thing on their mind was Mar-a-Lago. Instead, a short list of real things preoccupying Americans would include inflation, crime, battles in Congress over spending, Ukraine fighting World War III for us in Europe, and China conducting massive live-fire military exercises around Taiwan.

So it came as a surprise to discover Monday evening that the Justice Department and FBI decided the most important thing in the world just now was raiding former President Donald Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

The FBI, according to Henninger, would only have entered Trump’s home to seize classified documents if this was the most important issue in the world.

In fact, the FBI has no responsibility to handle problems such as inflation, congressional debate, or war in Ukraine. Henninger does list “crime” as one of the issues the FBI neglected. And while it is true that the FBI is charged with fighting crime, (1) it has a large staff, most of which was not tasked with Mar-a-Lago, and (2) Trump’s illegally seized classified documents were, in fact, crime.

This brings us to Henninger’s second, and most important, claim. A former president should be categorically exempt from any federal law enforcement staff entering his home for any reason:

You can hate Donald Trump until your eyes pop out, but let us be clear: He was elected the 45th president of the U.S. He served four years in office. No former president who was disliked by many—not Clinton, Reagan nor FDR—had his home invaded by a squad of FBI agents. This should never happen in the U.S. End of discussion.

Henninger seems to believe the FBI’s operation was predicated by Trump being “disliked” by his fellow Americans. And it is true that this would be an extremely inappropriate reason for the FBI to enter a former president’s home and seize materials. Indeed, it would be an inappropriate reason for the FBI to enter anybody’s home. A warrant generally needs to cite some predicate stronger than the subject being disliked by large numbers of people.

But Henninger proceeds to stake out the radical position that the FBI should never enter a former president’s home for any reason at all. He does not merely insist that alleged violations of the Presidential Records Act are an insufficient basis. His argument covers any possible reason. Trump could have an original copy of the Constitution and the dismembered remains of several missing hitchhikers in his house, and according to Henninger, the FBI would still not be permitted to set foot inside.

Henninger’s idea to make every former president’s home a free-crime zone would be a radical departure from the Anglo American legal tradition. In his defense, columnists often suggest provocative ideas to stimulate discussion. But rather than explore any of these questions, Henninger simply asserts, “End of discussion,” as if his plan’s merits were so obvious they require no explanation.

Unfortunately for Henninger, the point at which he declares the discussion ended comes roughly one-third of the way through his allotted space.

Henninger uses a portion of his remaining word count to float the theory that the FBI acted in response to Joe Biden’s political setbacks:

Multiple members of the sitting president’s own party in the past week—such as Joe Manchin and Jerry Nadler—have openly abandoned Joe Biden for an election that is two years off. Days later, the previous president comes under explicit attack from the FBI.

First of all, Manchin and Nadler didn’t “abandon” Biden, they merely refrained from committing themselves to support his reelection in advance. Second, Biden was actually enjoying his most politically successful week in over a year. If the FBI was actually timing its operations in order to help Biden maximize the news cycle, it probably would not pick the week Biden killed the head of Al Qaeda and passed his signature domestic legislation.

The remainder of Henninger’s column is filled with paragraphs that, while grammatically valid, have no bearing on his thesis and do not appear to have been written by a native English speaker, i.e.:

Incredibly, we are doing this to ourselves. Correction: They are doing it to us. Who are “they”? They, as of Monday, are who much of the political right says they are—the Swamp, the Deep State, the Regime, the Establishment.


Normally in times of hypermarginalized political opinion, it is worth attempting to argue on behalf of a functioning government system. But past some point, that becomes nearly impossible.


With this raid on a former president’s residence, the Swamp pushed past that point. The rest of us are being carried along in their undertow of political debris.

Later in the column, having depicted “the Swamp” as a metaphorical force that somehow lurches over the landscape leaving debris in its wake — which is not how I envision swamps acting — he reimagines it again as a mob of people attacking Dracula. “For the Swamp,” he writes, “Donald Trump is Dracula, and they won’t rest until they’ve put a stake through his heart.”

The image of Trump as a vampire, somehow stabbed through the heart by a swamp — this metaphor becomes slightly less confusing when you remember Henninger has previously established that swamps are capable of moving — is supposed to make the reader feel pity for the former president. All he wanted to do was live in peace and quiet in Mar-a-Lago, possibly abducting young women and sucking their blood, though if he did this, Henninger also believes the FBI would have no right to enter his premises.

WSJ Columnist: Presidential Houses Are Free-Crime Zones