For Donald Trump and those eager to defend him, Friday was not a good day. Newly unsealed legal documents showed the former president was careless with the classified records he took to his glorified country club, and held highly sensitive materials that included intelligence information derived from clandestine human sources.
Trump’s reaction was predictably incoherent, but of greater interest was the reaction from his party. How would Republicans defend him from these latest revelations? Oddly enough, the cat had their tongues. The New York Times reported:
In the minutes and hours after the F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida this month, his supporters did not hesitate to denounce what they saw as a blatant abuse of power and outrageous politicization of the Justice Department. But with the release of a redacted affidavit detailing the justification for the search, the former president’s allies were largely silent, a potentially telling reaction with ramifications for his political future.
The Times wasn’t the only outlet to notice. The Washington Post added, “In the days after the FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, a group of GOP members of Congress demanded more transparency from the Justice Department about the investigation into the former president, asking the department to release the affidavit used ahead of the search. But now that the Justice Department released a redacted version of the affidavit, those same Republicans have refrained from commenting.”
Axios had a related item, noting, “Many Trump allies have grown quiet in recent days after initially leaning hard into their criticism of the search. There’s a renewed weariness that has seeped into some of the private conversations among Trump advisers and those in his orbit as more of these facts are released to the public, adding to a growing feeling there may be some justification for the search.”
To be sure, it’d be an overstatement to suggest the former president’s more sycophantic allies were completely silent. The House Judiciary Committee’s Republican minority tried to downplay the importance of the revelations, for example, and GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert published a couple of weird tweets.
But by any fair measure, the partisan reaction was muted. The contrast with three weeks ago is amazing: After learning of the FBI executing a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Republicans tripped over themselves to condemn federal law enforcement and defend the former president. GOP officials, from the leadership to the backbenchers, scrambled to find cameras and microphones, expressing bizarre confidence that Trump couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong — and surely didn’t deserve scrutiny along these unprecedented lines.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed a Republican investigation into federal law enforcement, claiming that it’d “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” Succumbing to apparent peer pressure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell eventually issued a related statement of his own.
That was three weeks ago. Three days ago, the GOP leaders sat on their hands.
A separate New York Times report added that yesterday morning, “few Republicans appeared on the major Washington-focused news shows to defend Mr. Trump.... And those who did appear indicated that they would rather be talking about almost anything else.”
The morning after the Mar-a-Lago search, Politico reported that Team Trump was “taking stock” of which Republicans were — and were not — rallying behind him. If so, it’s likely the former president, who spent the weekend on his Twitter-like platform condemning the FBI and the investigation, noticed that the parade he’s led is suddenly a lot shorter as his allies struggle to defend the indefensible.