Watching Sen. Roy Blunt talk to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos yesterday, it became clear that the Missouri senator — a member of the GOP leadership — wasn’t eager to criticize Donald Trump. Eventually, however, Blunt broke some new ground. Politico reported:
Sen. Roy Blunt said former President Donald Trump should have turned over the sensitive documents recovered in this month’s search of Mar-a-Lago, even as he continued to defend Trump on Sunday.
It’s worth taking two minutes to watch the clip, if for no other reason than to fully appreciate the circuitous route the Republican took before saying the right thing.
Blunt initially argued that the Justice Department should’ve notified the Oversight Committee before executing a court-approved search warrant. That’s an awfully tough sell: Since when do law enforcement officials have a responsibility to tell Congress about searches of private citizens’ private properties in advance? Wouldn’t that risk jeopardizing ongoing investigations?
Stephanopoulos then honed in on the key point: Did the senator think it was right for Trump to take sensitive materials to his glorified country club? Blunt tried to steer the conversation toward Hillary Clinton — which makes a lot less sense than Republicans seem to realize.
To his credit, the “This Week” host pressed further for an answer on whether the former president’s actions were right or wrong.
“He should have turned the documents over and apparently had turned a number of documents over, George,” Blunt responded, as if it were somehow laudatory that Trump only tried to keep some of his ill-gotten haul.
The GOP senator ultimately concluded, “I understand he turned over a lot of documents. He should have turned over all of them. I imagine he knows that very well now as well.”
The phrasing was oddly reminiscent of Republican Sen. Susan Collins claiming that Trump had learned “a big lesson” following his first impeachment: To hear Blunt tell it, now that the FBI has searched Mar-a-Lago, and Trump is caught up in another criminal investigation, the former president probably knows “very well” that he “should have turned over” the materials that he improperly took and didn’t want to give back.
The problem, of course, is that Trump knows no such thing. He’s spent the last three weeks condemning the FBI and insisting he did nothing wrong. To assume that the former president now realizes he made a terrible mistake is to ignore everything the Republican has said, done, and written on the subject over the last 21 days.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is worth appreciating: Blunt yesterday became the first Republican leader in either chamber to acknowledge to a national audience that Trump did something wrong. To be sure, the Missouri senator is retiring later this year, and need not worry about an electoral backlash, but he nevertheless made a grudging concession his colleagues have been reluctant to make.
Will others follow suit, or will other GOP officials feel the need to denounce Blunt? Watch this space.