It appears that we are in for another week of pins and needles waiting for court filings in the case of Donald Trump’s stolen classified documents which prompted the FBI to get them to a safe place away where odd wandering MAGA fans and foreign spies can’t get to them. The affidavit for the warrant was released last week and showed that the government had tried for months to get Trump to give the documents back and he either lied saying everything had been returned or made fatuous excuses as to why the government had no claim to them.
Next week we can expect that the Department of Justice will respond to a different judge’s request on Trump’s behalf that they show why they don’t need to appoint a special master to determine if any of the documents should be shielded by attorney-client privilege. If so, that could take months, so Trump’s usual delaying tactics may succeed once again. But, importantly, that’s the only success he’s having at the moment.
Trump and the Republicans originally thought the FBI search would be a big help to his and the party’s political fortunes so they immediately jumped upon it, screeching that the FBI was acting like the Gestapo and predicting the beginning of a civil war. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, superciliously declared “the raid on [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents.!” But it’s not looking like the big winner they thought it was. CBS News polled the question last week and found that a large majority, including 20% of Republicans, believe the search was done to protect national security, not to persecute Trump.
Then this week the Sunday news shows suddenly had trouble finding Republicans who were willing to compare the FBI to the East German Stasi or the Department of Justice’s decision action to Stalin’s Great Purge.
Retiring Senator Roy Blunt, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” reluctantly admitted that “he should have turned the documents over and apparently had turned a number of documents over” before petulantly whining about the government waiting until it was close to the election before seizing them. (The government, from nearly all accounts, was trying to give the former president a way out of the mess and he refused to take it.) And more directly to Blunt’s complaint, Trump is just a disgruntled former employee at this point sitting on a bunch of highly sensitive national security documents at his resort hotel, he’s not on any ballot in November. Both New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both widely touted as moderate Republicans, also hemmed and hawed that maybe the FBI did the right thing but then maybe they didn’t and that we need transparency but that it’s difficult since this is a matter of national security. Their discomfort was palpable.
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Nobody knows just how bad this thing will turn out to be. Since that first day when the entire GOP participated in their mass primal scream, we’ve learned that Trump had stashed at least 700 documents, some of them marked with the most top secret designations that exist. That’s very difficult for the party that’s been chanting “lock her up” for the past five years to defend.
Trump, meanwhile, has been throwing everything at the wall on this one and none of it seems to be sticking. The political benefits aren’t materializing while the legal threat he faces is so very real. So he’s now deploying his most dangerous strategy, one he hinted at right after the search when he sent a cryptic message to Attorney General Merrick Garland:
President Trump wants the attorney general to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid. If there was one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry,’ The heat is building up. The pressure is building up. Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know.”
According to the New York Times, this strange message had the senior leadership at the FBI “befuddled.” I actually doubt that. These are people who prosecute mobsters all the time and they know a veiled threat when they see it. And it’s certainly not the first time they’ve encountered it with Trump. They are in the midst of the largest investigation in history with the January 6 insurrection cases which are a direct result of his incitement. He was letting the Attorney General know that he might have to unleash his mob again if they pursue this case and they know it.
The man is a criminal and he’s blatantly asserting that he is immune from the laws that govern the rest of us.
This isn’t the first time he’s made that threat, either, and in the past he was more explicit. At a rally in Texas last January he ranted about the various legal threats he is facing, telling the cheering throng:
“If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had.”
Remember, he called Jan. 6 a “protest” too. And at that same rally, he promised to pardon all the insurrectionists.
After Trump and the Republicans went on their tirade about the Mar-a-Lago search there were numerous threats against FBI agents, with one actual assault resulting in a devoted MAGA follower being killed by police. The extremists are exercised and Trump continues to egg them on. Posting on his Truth Social site he degrades and defames the FBI and the Department of Justice in the lurid terms he usually reserves for Democrats and the media. Holding nothing back, he’s daily making a case for an armed uprising. For instance:
“The law enforcement of our Country has become that of a Third World Nation, and I do not believe the people will stand for it ― between Fraudulent Elections, Open Borders, Inflation, giving our Military to the Enemy, and so much more ― how much are we all expected to take?”
He posted this to his social media site on Sunday:
FBI Director Christopher Wray called the threats “dangerous and deplorable.” And while I do think that talk of outright civil war is hyperbolic, threats of street violence and domestic terrorism are all too real.
Unfortunately, this strategy seems to be catching on with his toadies and minions in the party:
This is, of course, the source of Trump’s power and it is powerful.
Unfortunately, this strategy seems to be catching on with his toadies and minions in the party
There is no doubt that the DOJ and law enforcement as well as the courts are aware that he has a rabid following that has demonstrated its willingness to commit violence on his behalf. But at some point, they will have no choice but to act if they want to preserve what’s left of the government’s integrity. The man is a criminal and he’s blatantly asserting that he is immune from the laws that govern the rest of us.
The fact that Trump is leveraging this particular power to incite violence around these legal cases is a sign of weakness. He cannot persuade anyone who isn’t already persuaded and party officials are with him only out of fear or as long as he is useful to them. Calling for riots in the streets is a nuclear option that may or may not detonate the way he thinks it will. But it has the potential to blow the country apart either way.