Donald Trump’s non-stop drive to paint the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents as a political witch hunt is drawing rebukes from ex-justice department and FBI officials who warn such attacks can spur violence and pose a real threat to the physical safety of law enforcement.
But the concerns have not deterred Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other Trump allies from making inflammatory remarks echoing the former US president.
The unrelenting attacks by Trump and loyalists such as McCarthy, senator Lindsey Graham, Steve Bannon and false conspiracy theorist Alex Jones against law enforcement have continued despite strong evidence that Trump kept hundreds of classified documents illegally.
Before the 8 August raid, Trump and his attorneys stonewalled FBI and US National Archives requests for the return of all classified documents and did not fully comply with a grand jury subpoena in a criminal probe of Trump’s hoarding of government documents.
The FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and club recovered 33 boxes with over 100 classified documents, adding to the 200 classified records Trump had earlier returned in response to multiple federal requests.
Trump’s high decibel attacks on law enforcement officials for trying to recover large quantities of classified documents including some that reportedly had foreign nuclear secrets was palpable in Pennsylvania recently when Trump at a political rally branded the FBI and justice department “political monsters” and labelled president Joe Biden “an enemy of the state”.
The day before in Pennsylvania, to coincide with a major Biden speech about threats to democracy posed by Trump and some of his allies, McCarthy mimicked Trump’s high decibel attacks on the court-approved FBI raid by calling it an “assault on democracy”.
Former law enforcement officials and scholars warn that using such conspiratorial rhetoric impugning the motives and actions of justice department and the FBI runs the risk of inciting threats of violence and actual attacks, fears that have already been proven warranted.
Consider Trump supporter Ricky Shiffer, who posted angry messages about the Mar-a-Lago raid on Trump Social, and then on 12 August armed himself with an assault rifle and attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati. After fleeing the scene he was hunted down and killed by police.
In another sign of potential violence, federal judge Bruce Reinhart in Florida, who had approved the FBI warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, reportedly received death threats after his name was cited in press accounts.
It’s very typical of authoritarians to claim that they’re the victims and that there are witch hunts against themRuth Ben-Ghiat
“I have been dealing with law enforcement and the criminal justice system for close to 40 years. I have never seen the type or virulence of attacks being made every day against the FBI, DoJ lawyers, and judges,” former justice department inspector general Michael Bromwich told the Guardian. “It’s a chorus led by Trump but that includes elected officials at every level. It is dangerous and unacceptable.”
Bromwich added: “It’s one thing for professional rabble rousers, liars, and nihilists – such as Bannon and Jones – to attack law enforcement and DoJ in the way that they have since the search; it’s quite another for so-called respectable political figures such as McCarthy and Graham to do so. Their recent actions and words reflect that theirs is a politics detached from facts and principle.”
Similarly, Chuck Rosenberg, a former US attorney for the sastern district of Virginia and ex-chief of staff to former FBI director James Comey, told the Guardian: “The attacks on federal law enforcement are sickening and reckless.”
Related video: Former President Trump says he wants the DOJ to immediately release FBI search warrant of his Mar-a-Lago home
FBI searches former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Photograph: Jim Rassol/EPA© Provided by The Guardian
To historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who has studied authoritarian leaders and wrote the book Strongmen, Trump’s attacks on the FBI and justice department and his retention of classified documents are consistent with his “authoritarian” leadership style
“It’s very typical of authoritarians to claim that they’re the victims and that there are witch hunts against them,” Ben-Ghiat told the Guardian.
Trump’s furious assaults on law enforcement also targeted the National Archives and Records Administration, causing a notable uptick in threats against the agency, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post.
“No NARA official involved in negotiating the return of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago would have acted with any motive other than to ensure the safe return of all of the presidential records back into the custody of the government,” said Jason R Baron, the former director of litigation at the US National Archives. “It is unfortunate that some would impugn the motives of NARA staff in simply doing their job.”
The frenzied attacks on law enforcement began almost immediately after the raid and included some especially rabid Trump supporters.
Former White House adviser Bannon, who has been convicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House January 6 panel, made unsupported claims to conspiracy monger Jones on Infowars that the FBI planted evidence against Trump during the Mar-a-Lago raid, and that the “deep state” is planning to kill Trump.
“I do not think it’s beyond this administrative state and their deep state apparatus to actually try to work on the assassination of President Trump,” said Bannon, who on 8 September was charged by New York prosecutors with fraud, money laundering and conspiracy involving his role in a private fundraising scheme to fund constructing the US-Mexico border wall.
Right before he left office, Trump pardoned Bannon who had been indicted on similar federal charges involving fraud and the border wall.
Graham provoked heavy criticism for making the suggestion in a Fox News interview that the FBI raid and investigation would lead to “riots in the street”, if charges were filed against Trump.
After critics noted Graham’s comments could fuel violence, Graham doubled down a week later saying he was just trying to “state the obvious”.
In a twist, some veteran justice department prosecutors point out that predictions of violence can potentially be criminal.
For those of us who have spent time with federal law enforcement personnel, the idea that they are members of the deep state or doing the bidding of the radical left is ridiculousMichael Bromwich
“The risk is that predictions of violence can easily become threats of violence bordering on extortion,” former justice department prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig told the Guardian. “Explicitly calling for violence against the government can, in context, become criminal. When Trump loyalists like Bannon and Graham seem to cross that line, they are risking criminal prosecution.”
On another front, even some former close allies of Trump say that his shifting and hard edged attacks on law enforcement look desperate and don’t pass the smell test.
William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general who formerly was a close ally, told Fox News on 2 September he didn’t see any reason why classified documents were at Mar-a-Lago once Trump left office.
“People say this was unprecedented,” Barr told Fox News “But it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?”
To historian Ben-Ghiat, the fact that “Trump had those classified documents and they were mixed in with golf balls and family photos is very typical of authoritarian type leaders who don’t recognize any divides between public and private. Everything is theirs to trade, to sell and to use as leverage.”
For Bromwich, the attacks on law enforcement by Trump and his ardent allies is unprecedented and very dangerous.
“For those of us who have spent time with federal law enforcement personnel, the idea that they are members of the deep state or doing the bidding of the radical left is ridiculous. In my experience, the majority are conservative and Republican. Whatever their politics, they don’t let their political views affect their work.”
“The search of Mar-a-Lago was indeed unprecedented. It was preceded by an unprecedented and colossal theft of government property by the former president.”
Per: The Guardian
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