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The GOP targeted Garland for months in preparation for this moment

Republicans have targeted Merrick Garland as a ruthless ideologue. This week, the rationale behind this bonkers offensive at least started to make sense.


UPDATE: (Aug. 12, 2022, 2:05 p.m. ET): NBC News on Friday obtained a copy of the warrant used in the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, as well as the related property receipt. The FBI recovered 11 sets of classified documents in the search, according to the documents.

One of the most profound scandals of Donald Trump’s presidency wasn’t the result of one event, so much as it was the culmination of a series of abuses. The Republican and then-Attorney General Bill Barr engaged in a multi-year campaign to politicize federal law enforcement to a degree unseen in the post-Watergate era.

It was a problem Merrick Garland, a respected former judge, was eager to fix after succeeding Barr as the nation’s chief law enforcement official. The Justice Department had been battered and bruised by Trump treating it as his own personal law firm, and the new attorney general set out to restore its standing and reputation.

Republicans appear to have a different plan in mind. The New York Times reported:

The F.B.I. had scarcely decamped from Mar-a-Lago when former President Donald J. Trump’s allies, led by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, began a bombardment of vitriol and threats against the man they see as a foe and foil: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

As a matter of political strategy, it’s worth emphasizing that the offensive against the Democratic attorney general didn’t begin this week. Indeed, if the tactics were going to work, they couldn’t have begun this week — because if anyone was going to believe that Garland engaged in outrageous political abuses, the smears would have to land on fertile ground.

Consider, for example, a tweet Sen. Rick Scott published on Monday night. “The FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago is incredibly concerning, especially given the Biden administration’s history of going after parents and other political opponents,” the Florida Republican wrote. “This is Third-World-country stuff.”

Much of the GOP has embraced this rhetorical framing: Garland is a ruthless ideologue who abuses his power, Republicans have argued this week, so Americans cannot trust the Justice Department or the FBI to pursue legitimate investigations related to Trump’s alleged crimes.

Note, for example, how Scott referenced Garland’s DOJ having a “history of going after parents and other political opponents.” It’s difficult to say with confidence whether the Florida senator actually believes his own talking points, but in reality, no such “history” exists.

What Republicans tend to complain about was an incident last fall when the attorney general was confronted with real-world evidence of educators being targeted as part of an intimidation campaign, leading him to write a memo explaining the importance of preventing threats and potential violence.

This led Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, for example, to publish a bizarre tweet claiming that Garland allowed the Justice Department “to spy on parents.” Around the same time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared on Fox News and said, in reference to the next Congress, “We’re going to investigate the attorney general. Why did he go after parents and call them ‘terrorists’ simply because they wanted to go to a school board meeting?”

Taken at face value, all of this was quite bonkers — Garland never called parents “terrorists” because they wanted to go to a school board meeting — but this week, the rationale behind the hysterical offensive at least started to make more strategic sense.

It’s becoming far easier to believe that Republican weren’t outraged by the attorney general trying to prevent violence against educators, rather, they were eager to lay the groundwork for more intense whining if the Justice Department pursued legitimate cases the GOP didn’t like.

The problem, of course, is that the right’s anti-Garland smears have been baseless all along. If Trump’s Republican acolytes are looking for arguments for the mainstream to take seriously, they’ll have to do better than absurd ideas about the attorney general being an out-of-control partisan crusader.