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Team Trump’s missed opportunities to resolve the Mar-a-Lago mess

Team Trump continues to insist federal officials should've simply asked for the Mar-a-Lago materials back. But they did, repeatedly, for over a year.


Kimberly Guilfoyle, appearing on behalf of Team Trump, again condemned the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search, telling a conservative media outlet that federal law enforcement had an easier alternative. “All they had to do was ask for the documents,” she said.

A Fox News host pushed the same line late last week, saying federal law enforcement “could have just asked” for the return of the materials the former president took.

If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because Donald Trump was an enthusiastic proponent of this argument in the days following the FBI’s search. By way of his Twitter-like platform, the former president wrote on Aug. 12, “[T]hey didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted.” He added, “They could have had it anytime they wanted—and that includes LONG ago. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK.”

A day earlier, the Republican claimed that the FBI executing the search warrant “came out of nowhere.”

Evidently, having cycled through a series of other mind-numbing talking points, this one is making a comeback, which is a shame because it’s arguably the single worst argument Team Trump has in its rhetorical quiver.

The New York Times reported over the weekend on federal officials spending more than a year using “various — and far less invasive — means of trying to secure the materials or get them back.”

The redacted affidavit released on Friday and previous disclosures about the course of the effort to identify and retrieve any official material Mr. Trump improperly held on to after leaving the White House make it clear that the National Archives and the Justice Department had worked to try to resolve the matter without resorting to a step as confrontational as seeking and carrying out a court-ordered search warrant.

The Times’ article, reflecting revelations from a series of court filings, added, “Archivists provided lists of missing items. Letters were exchanged, and lawyers conducted negotiations. A delegation of Justice Department officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago in June, where they were greeted briefly by Mr. Trump.”

None of this led to full compliance.

The former president and his representatives continue, as recently as yesterday, to tell the public that federal officials need only to have asked, at which point Team Trump gladly would’ve given government agencies whatever documents they wanted. There was simply no need, the argument goes, to dispatch FBI agents.

In reality, federal officials went out of their way, month after month, appeal after appeal, trying to get the former president to follow the law. When those efforts were exhausted, then the Justice Department felt as if it had no choice but to take matters to the next level.

In other words, while Republicans continue to blame federal law enforcement, it’s Trump who’s plainly responsible for this mess — not only by taking the materials that weren’t his, but also by refusing to give them back, despite months’ worth of requests.

A recent Washington Post report added, “Trump ignored multiple opportunities to quietly resolve the FBI concerns by handing over all classified material in his possession — including a grand jury subpoena that Trump’s team accepted May 11. Again and again, he reacted with a familiar mix of obstinance and outrage, causing some in his orbit to fear he was essentially daring the FBI to come after him.”

Republicans outraged by the Mar-a-Lago search are directing their ire at the wrong people.