After the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, and Republicans furiously looked for ways to defend Donald Trump, some floated a specific talking point: The Justice Department should instead have subpoenaed the taken documents, instead of showing up at his door.
“All they needed to do was issue a simple subpoena, and that would have mandated that if there’s anything left, you turn it over,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity said. Fox News’ Jesse Watters added, “If Trump is not allowed to keep all this stuff, fine. Get a subpoena, he will give it back. It’s not like Trump won’t cooperate.”
Months before the F.B.I. arrived at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump had received a subpoena this spring in search of documents that federal investigators believed he had failed to turn over earlier in the year, when he returned 15 boxes of material to the archives, three people familiar with the matter said. The existence of the subpoena helps to flesh out the sequence of events that led to the search, and suggests that the Justice Department tried methods short of a search warrant to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending F.B.I. agents unannounced to Mar-a-Lago.
In other words, in recent days, Republicans have argued that the Justice Department, hellbent on some kind of political vendetta, was overly aggressive, deploying FBI agents to Trump’s golf club when more measured steps were available.
But federal law enforcement had apparently already exhausted those other options. Officials asked for all of the materials the former president took inappropriately. When that didn’t work, they subpoenaed the documents, and even met directly with members of Trump’s team.
When that also didn’t work, then the FBI showed up at Mar-a-Lago.
In a written statement yesterday, the former president claimed that Monday’s search came “out of nowhere.” Either he didn’t know about the previous efforts, or Trump was again trying to deceive the public. Either way, the idea that FBI agents came “out of nowhere” appears to be completely untrue.
The Times’ report added, “Some senior Republicans have been warned by allies of Mr. Trump not to continue to be aggressive in criticizing the Justice Department and the F.B.I. over the matter because it is possible that more damaging information related to the search will become public.”
If that sentence didn’t make the rounds in GOP circles yesterday, the party that’s put itself out on a shaky limb missed an important opportunity.