'Intimidate, humiliate, and embarrass': Growing outcry against DOJ strong-arming of Biden critics

"Law enforcement seems to be using arrest tactics on Trump supporters that are generally reserved for violent and/or fleeing suspects," said Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.

Updated: July 14, 2022 - 9:26am

The FBI and the Justice Department are violating civil liberties and using brutish tactics during politically motivated and highly publicized raids and arrests targeting critics of the Biden administration, according to legal experts.

These displays of force, which some observers have claimed are unnecessary and designed to humiliate those arrested and intimidate others, appear to have at least one thing in common: the person of interest supported former President Donald Trump.

"Law enforcement seems to be using arrest tactics on Trump supporters that are generally reserved for violent and/or fleeing suspects," said Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. "They do not seem justified in many of these cases."

The most recent case occurred late last month, when federal agents searched the Virginia home of former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, surprising the one-time Trump administration official in the morning.

Last week, CNN obtained and aired bodycam footage of the raid, which took place one day before a public hearing by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that examined Clark's role in supporting Trump's efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The video shows federal agents forcing Clark to step outside his home in just a dress shirt and underwear, not allowing him to put on his pants first despite multiple requests to do so.

The feds also reportedly seized electronic devices from Clark's home. According to Clark, 12 agents and two local police officers were there and searched his home for three hours.

"Any sane person should be able to see that the government has been particularly overzealous in exercising its authority in these politically-charged cases," said attorney John Irving, a former federal prosecutor. "A lack of good judgment damages the credibility of the Justice Department and people's faith in our institutions."

Irving is the lawyer for another recipient of alleged Justice Department overzealousness, former Trump White House trade official Peter Navarro.

Navarro was publicly arrested by FBI agents at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C. last month on misdemeanor charges that he acted in contempt of Congress by defying a subpoena from House Democrats' Jan. 6 committee.

According to Navarro, the FBI put him in handcuffs, leg irons, strip-searched him, denied him a chance to call his lawyer, and deprived him of food and water. The Justice Department has said those claims are false.

"Why would you put a 72-year-old man with no criminal record in leg irons in a public arrest at an airport over a misdemeanor offense, especially when he literally lives across the street from the FBI headquarters building and had been in contact with an FBI agent two days earlier to be cooperative?" asked Irving. "This obviously is the kind of case where a defendant would be allowed to voluntarily surrender in court, rather than being the object of a public spectacle."

Such operations haven't just targeted former government officials — they've also targeted journalists and media organizations critical of the Biden administration.

In November, federal prosecutors obtained and executed warrants to raid the home of investigative journalist James O'Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, and the homes of two of his colleagues. Agents seized their electronic devices.

In the case of O'Keefe, FBI agents handcuffed him and required him to stand in the public hallway of his apartment building dressed in his underwear, according to court documents.

The government is investigating whether Project Veritas stole a diary belonging to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's 40-year-old daughter, Ashley Biden. According to O'Keefe and others knowledgeable about the situation, Biden left behind the diary along with other belongings when she moved out of a Delray Beach, Fla. house subsequently occupied by a source who gave the diary to Project Veritas.

Journalists are legally protected by the First Amendment for receiving materials from sources — regardless of how the sources obtained the materials themselves before handing them over to the media.

"These raids are executed by prosecutors and agents to intimidate, humiliate, and embarrass the victim of the government's thuggery and the victim's family, friends, and colleagues," said O'Keefe's lawyer, Paul Calli.

Calli decried how in the case of O'Keefe and others prosecutors "desperately try to keep sealed, as long as possible if not forever, what they secretly submit to the judge in an effort to obtain search warrants."

In other words, a prosecutor "can write anything she wishes to convince the court to sign the warrant," he explained, "and the judge reviewing it has to assume the prosecutor is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sadly, that is not always the case, and thus it is really the prosecutor who secretly controls the basis on which a warrant is issued."

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have asked a federal judge to unseal the warrants used to raid O'Keefe's home. The government has fought to keep them sealed.

Calli also criticized prosecutors and federal agents who "routinely leak information" to journalists "as to when the warrant will be served and the nature of the investigation, so the cameras are rolling for the humiliation."

In December and March, the New York Times published several reports revealing details of the government's sweeping probe targeting O'Keefe and Project Veritas. Critics have suggested the FBI and Justice Department leaked details of their probe to the Times in an unethical way.

Calli chastised journalists who are in coordination with federal law enforcement and "able to double-down on the harassment and intimidation by contacting the victim of the government thuggery during or immediately after the raid seeking comment."

Beyond the cases of Clark and O'Keefe, another person subjected to a raid that was caught on tape by the media was longtime political consultant and ex-Trump adviser Roger Stone.

CNN, which was conveniently staking out Stone's Florida home at the time of the FBI's pre-dawn raid, captured video of the arrest. Stone, 66 at the time, was taken into custody in January 2019 after being indicted by a grand jury as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and now-debunked allegations of collusion with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

More than a dozen FBI agents raided Stone's home donning tactical gear.

"A SWAT team, searching the house, scaring his wife, scaring his dogs — it was completely unnecessary," Stone's attorney said at the time. "A telephone call would have done the job, and he would have appeared. Mr. Stone has nothing to hide."

Federal law enforcement officials have previously described such operations, early in the morning with agents in protective gear, as standard for home arrests.

Other prominent Trump supporters — such as former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — have also been the target of home raids by federal agents. Dershowitz has said some of these raids violated the U.S. Constitution and described others as political revenge, comparing the conduct of federal agents to that of security forces in authoritarian countries.

"None of this nonsense is necessary," said Calli. "The victims have lawyers who are in communication with the prosecutors, who can informally request the material or serve a formal subpoena. These militaristic tactics are designed to break the will of people that prosecutors and agents have already presumed guilty."

Some of the defendants taken into custody by the Justice Department for their alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have also been targets of heavy-handed home raids.

In total, more than 750 people have been imprisoned for Jan. 6-related crimes without a trial. Several have said the FBI, Justice Department, and federal prison officials under the Biden administration violated their civil and constitutional rights. The vast majority weren't accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting law enforcement, or destroying property. Many didn't even enter the Capitol building.

The FBI and the Justice Department didn't respond to requests for comment for this story.