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Paxton, allies try (and fail) to defend Trump’s Mar-a-Lago scandal

Eleven Republican state attorneys general had a month and a half to come up with a defense of the Mar-a-Lago scandal. They apparently came up empty.


By any fair measure, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago scandal has literally nothing to do with state government. A former federal official allegedly took federal documents from a federal building in violation of federal law.

And yet, a group of Republican state attorneys general have apparently taken a keen interest in the investigation anyway. The Washington Post reported:

Texas’s Ken Paxton and 10 other GOP state attorneys general came to the defense of former president Donald Trump on Tuesday in his legal fight over documents the FBI seized last month, filing an amicus brief in a federal appellate court that argued the Biden administration could not be trusted. In a 21-page document that repeated numerous right-wing talking points but that experts said broke little new legal ground, the officials accused the Biden administration of “ransacking” Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of the former president, during an Aug. 8 court-authorized FBI raid and of politicizing the Justice Department.

Right off the bat, the existence of this amicus brief is weird, since literally all of the underlying questions in this case involve federal issues. There are no state interests here — except to the extent that 11 Republican state attorneys general, led by a scandal-plagued and indicted Texan, feel the need to rally behind a former Republican president.

One would like to assume that the state AGs in Texas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia would have actual work to do.

Making matters worse is the court filing itself. Reuters’ Brad Heath noted that Paxton’s brief is “basically a litany of why-Biden-is-bad-and-shouldn’t-be-trusted” assertions. The reporter added the filing “echoes an assortment of complaints you might have heard on Fox News opinion shows.”

Or put another way, this was less of an amicus brief and more an example of partisan chest-thumping submitted to a federal appellate court to make 11 Republicans lawyers feel better.

But perhaps most notable of all is what the filing didn’t say. As the Post’s Aaron Blake noted, the document “does next to nothing to actually address the case at hand.”

This was no minor oversight. Eleven state attorneys general had a specific goal: Defend Trump. Given the circumstances, that objective was hardly outlandish: The former president appears to have stolen classified documents, stored them at a glorified country club, refused to return them, and then took steps to obstruct the retrieval process. In the process, Trump may very well have run afoul of several federal laws, including the Espionage Act.

It’s against this backdrop that Paxton and his cohorts rallied to defend the former president, but they couldn’t think of much beyond expressing their contempt for Trump’s successor.

Blake’s analysis added, “The brief calls it an ‘unprecedented nine-hour search of former President Donald J. Trump’s private residence’ and even characterizes it as the Biden administration ‘ransacking the home of its one-time — and possibly future — political rival.’ ... But apart from that, the brief doesn’t deal with the search, Trump’s underlying conduct or even the order that’s being appealed at all.”

For the former president, this is not good news. The FBI’s search was six weeks ago, which means these 11 Republican state attorneys general have had a month and a half to come up with some kind of defense for Trump’s alleged misconduct.

The result is an embarrassment: Powerful lawyers set out to defend the former president in the midst of a criminal investigation, and they effectively came up empty. If Paxton and his accomplices think they did their ally a favor yesterday, they’re confused about what just happened.