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The problem with Trump’s response to the FBI ‘raid’ at Mar-a-Lago

After the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump tried to push back with a lengthy defense. It’s amazing just how unpersuasive it was.


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.

There are so many scandals surrounding Donald Trump that when news broke about federal law enforcement executing a search warrant at the former president’s home, the political world had to collectively pause to ask an uncomfortable question: Which of the many ongoing investigations surrounding the Republican generated these developments?

As it turns out, we didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. NBC News reported:

Former President Donald Trump said Monday that the FBI “raided” his home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and even cracked his safe, with a source familiar with the matter telling NBC News that the search was tied to classified information Trump allegedly took with him from the White House to his Palm Beach resort in January 2021.

In case anyone needs a refresher, it was in February when questions first emerged about the degree to which Trump mishandled sensitive materials, some of which were labeled “top secret.” In late February, the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) confirmed that officials uncovered classified information among the documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago — and that the Archives had consulted with the Justice Department about the matter.

In fact, describing the materials as “sensitive” appears to understate matters quite a bit. In February, The Washington Post reported that the classified documents in question “bore markings that the information was extremely sensitive and would be limited to a small group of officials with authority to view such highly classified information.” The Post went on to note in a follow-up report two weeks later that “only a very few” people even have the necessary clearances to review these records, adding, “The documents are so sensitive that they may not be able to describe them in an unclassified way.”

The result was an extraordinary dynamic: A former American president took these secret materials to an unsecured venue known as a haven for spies.

In April, the Justice Department reportedly began moving forward with a criminal investigation, and yesterday, the FBI showed up at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president did not appear to be pleased. In fact, the Republican issued a 340-word written statement, describing the FBI’s efforts as a “raid,” while arguing, “Nothing like this has ever happened to a president of the United States before.”

There’s some truth to that: Other than Richard Nixon, no former presidents have ever had to concern themselves with criminal investigations after leaving office. But former presidents also weren’t accused of improperly taking highly classified documents to a golf resort, either, so here we are.

Trump, overwhelmed with apparent self-pity, rambled on for a while, whining about the United States becoming a “third-world” country, pretending his other scandals weren’t real, complaining about Hillary Clinton, and marveling at the fact that FBI agents, looking for documents, even “broke into” his safe.

At no point in his 340-word statement did Trump get around to saying that he’s innocent. He also didn’t deny mishandling classified information.

The former president did, however, roll out this gem: “What is the difference between this and Watergate, where operatives broke into the Democrat [sic] National Committee? Here, in reverse, Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States.”

There was a notable symmetry to the reference: On August 8, 1974, Nixon announced to the nation that he would resign the presidency. Exactly 48 years to the day, the FBI showed up at Trump’s door, leading the former president to draw a parallel between his dilemma and the scandal that forced Nixon from office.

The problem, of course, is that Trump has no idea what he’s talking about. What’s the difference between the developments at Mar-a-Lago and the break-in at the Watergate a half-century ago? Well, the FBI obtained a search warrant from a judge. Federal law enforcement agents didn’t sneak into any rooms or buildings. The Secret Service was notified and the former president’s lawyer was on the premises during the search.

The Watergate break-in was a crime, the “raid” at Mar-a-Lago was part of an investigation into an alleged crime.

The only thing the two stories have in common is a corrupt Republican president.