When Partisanship Goes Wrong: A Response to Kevin Phares of the Speechless Podcast

A local Illinois podcaster out of Bloomington-Normal has made some serious errors in his coverage of the FBI search and seizure of Mar-A-Lago. It just so happens I grew up with him.


Hello everyone, I hope you are doing well. Today’s video will be a bit different as it is a response to someone I know personally and someone I grew up with through our time as members of the same Boyscout troop. In this video, I will respond to conservative podcaster Kevin Phares and his coverage of the raid on Mar–A-Lago. 

For those unfamiliar with Phares, he is the host of the Speechless podcast, a conservative show hosted by the equally conservative radio platform Cities 92.9, which is based out of Bloomington-Normal. He’s the current president of Turning Point USA’s Illinois State University chapter and has been a guest on shows such as the Paul Garcia show, another young conservative podcast. 

{Show clips} 

His content is largely critical of liberals, progressives, and other such content creators in the political sphere, which isn’t too surprising. But there is an element of his content that presents itself as open to the so-called marketplace of ideas. One need only look at some of his guest appearances, and you can get a sense of where he stands in the larger rhetorical sphere of online politics. 

{Show clip of him describing his view of conservatism} 

Insofar as Phares describes his view of it, conservatism is about limited government and, to some extent, an understanding of the diversity of thought within his given movement. In other words, conservatism is a diverse movement with a variety of perspectives to be considered and how best to protect people’s property, business, etc. There are of course, more elements to his description, but generally speaking, those are the themes that remain constant among conservatives at large. 

Such thought is probably one of the many reasons Cities chose him, as it hosts a wide variety of conservative and sometimes reactionary political commentators, such as Sean Hannity, Officer Tatum, and Ben Shapiro, to name a few.  It isn’t hard to see why such a view of conservatism might be appealing for some in his local community and to the platforms that want to present that kind of face. 

 But more than just examining the local conservative podcast scene, Phares’ politics and coverage demonstrate a larger flaw within the conservative media atmosphere. That issue being the distrust that Phares and other conservatives hold in modern media and other mainstream institutions being taken as self-justified and, unfortunately, a framing device that is rarely discarded. From that distrust, a larger narrative of persecution can be established. And that is no more evident than in how Phares responded to the search of Mar-A-Lago. 

On August 8th, 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched the former president’s home at Mar-A-Lago and seized multiple classified documents along with presidential records that former president Trump had been repeatedly asked to return to the federal government under several statutes. 

More specifically, the FBI was seizing the documents in an attempt to enforce the presidential records act of 1973, which according to the National archives, requires that “any records created or received by the President as part of his constitutional, statutory, or ceremonial duties are the property of the United States government..” In other words, any documents held by the president that are part of his or her constitutional and legal duties as president are the federal government’s property and can’t be withheld by former presidents without some extenuating circumstance. Sadly for Trump, those circumstances won’t apply here. 

 According to an August 12th report by the New York Times,  the DOJ asserted in their warrant that Title 18, subsections 1519 and 2071, were the basis of their search,  with the first subsection addressing the attempt to conceal, destroy or otherwise alter documents with “intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States…” Meaning that on the first level of statutory authority, the FBI had reason to believe that Trump was attempting to or was willing to conceal the documents he had in his possession, which were already illegally held by Trump. Similarly, section 2071 also deals with the concealment of government documents, albeit more extensively, but the end result is the same. 

When examining these facts and the larger context of the raid in legalese, it would not be hard to feel that the basis of the raid was a concern about proper ownership of government materials and the law’s ability to check former executives in their ability to claim said documents under the law. 

By contrast, consider how Phares inserts partisanship into his analysis and asserts that, much like Liz Cheney’s concession speech, the investigation into Trump’s holding of federal documents is an element of political theater, along with the January 6th committee.

{Show clip} 

With regard to the claims about January 6th, there is a lot of gish gallop and not all of it will be addressed here, but for the sake of brevity and accuracy, it should be noted that when there was a request by Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund for security, it was not delayed or vetoed by the Speaker’s office. In testimony before the United States Senate, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, noted that he only alerted congressional leadership once Sund had told him, on January 6th, that the situation was deteriorating and that they might need more guards. It is further worth noting that this officer did not wait for congressional input before he tried to get help. Pelosi did not, as Phares would like to believe, attempt to block support for capitol security. 

But that is neither here nor there. With regard to the raid itself, while Trump is the first president to have his property searched, the search was not engaging in any particular malfeasance as he suggests. During the raid, lawyers for Trump were alerted to the warrant’s presence and though, sealed, the warrant would be released to the public for consideration on August 12, more than 8 days before Phares released his podcast response to the raid.

{show evidence} 

 It should not be surprising that Trump’s property was searched when he was not present. Remember, Trump was suspected of attempting to conceal documents from investigators and had a previous history of destroying documents even when he was in office. As far back as May of 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration, had been trying to get documents back from Trump, who illegally held onto the property. It wasn’t until January of 2022 that 15 boxes were retrieved by the archives, but even then, not all of the documents were returned. Which is why an investigation criminal investiation opened up into Trump’s handling conduct with documents. 

{Show screenshot}

And while it is understandable to be skeptical of those in the intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracies of the country, it is critical to provide actual context for what was happening and why. The raid into Trump’s home was the product of nearly a year of conflict and demands for Trump to follow the explicit letter of the law, and he failed to do so. 

Phares continues, integrating the reaction by liberal celebrities with the raid itself, seeming to suggest that the raid and the reaction from figures like Stephen Colbert were indicative of a larger societal problem among liberals and that said problem creates a threat to the safety of all citizens. 

{Show clip}

The reality is much more complicated than what Phares presents. There was an additional layer to the search, namely the issue of declassification, which, while broad in its implied power for the president, is not without limits and still requires a process through which the president must go. As explained by the Congressional Research Service, there are codes and executive orders that restrict and influence the declassification of sensitive materials.

 Under US code title 32, subsection 2001.11, current statutory law primarily gives original classification authority to the agency that created the document. The president may sometimes declassify information, and he has broad authority to do so, but he does have to explain specifics. He can’t wave his hands and claim declassification. And considering it was later revealed that the FBI seized documents relating to nuclear secrets, that is probably a good thing. 

{Show image of classified documents}

Not only that, but the issue of classified documents is primarily based off the DOJ raising the possibility of the Espionage act being applied to Trump’s mishandling of classified materials, but even without the documents being classified, Trump would still be in legal jeopardy because of sections 2071 and 1519 of Title 18, as well as the presidential records act. The classification is just the icing on the cake. 

Phares finishes his argument after being confronted by a texter who calls him a liar, using a statement by Trump to argue that corruption motivated the raid and insinuate that America is becoming a so-called third-world country. To Phares, the raid serves only to stain Trump, and that the media has a vested interest in smearing Trump through this raid that is backfiring, both politically and legally.

{Show clip}

The problem with this assertion of electoral success, aside from not being supported by public polling, which has Trump’s unfavorability at 54 percent, is that it ignores the seriousness of the raid itself. Electoral politics, considerations of celebrity reactions, and hail-mary legal insinuations about supposed 4th amendment lawsuits are no replacement for a strong and contextualized examination of legal reality. 

Trump was the first president in history to be raided, that much is true, but why he is was being investigated and to what degree he plays a role in his own legal woes are factors that should have been examined from the very beginning of that podcast. With such a historic and complicated moment breaking out before the American public, it is critical that claims made by both the DOJ and those they investigate are taken with a grain of salt and in the spirit of evidence-based consideration. Sadly, in his coverage of the search, Kevin Phares has insisted upon partisan grievance, deference to Republican political interests and a distrust of the media and traditional institutions as alternatives to more nuanced coverage. While I do expect that some reply may come in the future, I hope the reply will be more nuanced than what was presented in this episode. 


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s