Trump seizes on FBI research to fuel backlash

Supporters of the former president, whose distrust of government institutions he has cultivated for years, were free to conjure up a damning account of political persecution, seeking to discredit the investigation, while the facts and nature of any Trump offenses remained concealed in accordance with the FBI’s investigation. protocols.

Those who know what federal agents were looking for, what they found, and the extent of the former president’s criminal exposure don’t speak. This includes FBI Director Christopher Wray (a Trump appointee), Attorney General Merrick Garland and the former president himself, who did not say what was written in the search warrant.

All the public knows is that the search involved presidential records, including classified documents, that Trump allegedly took from the White House. The search came after the ex-president or his team failed to return documents that belonged to the government and that authorities said had national security implications, a person familiar with the matter told CNN on Tuesday. . There were also suspicions about whether Trump’s representatives were telling the truth about his transport, the source said.

But a strong sense of the unknown hangs over the whole case, which fuels the conservative counterattack and also leads to a torrent of speculation about the motives for the search and the material taken by the FBI teams. And because government prosecutors generally don’t talk about ongoing investigations unless they make a decision to charge someone – to ensure the integrity of the investigation and the confidentiality of those subject to the investigation – it is unlikely that the situation will be clarified anytime soon.

“The department can’t say much about it now; it’s inappropriate to talk about it now, but it’s not clear and it’s a big deal,” said Preet Bharara, CNN senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

Given the extraordinary circumstances of a search of the home of a former president, it seems unlikely that such a politically volatile step was precipitated by clerical disputes over documents or minor violations of the Presidential Records Act. This is all the more the case since an operation of this magnitude would have required approvals at the top of the FBI and the Department of Justice. But given how little is known about the research, it’s hard to properly assess the Trump camp’s claims that this was an extreme and unwarranted step.

Trump’s attack dogs ignore a key fact

As Trump’s world’s furious reaction grows, his defenders ignore a key fact: The FBI didn’t just show up at his Palm Beach residence on a whim. They had to obtain a warrant from an independent judge who had to be satisfied that there was probable cause that a criminal offense had taken place and that there was evidence on hand to prove that it had. Such procedures are supposed to work in the justice system, which is based on the principle that no one – not even former presidents – is above the law.

But that hasn’t stopped full-frontal attacks from Trump’s political allies and media spokespersons over the unprecedented raid of an ex-president’s home, a stunning escalation as the DOJ pursues two Trump-related investigations. .

“We are no better than a third world country, a banana republic,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, characteristically accusing his enemies of arming the Justice Department, a transgression he was often guilty of. to have tried as president. Trump’s credibility on these issues is also undermined by his record, including two impeachments – one for trying to get a foreign power, Ukraine, to meddle in a US election and the second for inciting to an insurrection with the aim of remaining in power despite its defeat. a free and fair election.

Trump responds to calls from Republican allies to fast-track 2024 bid after FBI raid

Trump has used the FBI research to build momentum for a 2024 presidential campaign he has been keen to launch for weeks – and there is fresh speculation that the rush to his side by many Republicans could spur him to announce as soon as possible. The former president met with 12 of his closest House allies on Tuesday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and got nothing but support to try to get his old job back.

It’s just a matter of “when” he announces, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks told CNN. “My feeling is he’s fired up and ready to go.”

Monday’s FBI research represented a remarkable development in just one of the legal fronts beating Trump. It recently emerged that his attorneys were in talks with Justice Department prosecutors investigating the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising. Trump could also be dragged into a criminal investigation in Georgia into his efforts. and his allies to steal President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state. And he also faces a civilian investigation in New York into the finances of the Trump Organization.

But if any proceedings against Trump are automatically viewed by his fans as political and tainted, there is little hope for the integrity of America’s judicial institutions.

Trump’s counterattack portends a time of angst for America

The uproar that Trump quickly stoked boded ill for a vicious period of polarization in the months to come. This new national nightmare is sure to color a new election since Trump is already a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination and millions of supporters will buy into his scheming.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — though he gave no sign he had intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the Trump-related investigation — threatened to enlist a potential new Republican majority after midterms to go after Garland.

“I’ve seen enough. The Justice Department has reached an intolerable state of militarized politicization,” the California Republican said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Another key member of the House GOP leadership also weighed in.

“There must be an immediate investigation and accountability of Joe Biden and his administration’s weaponization of this department against their political opponents – the likely 2024 Republican nominee for President of the United States,” the representative said. New York Elise Stefanik, the Third Ranking House. Republican.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who raised his fist to cheer the Trump crowd before they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, said that at a minimum, Garland should be impeached or resign. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, compared the federal government’s actions to the Gestapo in Nazi Germany during an appearance on Fox Business.

The lopsided rhetoric was, instead, more extreme about the conservative media that supported and enabled Trump while he was president. And the vitriol was pouring out on social media, reminiscent of the violent speech that led to the Capitol attack. On an online forum dedicated to Trump, one poster commented, “Lock and load,” while another said Garland “must be murdered,” CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan reported.

Trump shows his mastery of the GOP base

The vehemence of the FBI’s search response simultaneously demonstrated Trump’s grip on his party and the strength of his authoritarian cult of personality among the GOP base as he contemplated a 2024 campaign launch.

The conservative reaction has again exposed the undercurrent of violence in American political life. And it demonstrated how many Republicans aspiring to win elections know they must show complete loyalty to the former president, regardless of his alleged transgressions.

Republican Congressman Says FBI Seized His Cell Phone

A strong streak of hypocrisy was also evident among Republicans who had demanded that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton be disqualified from running for president for her mishandling of classified information, but now accuse the FBI of pursuing a vendetta against Trump. Some GOP figures, however, accuse Democrats of double standards since they blamed the FBI for its investigation of Clinton’s emails, but seem happy that the office is prosecuting Trump.

The furor the ex-president was able to stoke on Monday night was in part made possible by his own years of false allegations of harassment by the “deep state.”

Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general under Republican President George W. Bush, appealed for calm on Tuesday.

“People just have to hold their horses. They have to understand and remember that it was done under normal practice, that a federal judge was involved, that the department made the required demonstration, that they got a warrant search, that they collected the information,” Gonzales said on CNN’s “Newsroom.”

“It doesn’t mean Donald Trump is going to be indicted, it doesn’t mean there’s going to be a trial – it’s all part of the process of getting the information.”

But such respect for the judicial process, the rule of law and the facts seems almost antiquated in what is still clearly the Trump era of American politics.

Given immediate claims by Trump allies that the raid showed the Biden administration was weaponizing the law to persecute him, it’s inevitable that the integrity of the nation’s instruments of justice will be further damaged — even if the department takes criminal proceedings against him.

Not all Republicans jumped on the Trump bandwagon after the raid. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would rather focus on Biden’s record ahead of the midterm elections, was visibly reluctant, saying he was concerned about flooding in his home state of Kentucky. . But as political pressure mounted, he released a statement Tuesday night saying Garland needed to provide answers to the American people “immediately.”

Trump’s power was demonstrated when two of his top potential GOP enemies — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence — stood up for the former president and demanded answers.

The furor of the past few days has also shown that any remaining hopes Biden might have of delivering on his inaugural promise to bring the country together likely crumbled as soon as FBI agents broke through the gates of Mar-a-Lago.

And that’s just a glimpse of the eruption that would test the fabric of American democracy if Trump were to be indicted in either Justice Department investigation.

Melanie Zanona, Katelyn Polantz, Kaitlan Collins and Pamela Brown contributed to this story.

Brandon D. James