Several lawmakers pushed back on Sunday against Republican criticism of the FBI’s court-authorized seizure of documents from former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, with even some in the GOP warning that the violent rhetoric was “dangerous” and “absurd.”
Still, many Republicans continued to defend the former president, casting doubt on whether the FBI raid of Trump’s Florida home earlier this week was justified – and whether the documents seized were actually top secret.
Some in the party have accused the FBI of being politically motivated, and the conservative media outlet Breitbart published Friday a leaked version of the warrant that contained the names of the FBI agents who participated in the raid.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning of “violent threats” against federal law enforcement, courts, government personnel and facilities in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago seizure, according to the document obtained by the Washington Post. The threats have been posted on social media sites, web forums, video-sharing platforms and other message boards. The threats include general calls for “civil war” and “armed rebellion,” the bulletin states.
On Sunday, a few Republicans reminded their colleagues that the GOP has long branded itself as the party of law enforcement.
“We need to pull back on casting judgment on them,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If you want to hold people accountable, it is the Department of Justice. It is the attorney general who said he supervised that. The FBI is simply carrying out their responsibilities under the law.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called Republican attacks on the FBI “absurd,” noting that his father, an uncle and two cousins have worked as FBI agents.
“It’s dangerous because we saw the one incident already,” Hogan said, referring to the gunman who was killed last week after he tried to attack an FBI field office in Cincinnati.
“There are threats all over the place and losing faith in our federal law enforcement officers, in our justice system, is a really serious problem for the country,” Hogan said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Democrats pounced on Republican attacks on the FBI, embracing an opportunity to appeal to moderates who might be offended by the GOP’s sudden anger at law enforcement officials.
“I thought in the old days the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” “And I hope some of them do today because this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous to our country.”
Court documents unsealed last week included an inventory of seized documents, describing four sets of top-secret documents and seven other sets of classified information. One set of documents was listed as “Various classified TS/SCI documents,” a reference to top secret/sensitive compartmented information, a highly classified category of government secrets.
The Washington Post has also reported that FBI agents were looking for classified documents about nuclear weapons, among other items.
Trump has claimed that he declassified all of the records he took to Mar-a-Lago before leaving office, but he has not offered evidence to support this.
On CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, dismissed some Republicans’ comments that Trump may have kept documents at Mar-a-Lago that he had declassified during his presidency. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and Schiff on Saturday requested a briefing from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines about whether the documents posed a threat to national security.
“We should determine … whether there was any effort during the presidency to go through the process of declassification,” Schiff said. “I’ve seen no evidence of that.”
Though the FBI raid focused the nation’s attention on the legal threats facing Trump and his well-documented habit of ignoring safeguards around top-secret information, Hogan declared the raid a political win for the former president.
The episode “seemed to motivate his base and people rushing to his defense and feeling as if he was being picked upon and martyred,” said Hogan, who has frequently criticized the former president and did not vote for him in 2020.
“But I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the story yet,” added Hogan, who has been considering running for president in 2024.
Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said Attorney General Merrick Garland “has a lot of questions to answer.” At the same time that he called on the Justice Department to release more information about the recovered documents, Turner speculated that the information in the records may be outdated and may not have been technically classified.
“These are materials that are two years old. We don’t know what they are. We don’t know if they rise to the level of being a national security threat,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Another Republican, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., urged the Justice Department to release the affidavit supporting the search warrant, a document that lays out the reasons federal prosecutors thought it was necessary to search Mar-a-Lago. He joined other members of his party in suggesting that Trump’s actions could have been legal, saying that the former president may have had the power to declassify the documents retrieved by the FBI.
“I think it’s very important, long term, for the Justice Department, now that they’ve done this, to show that this was not just a fishing expedition,” Rounds, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on cybersecurity, said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”
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