The affidavit and other legal documents show evidence of a long-term effort, well before the August 8 FBI search, by the Department of Justice to get back documents that Trump had taken from the White House and that should have been in the National Archives.
But Republicans have capitalized on the multiple redactions that cloaked the full reasons for the subsequent FBI warrant and search, to fuel the sense of uncertainty and to accuse the bureau and Attorney General Merrick Garland of overreaching.
“My biggest criticism, and I think the concern of most of the country, is, where’s the transparency, right?” the GOP governor said. “If you’re going to take unprecedented action and raid a former president’s house, well, you better have a strategy for unprecedented transparency,” added Sununu, who’s running for reelection this fall.
“You got to be able to show your cards when you’re taking actions like this.”
The criticism of the department by Sununu was significant and may reflect broader Republican opinion because he hasn’t shirked from criticizing Trump in the past. He’s insulated to some extent from the ex-President’s thirst for vengeance thanks to his popularity in the Granite State, where he rebuffed national GOP entreaties to run for Senate. But Sununu nevertheless implied that election season politics might have been behind the DOJ’s decision to go ahead with a search.
One senior Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, said that Trump should have turned over documents that should legally have been transferred to the National Archives as he left office. And he said officials should be especially careful handling classified material. But in his comments on Sunday, Blunt also betrayed the political pressure Republicans feel to stand with Trump, the dominant figure in their party, even though the Missouri senator is retiring at the end of this year.
“What I wonder about is why this could go on for almost two years and less than 100 days before the election, suddenly, we’re talking about this rather than the economy or inflation or even the student loan program,” Blunt said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
As well as suggesting nefarious activity by the Biden administration, Blunt’s comment hinted at GOP frustration that their attacks on Biden are being somewhat overtaken by Trump’s return to the spotlight. But the idea that the search was simply cooked up to distract from the President’s low approval rating is belied by the evidence of court documents and other material about the case, which suggest months of efforts to get the classified material back from Trump amid his delays and refusals to hand it over. The White House has said Biden had no advance warning of the search, stressing the priority he’s placed on making the Department of Justice independent.
Still, it remains difficult for outsiders to make a full evaluation of whether the DOJ overreached or if it properly considered the enormous implications of searching the home of an ex-president and potential future White House candidate — given the high-level of secrecy surrounding the case because of the classified material involved. The relative lack of information has offered a vacuum that Trump and his acolytes have filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories, which is now being used by more mainstream Republicans to cast doubts on the DOJ’s conduct.
Court date set for Thursday
The fact that Cannon, a Trump nominee, gave an indication she might grant his request has been greeted by some of the ex-President’s allies on social media as a victory. But such a move is not considered unreasonable by legal experts in a case like this. The curiosity here is that Trump did not make his request until the government had been in possession of the documents the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago for two weeks — a factor that has raised questions about chaos within his camp, his strategy and the quality of his legal representation, which had been ordered to submit a new filing after the judge identified several shortcomings in the initial request.
The furor over the documents comes as Trump’s exposure to various probes appears to be growing. His inner circle has been drawn into a criminal investigation in Georgia centering on his alleged attempts to overturn Biden’s victory in the crucial swing state in 2020. The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection has painted a damning picture of the ex-President’s conduct on one of the darkest days in modern US history and is expected to soon ramp back up its hearings. And there are several civil and criminal probes looking into Trump’s business empire.
This all comes with the former President seeking to elevate midterm candidates who buy into his falsehoods about a stolen election in 2020 — a mostly successful run that may have saddled the GOP with problematic candidates who could give Democrats a chance to cling to their Senate majority. This trend, along with some recent wins by congressional Democrats — including the passage of Biden’s big health care and climate bill — and the Supreme Court’s move on abortion, have given fresh hope to Democrats as November looms.
Still, first-term presidents’ parties generally do poorly in midterm elections, especially with approval ratings around 40%, as Biden’s are. So while the 2022 elections may be more competitive than expected, history suggests that they will threaten Democrats’ monopoly on political power in Washington.
Intelligence agencies assess the damage
The political and legal shock waves surrounding the Mar-a-Lago search will play out this week as a behind-closed-doors investigation into the potential national security questions raised by Trump’s apparently cavalier treatment of classified material gathers pace. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has sent a letter to the House Intelligence and House Oversight committee chairs, saying the intelligence community is conducting a damage assessment of the documents taken from Trump’s home, according to a letter obtained by CNN on Saturday.
The classification review is being carried out by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Haines wrote in the letter first reported by Politico. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff and House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney said in a joint statement that they were “pleased” that Haines has launched the damage assessment of classified documents found at Trump’s home in Florida.
The two chairs, who had previously called for the inquiry, pushed for the assessment to move “swiftly.”
Given the sensitive nature of the material under discussion, it appears unlikely that the review will do much to add to the public’s understanding of the extraordinary circumstances of a search of a former president’s home.
That means that the political fallout from the operation is only likely to take on a more extreme cast as the midterm elections approach and is likely to further deepen the nation’s divides over Trump, which he is managing to further widen even while out of office.