In the predawn hours of Friday, Jan. 25, more than a dozen FBI agents raided Roger Stone’s home in South Florida and took into custody one of President Trump’s closest longtime confidants.
CNN showed the agents moving up the driveway with weapons and flashlights in footage that critics have said is shocking.
But was it unusual?
The short answer: No. Law enforcement agencies often conduct early morning arrests or raids with large numbers of officers and tactical equipment.
The long answer: Republicans, including President Trump, say the FBI took unusual steps in the Stone arrest and they want answers.
“I thought it was very unusual,” said Trump, in an interview with The Daily Caller. The president added: “Many people know Roger, and Roger is not a person that they would have to worry about from that standpoint. And I thought it was sad to see it. Very sad.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray with a number of questions about the arrest, including whether it was similar in procedure to others with similar charges and why Stone wasn’t allowed to just surrender voluntarily.
“Although I am sure these tactics would be standard procedure for the arrest of a violent offender, I have questions regarding their necessity in this case,” Graham wrote.
Republicans House Members Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also wrote to Wray, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and forwarded their letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Jordan and Meadows have spent much of the past two years criticizing aspects of the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, and they said the manner in which Stone’s arrest was carried was “unsettling.”
Stone himself has also been outspoken since the arrest, saying the FBI used “greater force” than was used in operations conducted on drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Osama Bin Laden.
The FBI and Justice Department so far haven’t responded publicly to the questions raised by the president and GOP members of Congress.
CNN, meanwhile, did respond to questions about how it knew to position cameras outside Stone’s house on the morning he was arrested. The network didn’t get a tip, it says.
Its correspondents noticed that the grand jury that indicted Stone had met on an unusual day — Thursday, rather than Friday, as it normally does. That led the network to guess there could be an indictment unsealed shortly thereafter against someone involved in the Russia investigation, and one of the people it had been watching was Stone.
Michael German, a former FBI special agent and now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, said Stone’s comparisons to the other raids were “ridiculous,” and that armed arrests of this nature seem to have become standard over the past 20 years.
“It’s become much more commonplace to use either SWAT teams or tactically trained agents to do arrests across the board,” German said.
Authorities must take many factors into consideration before they take someone into custody, he said.
“They have the responsibility to not only protect their agents, but the public at large and even the person they are arresting. Often the way to do that is with overwhelming force that would tend to dissuade any resistance.”
A number of other legal experts and former law enforcement officials also have responded over the past week, to say Stone’s arrest was not out of the ordinary, especially in a case in which prosecutors say they feared Stone might have tried to flee or destroy evidence.
“Was the FBI’s show of force too heavy-handed, as has been alleged? Absolutely not,” wrote James Gagliano, a former FBI agent, in a column for the Washington Examiner.
“In the FBI, we tend to defuse situations by removing the fight-or-flight inclination, via our overwhelming presence. To arrest one, we bring 10. For 10, we’ll bring 100,” he also explained.
Apart from the question about whether the procedures in Stone’s arrest were uncommon, German said the question it has raised is a sound one: Has law enforcement in the United States become over-militarized?
“While it might be perfectly justifiable in this case based on what little we know, I would want to see Congress looking at this as a systemic issue,” German told NPR.
He also said Stone may have contributed himself to the way the FBI planned his arrest by his bombastic remarks, which have included posing with weapons and “training” at a firing range in case of a “civil war.”
“Part of the problem is, if you act crazy in public, you take the risk of people believing it,” German said. “If you’re saying things about resisting the government, then the government has to imagine that you might do that.”