Last week when the FBI served a warrant on Donald Trump’s resort in Mar-a-Lago, Trump had two reasonable options: keep the search private, or disclose it.
Trump chose a third option. He publicized the search, but withheld facts surrounding it, claiming he was under “siege” and “occupied” by a politicized deep state.
Trump, who was in New York for a deposition, could easily have provided the contents of the warrant to the public, as well as the inventory of security-related documents found and removed by the FBI during the search. But he chose not to, and instead amplified the public’s lack of information to foment threats of violence against law enforcement. Again.
Trump also could have revealed that several months before the search, he was served a subpoena for the same documents under warrant. The FBI was looking for documents withheld from 15 boxes of material Trump turned over to the National Archives earlier in the year from his personal cache, which he had taken to Mar-a-Lago. After conducting a detailed review of materials in the 15 boxes, the National Archives suspected that security-sensitive documents were still missing, prompting a subpoena, as well as meetings with Trump’s attorneys beginning in 2021 and continuing through April, May and June 2022. The DOJ clearly attempted less intrusive means to obtain the materials, several times, before the search warrant, according to the New York Times.
Those facts, had Trump revealed them, would have tempered the GOP’s furious response. Instead, Trump sought political martyrdom, announcing, “Nothing like this has ever happened to a president of the United States before. These are dark times for our Nation. (It’s) prosecutorial misconduct… an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024″; “Terrible things are going to happen,” as he was quoted in Newsweek.
GOP members of Congress and right wing media quickly parroted Trump’s claim. Lacking any information as to what was in the documents, what the FBI sought or found, lacking interest in the national security risk involved, and lacking information about the earlier attempts to obtain the documents through less intrusive means, they whipped the void into a furor:
· Newt Gingrich: “We are watching the American left methodically destroy the Constitution and the rule of law … the left-wing secret police…(is) the ugly face of tyranny.”
· Sean Hannity: (It is) “a dark day for our republic, the Department of Justice, the rule of law… if you are associated with Donald Trump… they’re coming for you…”
· Josh Hawley: “The raid by Joe Biden’s FBI… is an unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law (taking) our republic into dangerous waters…”
· Fox News: “This is the worst attack on this Republic in modern history.”
· Rick Scott, Marjorie Taylor Green, Paul Gosar, Stephen Bannon, and Ron DeSantis, respectively: “This is 3rd World country stuff.” “Defund the F.B.I.” “We must destroy the F.B.I.” The FBI is “the Gestapo… We need to choke down the FBI. We’re at war.” “(It’s) … the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.”
Within hours, the MAGA base began targeting law enforcement. Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social, called for violence: “Is the FBI provoking the 80 million patriots to start a civil war?” “The Democrats/FBI have declared war.” “Lock and load. Take these (traitors) out.” After right-wing Breitbart News published the personal identity of two FBI special agents present at the search, Trump’s platform then issued a ‘push alert’ to more widely circulate their personal identities. The home address of the federal judge who signed the search warrant was also published, and the judge faced immediate death threats against him and his children. “Let’s find out if he has children… where they go to school, where they live… EVERYTHING.”
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The FBI building in Cincinnati was soon attacked by a Trump supporter who posted messages on Trump’s Truth Social, calling on “patriots” to go to Florida and kill federal agents. “People, this is it,” he wrote. “Leave work tomorrow as soon as the gun shop/Army-Navy store/pawn shop opens, get whatever (weapon) you need to be ready for combat. We must not tolerate this one… This time we must respond with force…(If the feds try to break it up), kill them.” Even though Trump removes unflattering posts about the January 6 hearings, he did not remove these calls for violence from his platform. The man who attacked the FBI building died in the standoff.
In response to the furor, Merrick Garland filed a motion to unseal the warrant to inform the public about the what and why of the search. Even after Garland filed the motion to unseal the warrant, Fox News continued to deceive its audience, declaring, “Donald Trump fires back at AG Merrick Garland over FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid: Release the documents now!,” suggesting it was Trump — not Garland — who first sought to inform the public.
The Espionage Act makes it a crime to retain, without authorization, documents related to the national defense that could be used to harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary, regardless of classification. When Trump suggested the FBI had “planted evidence,” experienced criminal lawyers sniffed the air — just as people don’t plead the Fifth unless they have something to hide, people don’t claim ‘planted evidence’ unless they possess something they shouldn’t. Trump’s ever-shifting response to the search ranges from ‘the documents weren’t classified’ to ‘they were planted’ to ‘give the planted documents back, they’re privileged.’
Regardless of whether Trump was hiding classified nuclear weapons documents or gifts from Kim Jong-un, the GOP’s uninformed attacks on law enforcement overlooked — and disregarded — severe risks to US national security. Foreign actors have continued access to Trump and Mar-a-Lago, as evidenced by Jared Kushner’s $2 billion investment from the Saudis long after Trump left the White House as well as the recent and controversial Trump/Saudi golf tournament. Kim Jong-un, Putin, the bone-saw prince, and all nefarious dictators have staff with passports; Russian tycoons remain heavily invested in Trump real estate, and South Florida’s “Little Moscow” in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, is a short drive from Mar-a-Lago.
In addition to disregarding foreign adversary risks, Trump and the GOP are playing a dangerous game by agitating a largely deceived MAGA base already primed for political violence. In historical context, their game grows sinister: Trump fired his FBI chief James Comey for refusing to attack political rivals; Trump-led rallies chanted “lock her up” to threaten rival Hillary Clinton; Trump held up military aid to Ukraine for dirt on Biden’s son; and General Mark Milley warned of Trump’s attempt to politicize the military and wrote of Trump’s wish that “his generals” would be more like the Third Reich’s in their subservience to Hitler.
Like a seasoned criminal, Trump manipulates through deception. He routinely accuses others of the very criminal acts he commits, to create distractions and shield himself from accountability. An unabashed authoritarian, Trump has made no secret of his desire to remain in power regardless of what voters want. If GOP leaders know anything at all about world history, they should know the damage their fealty to Trump is causing our country, and be very, very wary of what they are unleashing.
Sabrina Haake is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.