In the aftermath of the FBI executing a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump and his cohorts have experimented with a great many talking points — some of which have already been discarded, and all of which have been unpersuasive. But as the controversy becomes more serious, the Republican Message Machine is still revving, hoping to find a line that might work.
Over the past few days, a line has emerged: The Justice Department is “interfering” in the midterm elections by investigating these alleged crimes. Trump, for example, argued over the weekend, by way of his Twitter-like platform:
“The DOJ and FBI are practicing Election Interference at the highest and most dishonest level our Country has ever seen before, both in the Midterms, and the 2024 Presidential Election.”
Three weeks after the Mar-a-Lago search, this talking point has suddenly become quite popular. Tom Fitton, who leads a far-right legal activist group Judicial Watch, and who reportedly encouraged Trump not to give back the documents the former president took, tweeted yesterday afternoon, “The Biden raid on Trump’s home is election interference.”
Even Republicans who should know better have begun pushing related rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt said on ABC yesterday, “What I wonder about is why this could go on for almost two years and, less than 100 days before the election, suddenly, we’re talking about this.”
Around the same time, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu added on CNN, “Former President Trump has been out of office for going on two years now. You think this is a coincidence just happening a few months before the midterm elections?”
Right off the bat, let’s set the record straight on a couple of relevant details. No matter what one thinks of Trump, reasonable people should be able to agree that he’s a private citizen. He is not a candidate for elected office and he has no formal role in any political party. To suggest that federal law enforcement should leave him alone, to avoid “interfering” in the midterm elections, because a lot of Republicans still like him, is bonkers.
What’s more, let’s not forget that then-FBI Director James Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails with less than two weeks remaining before Election Day 2016, as millions of Americans cast ballots by way of early voting. If Republicans like Blunt and Sununu found this inappropriate, they kept their concerns to themselves.
It’s probably worth adding that there’s a qualitative difference between early August and late October. If the Justice Department were trying to influence electoral matters, it likely would’ve waited until after Labor Day, instead of moving forward in the middle of summer.
But putting all of this aside, Trump’s defenders appear to be going out of their way to miss the point of the controversy: If the former president had cooperated with federal officials and followed the law sooner, this entire mess would’ve been resolved months ago.
Yes, it’s happening now, with 10 weeks remaining before the 2022 midterms, but whose fault is that? As a New York Times report explained over the weekend, “When the F.B.I. descended on Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s home and club in Florida, on Aug. 8 and carted off several boxes of sensitive documents, it was only after government officials had spent more than a year using various — and far less invasive — means of trying to secure the materials or get them back.”
Sununu and Blunt marveled on the air yesterday at how these developments could unfold so long after Trump’s White House exit. But it’s taken all of this time because officials pleaded with the former president, only to be rebuffed.
I suppose the rejoinder to this from the right is that the FBI could’ve waited until after the midterm elections, but this wasn’t a credible option, either: Trump allegedly had sensitive secrets at his glorified country club. To wait until after Nov. 8 would’ve been to needlessly put our national security interests at risk for months.