Certain areas of Republican news are putting out the feelers to move on from Trump.
This morning Fox's Steve Doocy repeatedly criticized the right's "harmful rhetoric" against the FBI (rhetoric that's been frequent on Fox). He seemed to be speaking to Trump here: "It would be great if he called for an end to the violent rhetoric against federal law enforcement."
This intellectual exercise helps us bypass our partisan blinders. For example, what would you have said if Barack Obama had refused to concede the election? What would you have said if Black Lives Matter supporters had stormed the Capitol? After asking and answering these questions, it would be impossible for an intellectually honest conservative to justify Trump’s behavior.
The FBI’s search of Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago, reportedly, in at least part, to retrieve nuclear documents (Trump says that’s a “hoax”)—presents the latest opportunity for such introspective contemplation: What if Bill Clinton had left office and taken boxes of sensitive classified documents with him? What if you read about Hunter Biden doing coke with a pile of national security documents around him?
To some degree, we don’t have to strain our imaginations that much. Hillary Clinton’s emails (which I contend was a legitimate issue, regardless of any national security implications) evoked calls to “Lock her up” and slogans like “Hillary for Prison.”
But don’t hold your breath thinking consistency will win the day. Trump survived the Access Hollywood scandal, his disgraceful handling of Charlottesville, and two impeachments. He also lost re-election, sabotaged GOP control of the U.S. Senate, attempted a coup to remain president after losing, and incited a riot at the Capitol. These are simply facts.
The truest thing Trump ever said was probably that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and he “wouldn’t lose any voters.” He’s done irreparable harm to his party and his country—and Republican voters still overwhelmingly support him.
Can you blame Republican politicians for concluding that resistance is futile?
Unfortunately, this conclusion created somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Republican politicians had only believed they could make him go away, it’s likely they could have mustered ten more votes to convict him in the Senate (a step toward disqualifying him from holding federal office ever again). Trump can’t be stopped because Republicans have come to believe he can’t be stopped.
Sure, they’re also afraid of his voters. But there is a sense that Trump is invincible. That he’s above the law. As such, the only way Trump’s monopoly will ever end is if his luck finally runs out and the spell is broken.
The cleanest way for this to happen would be in the form of a sort of deus ex machina. That could take the form of smoking-gun evidence emerging which shows Trump committed a crime that transcends some technicality, and he’s indicted and goes to jail. The fallout is immense, but he is gone.
A less likely scenario (since the most obvious window of opportunity has already passed) is for political leaders to move against him, and for this to persuade enough of Trump’s supporters to matter.
These both seem like laughable scenarios in 2022 America. Outside of the criminal justice system, the most likely path to a post-Trump world (after the missed opportunity to convict him in the Senate) was for Trump to fade away and be replaced.
Ironically, the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago makes that path less likely, assuming it plays out like all the other “unprecedented” scandals. Indeed, it’s likely this is actually helping Trump get re-elected and killing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s momentum as a potential primary rival.
Maybe the evidence seized was so valuable that the risk of turning Trump into even more of a martyr justified the raid. Otherwise, either the Feds obtained enough evidence to put him away, or they may have just put him in the White House. When dealing with Trump, Napoleon’s maxim that “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna” rings true. Anything that doesn’t kill his political career probably makes it stronger.
Now, I would like to believe that conservatives—particularly those who value national security—will appreciate the especially serious nature of this breach—and react accordingly. Is it possible that this threat is so serious that it could move the needle when everything else—including Jan. 6—didn’t? In the past, national security has been cited as a reason why Trump shouldn’t be elected president.
In 2016, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio declared that we can’t give “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.”
Well, we did. The question is, do you think we should have let him keep our nuclear documents forever? Is this breach something we’re willing to ignore and defend?
A handful of Republican governors have criticized the “outrageous rhetoric” of their party colleagues in the US Congress, who have accused federal law enforcement officers of a politicized attack on former president Donald Trump after executing a court-approved search warrant on his Florida home this week.
Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican moderate, described attacks by party members as both “absurd” and “dangerous”, after a week in which certain Republicans have compared the FBI to the Gestapo and fundraised off the slogan: “Defund the FBI”.
Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, Hogan described the comparisons of the FBI to Nazi Germany’s secret police, made by Florida senator Rick Scott, as “very concerning to me, it’s outrageous rhetoric”.
He added: “It’s absurd and, you know, it’s dangerous,” especially after an armed man enraged by the raid was killed in Ohio when he tried to invade an FBI office. “There are threats all over the place and losing faith in our federal law enforcement officers and our justice system is a really serious problem for the country.”
On Monday, FBI agents executed a search warrant at the former president’s private members club and residence in south Florida with an unsealed warrant later revealing Trump is under investigation for potential violation of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice over his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
The episode inflamed conservative commentators and politicians still deeply loyal to the former president, and was followed by the attack on the FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, which led to a six-hour armed standoff that left the lone gunman shot dead.
Hogan, who is rumored to be considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, argued that many of his colleagues in Washington had been “jumping to conclusions without any information, which I think was wrong”.
He added that revelations in the unsealed warrant were a “serious concern” but argued investigators should provide further details on the contents of the seized documents.
Hogan’s comments were followed by remarks from Arkansas’s Republican governor Asa Hutchinson, who appeared on CNN on Sunday and partially mirrored his Maryland counterpart.
“If the GOP is going to be the party of supporting law enforcement, law enforcement includes the FBI,” Hutchinson, a former US prosecutor and private practice attorney, said.
He added: “We need to pull back on casting judgment on them. … No doubt that higher ups in the FBI have made mistakes, they do it, I’ve defended cases as well, and I’ve seen wrong actions. But we cannot say that whenever they [FBI officers] went in and did that search that they were not doing their job as law enforcement officers.”
The comments marked a growing split on the extremist rhetoric from certain Republican party members following the execution of the search warrant. Many senior senate Republicans have remained largely quiet in the wake of the unprecedented law enforcement action, while others have appeared on conservative news channels supporting baseless accusations that the FBI planted evidence during the search.
The Republican congresswoman from Wyoming Liz Cheney, a ranking member on the House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the US capitol, has condemned her colleagues’ rhetoric as “sickening”.
“I have been ashamed to hear members of my party attacking the integrity of the FBI agents involved with the recent Mar-a-Lago search,” Cheney wrote on Thursday. “These are sickening comments that put the lives of patriotic public servants at risk.”
Her stance is slowly being mirrored by other House Republicans after the warrant was made public on Friday.
Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman from Texas told Axios on Saturday that sloganeering against the FBI “makes you look unserious”. And ranking homeland security committee member John Katko told the website: “This is not something you rush to judgment on. ... It’s incumbent upon everybody to take a deep breath.”
Meanwhile on Sunday, the White House continued refraining from commenting on the search warrant. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly declined to answer questions on the matter during an interview with ABC News, citing the US justice department’s independence on law enforcement matters.
When shown video of comments made by House Republican Elise Stefanik, a staunch Trump loyalist, who described the search as “complete abuse and overreach” by the FBI, Jean-Pierre broadly fired back.
She said: “The Department of Justice, when it comes to law enforcement, is independent. This is what we believe, and this is what the president has said. This is not about politicizing anything. That is not true at all.”
Jean-Pierre added a reminder that US attorney general Merrick Garland was confirmed by the US Senate in bipartisan vote, and that Trump nominated FBI director Christopher Wray to his position in 2017.
A Fox News host asked whether Trump tried to sell the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
Eric Shawn wondered whether Trump tried to "sell or share" files "to the Russians" or "the Saudis."
Shawn's speculation came amid Trump's growing ire against Fox News programs like "Fox & Friends."
A Fox News host on Sunday wondered aloud whether former President Donald Trump might have attempted to sell the classified documents he kept at Mar-a-Lago to Russia or Saudi Arabia.
Speaking during a live broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Eric Shawn raised one possibility about what Trump could have done with the classified documents the FBI found during its search of Trump's Florida residence.
"And more questions are being raised this morning. Did former President Trump try to sell or share the highly classified material to the Russians or to the Saudis or others?" Shawn asked.
"Or were the documents innocently mishandled and stored because he thought he had a legal right to have them?" he added.
Shawn then referenced reports from Russian state media that the materials might have been leaked to parties in Russia before segueing into an interview with the intelligence analyst Rebekah Koffler.
Shawn's comments came amid a wave of pushback from some Fox News hosts against the former president and his allies over the Mar-a-Lago raid.
For instance, on Thursday, the Fox News host Steve Doocy confronted GOP Rep. Steve Scalise on air, asking him: "I'm just curious, whatever happened to the Republican Party backing the blue? And, in particular, the 35 members of law enforcement, federal law enforcement, at the FBI?"
Separately, Doocy told House GOP Chair Elise Stefanik that the FBI's raid was "kind of a big deal" given that agents were looking to retrieve classified documents "related to nuclear weapons."
The Fox News host Bret Baier — who in July criticized Trump over the Capitol-riot panel's public hearings — also rejected Trump's baseless claim that President Barack Obama had mishandled documents, too.
"There is a process. President Obama, according to NARA and that statement and everything we know, followed the processes to get those documents to Chicago," Baier said, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration.
He added that the "difference" between Trump and Obama was that in the latter's case, the sensitive documents were "handled properly."
In July, Trump expressed his unhappiness with "Fox & Friends," a talk show he was known to do nearly weekly calls with during his presidency. In a Truth Social post, he called the talk show "terrible" and said it had "gone to the dark side" after one of its hosts — Doocy — questioned his poll numbers.
But Trump appears to still have some supporters on Fox News. Last week, the host Jesse Watters claimed without substantiation that the FBI could have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago. And on Friday, Fox News aired a digitally altered photo that showed the body and face of the federal judge who signed off on the Mar-a-Lago search warrant superimposed on an old image of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
The FBI removed 11 sets of classified documents — some of which were marked top secret and concerned nuclear weapons, according to The Washington Post — from Mar-a-Lago after executing a search warrant on the property last week. The Justice Department is now investigating whether Trump broke three federal laws, including the Espionage Act.
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Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday said Americans might be ready “to turn the page” on former President Trump as he decides whether to run for president a third time.
“People conflate Trump with people’s overall sense of happiness in the country. Donald Trump’s been a friend of mine for 25 years, and I’m always very open about this on my show. But, you know we’ll see whether that’s what the country wants,” Ingraham said during an appearance on Lisa Boothe’s podcast. “The country I think is so exhausted. They’re exhausted by the battle, the constant battle, that they may believe that, well, maybe it’s time to turn the page if we can get someone who has all Trump’s policies, who’s not Trump.”
Trump has unleashed a streak of populism in the Republican Party that might not appeal to voters writ large in 2024, Ingraham theorized.
“The other problem is that it’s really not about Trump, right, this is about the views that Trump now brought to the floor for the Republican Party,” Ingraham said. “They don’t like his views, they don’t like the fact that he called out the military for their failures, that he wanted us to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. That he wanted to treat China and our trade relationship with China in a much — it was smarter, but much different way than the globalists preferred. And they certainly didn’t like the fact that he sent all those illegal immigrants back to Mexico with that Remain in Mexico.”
Ingraham has been among Trump’s longest and most loyal supporters in the conservative media ecosystem, just last week attacking the Justice Department and FBI following the search warrant executed at the former president’s Florida home in connection with an investigation into classified documents reportedly taken from the White House.
“When we get power back, it’s time to hold everyone accountable. The military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who have abused their power, all of them have to held accountable,” Ingraham said on her prime-time show, hours after news of the search broke.
The Fox News host is one of several who the Jan. 6 House select committee found was texting with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, imploring him to get Trump to do something to stop the rioting at the Capitol that day.
The relationship between top talent at Fox and Trump is closely watched by media watchdogs and political analysts as the former president flirts with another White House bid.
On Monday morning, “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy called on the former president to “tamp down the rhetoric” against the Justice Department and FBI following the Mar-a-Lago search and implore his supporters not to threaten members of federal law enforcement.
“Whatever we can do to help — because the temperature has to be brought down in the country,” Trump told a Fox News hours after Doocy’s remarks. “If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.”
Tucker has been "away", and Laura seems to be sending a signal that the jig is up. Did FOX finally get the memo that Murdoch had sent to all his print publications?
Ding ding ding. It’s officially “Operation DeSantis 2024”
Folks, I don’t know how many times I’ve got to drill this into your head—If you want to know about the political machinations of the GOP, don’t look at Tucker, Hannity...it’s ALL about Ingraham!! And right now, it’s % Operation Ron DeSantis!!
Although there are many rivals for the title, this week’s FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, the apparent mishandling of classified information that led to it, and the political fallout since is close to the paradigmatic Donald Trump scandal.
The story is at once totally new and unexpected and yet entirely of a piece with everything we know and have seen from Trump. Both Trump and his most bitter opponents have noted that the search of a former president’s home is unprecedented—Trump to claim it was unjust, his critics to highlight his misdeeds—but it shares three important characteristics with previous Trump scandals. First, Trump is singularly terrible at keeping secrets. Second, Trump always says that what Democrats, especially Barack Obama, did was worse or caused it. Third, there are always more developments yet to come, and it always gets worse.
Documents about Tuesday’s search released today don’t offer many details, but they indicate that agents seized “miscellaneous top secret documents.” The warrant also cites three federal laws: the Espionage Act, which involves information about national defense; a second that involves obstruction of investigations by destroying or hiding documents; and a third related to unlawful removal of records.
None of these documents describe the specific contents of what was seized, but The Washington Post reports that FBI agents were seeking “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons” when they executed their warrant. The New York Times says simply that documents involved “related to some of the most highly classified programs run by the United States.” The Wall Street Journal adds that agents seized 11 sets of classified documents, “including some marked as top secret and meant to be only available in special government facilities.”
In statements responding to the stories, Trump didn’t bother to deny the claims about nuclear information. “President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!” In a second statement this afternoon, he added, “Number one, it was all declassified. Number two, they didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted.” Trump has no evidence for his claim about Obama’s presidential papers including nuclear secrets (and the National Archives already released a statement disputing Trump’s claim); he has offered no proof the information seized was declassified (the cited laws would apply anyway, and as my colleague Graeme Wood writes, even the president can’t declassify nuclear secrets); and the Department of Justice seems to have sought the warrant only after Trump failed to turn over all documents that the government requested.
The idea that a former president would be investigated for absconding with sensitive nuclear secrets is almost unbelievable. Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, the longtime Republican operative Alice Stewart set a hyperbolically high bar for the search. “Doing such a raid to this magnitude, a search to this extreme—anything short of finding the nuclear codes at Mar-a-Lago is going to hugely backfire on the Biden administration,” she said.
In fairness to Stewart, how could she have known? And yet, how could she have been so naive? He’s been here before. Trump is both an inveterate braggart and a terrible secret-keeper. In May 2017, the same week he fired FBI Director James Comey for refusing to protect him personally, Trump disclosed classified information (reportedly obtained from Israel) to the Russian foreign secretary and ambassador during a White House meeting. In April 2019, he posted a photo of an explosion at an Iranian facility, over the objections of intelligence officials, who worried it would undermine future American spying. Later that year, he blabbed about nuclear systems to the reporter Bob Woodward.
Woodward’s sources were surprised by Trump’s loose lips, but they shouldn’t have been. Trump most likely wasn’t sharing these things because they were national-security matters; he was sharing them because they were secrets he could share. This is, after all, a man who leaked about his own extramarital affair to the press. In any case, the U.S. intelligence community became consistently worried about sharing secret information with Trump, for fear he’d spread it, as Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times notes.
The deflection to Obama, conspicuously including the 44th president’s middle name, is telling as well. Trump’s political career is comprehensible only as a response to his predecessor. Though he’d flirted with politics in the past, Trump only began exploring the possibility seriously after Obama’s election. His political movement was driven by racial backlash against a Black president. Specifically, Trump became a political player by making himself the foremost spokesman for the false claim that Obama had not been born in the United States and was not a citizen, and many accounts of his decision to run for president pinpoint Obama ridiculing him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner as a turning point.
Ever since, Trump has sought to blame Obama whenever he gets into a scrape. When he was criticized for sycophancy to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, he accurately pointed out that Russia seized Crimea during Obama’s presidency. When his former national-security adviser Michael Flynn was accused of lying to the FBI, Trump insisted without evidence that this was a conspiracy by the Obama administration. Now he’s turning to whataboutism to defend himself in the document fiasco.
His political allies are ready to buy this argument. The Mar-a-Lago search has, at least initially, rallied the Republican Party around him after months of attenuation. That could change based on new information, but in the past the pattern has been for Republicans to first recoil from Trump and then regroup around him. They haven’t even bothered with the first step here.
Yet the warrant serves as a reminder of a lesson of the Trump administration that could otherwise be forgotten with time: The story always gets worse. After Trump attempted to steal the 2020 election and then incited a violent mob to attack the Capitol to disrupt Congress, one might have imagined Trump had just about reached his nadir. Once you’ve disrupted the peaceful transfer of power, what other depths are there to plumb? And yet the investigations into the paperwork coup and January 6 insurrection have continued to turn up disturbing details, revealing Trump’s role in the whole nightmare to have been one not of passive acceptance but active instigator.
One can never take comfort in the idea that surely the worst has already come to pass with Trump. Who could have imagined things getting worse than the Access Hollywood video? Or than the week of the Comey firing? Or than the coddling of neo-Nazis marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia? Or than attempted blackmail of the Ukrainian government for electoral gain? Every time, Trump manages to find a new way to shock and appall, and every story gets worse.
David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic.