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Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., the residence of former U.S. president Donald Trump, on Aug. 9, one day after a search by FBI agents.Saul Martinez/The New York Times News Service

The least of the crimes Donald Trump committed as president were the actual crimes. The law stands at the far end of the range of norms and conventions that presidents – and adults – are expected to obey. What set Donald Trump apart was his unwillingness to be bound by any of them: not civility, not decency, not precedent or custom or even rational considerations of self-interest.

Or rather, it was his open disdain for these basic standards of civilized life, his conspicuous and absolute lack of shame, that did the most harm; he did not simply violate them himself but by his example encouraged others to do the same.

And of all the norms he worked so hard to undermine, it was his utter disregard for the truth – for facts, for knowledge – that was the most corrosive. It is not too much to say that he and his co-conspirators succeeded in detaching a good chunk of the population from reality. That’s not a crime. It’s worse.

And yet the two are converging: the law is coming to the aid of the facts. Recent weeks have seen the trials of two men who did much to prepare the way for Mr. Trump, by means of a calculated assault, not just on reality, but by the sheer volume of disinformation they put out, on our ability to perceive reality.

Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former adviser, no doubt thought he could make a political circus out of his trial for contempt of Congress (he had refused to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol). The court had other ideas, trying and convicting him in a matter of days.

The libel trial of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and broadcaster who had accused the parents of the victims in the Sandy Hook school shooting of fabricating the deaths of their children, was an even more significant event. Again and again during the trial, Mr. Jones attempted to envelop the court in his signature cloud of fantasy, only to have the judge yank him back to reality.

This is a court of law, she told him. This is not your show. You swore an oath to tell the truth. So you cannot say things here that aren’t true. He appeared genuinely dumbfounded by the distinction.

And so to Donald Trump. The former president’s immediate reaction to the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., was to issue the usual blizzard of falsehoods. “The Democrats,” he claimed, had “[broken] into” his home. The search was a politically motivated “attack by Radical Left Democrats” that “could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”

True to form, his followers in Congress and on Fox News took up the chant. And yet the less deluded of them must know this is unsustainable. To enter the premises, the FBI had to get a warrant; to get a warrant they had to persuade a judge that the site contained specific evidence of a crime – evidence that would otherwise be in danger of being destroyed.

But of course politically the bar would have been set much higher than that. Any decision to search the house of a former president, let alone someone as dangerous and unpredictable as Mr. Trump, would have to have been approved by officials at every level of the FBI and the Department of Justice. They would not even have applied for a warrant had they not been sure it would be granted, and surer still of what they would find.

Even then, given the obvious risks, it is unlikely they would have proceeded had the issue been merely Mr. Trump’s illegal possession of government documents. The conservative legal analyst Andrew McCarthy argues investigators were probably using the one crime, on which they probably have all the evidence they need, to seek information on another: Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 plot.

When the smoke clears, then, we are probably going to find that Mr. Trump is in a world of trouble. That it came to this, after all, was only because he refuses, more than 18 months after leaving the White House, to give up the documents voluntarily. Which suggests he is every bit as conscious as the DoJ of how explosive they are.

And these aren’t the only legal perils he faces. The state of New York is suing him for tax fraud. A grand jury in Georgia is considering whether to charge him with attempting to corrupt the election process there. One way or another, the odds are increasing that Mr. Trump will soon face his own Alex Jones moment, a rendezvous with reality. On trial for his liberty, he will have to answer questions under oath, in a court of law – the one place left, it seems, where the truth still matters.

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