For 24 hours after the FBI executed a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in South Florida — the first time FBI agents have raided the home of a former U.S. president — Republicans of almost every stripe flocked to Trump’s defense, all using variations of the long-standing trope that a dark cabal was out to get him.
Trump’s family members and current and former top advisers accused the Biden administration of using Nazi-style tactics in executing a criminal search warrant. Hardly a mention was made of the apparent reason for the search in the first place — Trump’s allegedly illegal removal of highly sensitive government documents from the White House and a series of reports about his habit of destroying documents.
At the core of the latest twist in the GOP’s awkward dance with Trump since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol is a belief that Republican voters — in this moment, at least — have been re-energized by the view that the “deep state” is out to get Trump while giving a pass to President Biden’s son Hunter and to Hillary Clinton.
“It seems a really extreme reaction [from the FBI] when they were negotiating, and it’s about presidential records, when contrasting with how Hillary was treated and how Hunter was treated,” a former Trump adviser said Tuesday. “Republican voters are now reactivated and re-angered that there are two systems of justice in this country.”
(Asked what they thought would have happened if former President Barack Obama had removed classified documents the same way Trump had, the former adviser said the Justice Department probably would have phoned politely and asked for their return.)
“This is to show that they’re doing something, since the clock is running out ahead of the midterms,” said one Trump adviser. “It will backfire.”
Behind the scenes, the stunning search fueled concern around the escalating legal problems for Trump — stemming from his reported destruction of records, his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and other matters. Rolling Stone reported Tuesday that Trump was building another in a string of criminal defense teams to work on his behalf.
“A f****ing mess,” said one veteran Republican operative. Another coined it “chaos.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that Biden had no advance knowledge of the search and batted away questions about what the agents were seeking.
But absent further details on the nature of the search — Eric Trump said on Fox News that the FBI sought papers related to the Presidential Records Act — the latest stunning event around Trump played out almost entirely in the political sphere, with a keen focus on the 2024 shadow primary for the Republican nomination.
On Fox News Monday night, the former president's daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who at one point was considered a possible Senate candidate, said that the raid likely means Trump will announce his third bid for the White House in a few days. (Some aides previously promised he would announce before July 4 of this year. Other Trump advisers have tamped down talk of his announcing his third run before the 2022 midterms are done.)
Trump’s campaign-in-waiting blasted appeals to his fundraising lists almost immediately after the search on Monday — saying in one fundraising request that his “beautiful home” had been “raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents” and writing in a text blast to his supporters that “Dems broke into the home of Pres Trump.”
Meanwhile, the wide-open field of possible 2024 contenders, who were long reluctant to weigh in on revelations from the Jan. 6 hearings over the last two months, blasted Biden and the Justice Department.
Even Republicans who long ago broke with Trump, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who was almost attacked by the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, decried the search on Trump’s property — though both said the public needs to know more about what agents are seeking, a request that could potentially damage Trump.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a rising star in the party who is often floated as a possible 2024 contender, told CBS News, “We need to let this play out and see exactly what happens.”
The lone big-name Republican who sided with the Justice Department on Tuesday was former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, who told Sirius XM’s Julie Mason that the search of Trump’s safe at his Mar-a-Lago residence was “fair game.”