Trump’s effort to paint research as policy covered multiple dimensions at once.
“It’s prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the justice system, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats,” Trump wrote, “who desperately don’t want me to run for president in 2024, especially based on recent polls, and that he will too. Do whatever it takes to stop Republicans and conservatives in the next midterm elections.”
This is three things: the FBI search is an attack by Democrats (1) because they fear Trump in 2024 because of the polls (2) and they want to hurt Republicans in the midterms (3). And that’s just the first sentence focused on several politics in the statement he posted on his social messaging platform.
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It is important to note that there is no reason to think that the FBI’s action was motivated by politics. Rather, the default assumption should be more reasonable that the decision to search Mar-a-Lago received unusual consideration given the importance of searching the estate of a former president and semi-presidential candidate.
The Washington Post reported that “agents were conducting a court-authorized search while investigating possible mishandling of classified documents that were sent to Mar-a-Lago,” according to someone familiar with the investigation. “Court-authorized” means a federal judge signed by a court order. So not only the FBI, and probably Attorney General Merrick Garland — It is necessary to decide to move forward with politically volatile research. They had to convince a judge that it was justified. In other words, a third party reviewed and approved the request to seize potential evidence, evidence that investigators believed existed.
(As mentioned, the search appears to be related to Trump’s retention of federal documents, including some that were classified, after he left office. His habit of destroying documents is also well-established.)
Even setting aside the improbability that the FBI — and Trump-appointed director Christopher A. Wray — are simply doing the bidding of “radical left-wing Democrats,” Trump’s claims about the 2024 election are equally easy to reject President Biden’s approval rating is lower now than Trump’s at the same point in his presidency, but Trump remains ahead of Biden by three points nationally in recent Yahoo News-YouGov polls of registered voters . The former president likes to inflate his standing in political contests, but there is little sign that Democrats are worried about his candidacy. If anything, Democrats and Biden largely seem to think that Trump is the best possible Republican candidate for the current president’s reelection chances.
The idea that this search would somehow negatively affect Republican chances in November also seems misplaced. For one thing, it drowns out the relatively good week Biden is having, with the passage of a strong reconciliation bill by the Senate on party lines. On the other hand, it risks mobilizing Republicans against the government in the same way (if not to the same extent) as the reversal of the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade democrats with energy. If Trump’s narrative of politically motivated research takes hold, the ramifications in terms of GOP voter motivation will be negative for Biden, not positive.
There are already good reasons to think the narrative will take hold. Consider the immediate reaction of Fox News contributor (and former CIA officer) Buck Sexton.
well no The message being sent, especially at the time Sexton was speaking, was that federal criminal investigators had enough evidence to convince a judge that there was evidence of a crime at Mar-a-Lago. If Fox News viewers are worried that their own estates are busy looking for government documents they stole from the White House, perhaps Sexton’s alarmism is justified.
For many on the right, of course, the immediate reaction was to amplify Trump’s claims and draw attention to the angry conservative media universe. Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) pledged to dismantle the FBI, for example, conveniently tagging every conservative voice he hoped might retweet him.
“This assault could only take place in broken Third World countries,” Trump wrote in his statement. “Unfortunately, America has become one of those countries, corrupt on a level never seen before.”
Conservative commentator David French succinctly rejected this idea.
“Yes, corrupt regimes politicize prosecutions,” he said he wrote on Twitter. “But corrupt regimes also allow the powerful to break the law with impunity. If the legal and evidentiary grounds exist for a search, even a former president it should be sought”.
Monday’s search makes the possibility that Trump could face criminal prosecution very real. It may also change the timing of Trump’s long-awaited announcement of his bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. After all, his complaint that he was being targeted as a potential opponent of Biden in 2024 carries less weight that if it were in reality a potential opponent to Biden.
In July, Rolling Stone reported that Trump had spoken to confidants about the benefits of running for and then being president in terms of federal prosecution. Trump, one person told the magazine, had talked about “how when you’re the president of the United States, it’s hard for politically motivated prosecutors to get to you.” Justice was, of course, a central theme of Trump’s actual presidency.
Lara Trump appears on Fox as she covers the search for Mar-a-lago, saying she has spoken to her father-in-law and is “as shocked as anyone.”
She says it’s an attempt to hurt him, as she’s “going to announce any day now that she’s running for president in 2024.” pic.twitter.com/T46IMbaKd1
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 9, 2022
All of which is why the Justice Department was treading carefully as details emerged about Trump’s post-election actions. Garland has come under fire from the left for not actively prosecuting Trump, the former president after proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to his political opponents. But it was inevitable that any serious law enforcement action aimed at Trump would trigger precisely the kind of politically charged response that emerged almost simultaneously with the news itself.
This is precisely why the American legal system has so many controls aimed at minimizing any political interference. It’s also why Trump spent so much time and energy insisting (including in his statement on Monday) that, despite objective evidence, the FBI and Justice Department were hopelessly biased. That works much better for him than treating the pursuit of Mar-a-Lago as serious and, if you’ll pardon the pun, justified.