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What’s up (and what’s not) with the FBI taking Trump’s passports

The question isn't why the FBI took Donald Trump's passports; the question is why the former president tried to deceive the public about what happened.


Exactly one week after the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump continues to whine and make stuff up, though yesterday, he raised a new point of contention.

“Wow!” the former president wrote on his Twitter-like platform. “In the raid by the FBI of Mar-a-Lago, they stole my three Passports (one expired), along with everything else. This is an assault on a political opponent at a level never seen before in our Country. Third World!”

For now, let’s put aside the fact that it wasn’t a “raid.” And the fact that it’s not “stealing” when the FBI collects materials during the execution of a search warrant. And the fact that there’s no reason to capitalize assorted words the Republican considers interesting.

Let’s instead consider the claim on the merits. The FBI took Trump’s passports? The claim raised a variety of provocative possibilities, including questions surrounding federal investigators’ interest in the former president’s travel history and/or upcoming travel plans.

But by day’s end, the details had come into focus, and the story proved to be more anodyne than initially feared. NBC News reported overnight:

Passports belonging to Donald Trump have been returned to the former president after last week’s FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home, a Justice Department official told NBC News on Monday. The FBI acknowledged it had had the passports the same day Trump said on his social media platform that FBI agents who conducted the search on Aug. 8 took them.

At least at first, it was difficult to know what to make of Trump’s claim, given his strained relationship with reality. Sure, the former president asserted that the FBI had his passports, but all we had to go on was his word, which has no meaningful value.

Team Trump seemed at least somewhat aware of this, so it released a copy of an email it received yesterday from a Justice Department official, explaining that the FBI had collected the passports, and the bureau was returning them.

None of this is especially controversial. As an FBI spokesperson told NBC News, “In executing search warrants, the FBI follows search and seizure procedures ordered by courts, then returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes.”

Indeed, the email Team Trump released to the public was intended as support for the former president’s claims, but the closer one looked, the less it helped him. Trump insisted that one of the passports had expired, when in fact two of them had expired. Trump said the FBI “stole” the passports, when in fact the FBI was returning them after determining they were unrelated to the investigation.

And then, of course, there’s the timing: Team Trump received the Justice Department email at 12:49 p.m. eastern, and the former president published his pseudo-tweet about a half-hour later.

In other words, the Justice Department effectively told Trump and his team, “We’re returning the passports,” at which point Trump told the world that the FBI “stole” the passports, launched an unprecedented political “assault,” and pushed the United States into “third-world” status.

There was a degree of irony to the circumstances: The former president was needlessly deceiving the public, and his own political operation released an email that helped prove he was needlessly deceiving the public.

Trump told Fox News yesterday morning how eager he was to lower the temperature as the political fire he helped light turns dangerous. Hours later, he did the opposite.