IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Trump’s message to AG Merrick Garland was so provocative

Donald Trump believes the United States “is on fire,” and the responsible way to deal with the conflagration he helped start is to condemn the FBI.


Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland did something unexpected. Under pressure to shed light on the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, the nation’s chief law enforcement official appeared before the cameras on Thursday, defended federal law enforcement, and announced plans to unseal the warrant related to Donald Trump’s Florida property.

According to a New York Times report, before Garland reached the podium, there was something the former president wanted him to know.

Shortly before Mr. Garland made the announcement, a person close to Mr. Trump reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message from the former president to the attorney general. Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Garland to know that he had been checking in with people around the country and found them to be enraged by the search. “The country is on fire” was the message that Mr. Trump wanted conveyed, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “What can I do to reduce the heat?”

I have so many questions about this.

Why would Trump, in the midst of a burgeoning scandal, after the FBI had already executed a search warrant at one of his properties, think it was a good idea to “reach out”? Did his lawyers approve of such a move?

How, exactly, did the former president try to communicate with the attorney general? Was there a phone call? From whom? To whom? Was any of this put in writing?

I’m also a little confused by the message itself. As the story goes, Trump wanted Garland to know he’d done some informal polling and found that many of the former president’s followers weren’t pleased. (Trump has routinely shared the details of conversations that happened only in his mind, so whether he actually “checked in with people around the country” is unclear.)

The question at hand was, “What can I do to reduce the heat?” But was that a question Trump wanted Garland to ask himself ahead of the press conference, or was that a question Trump was asking in reference to his own willingness to lower the temperature?

The reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, didn’t clarify matters. That said, if Trump is interested in “reducing the heat,” he should step up sooner rather than later. NBC News reported yesterday:

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning of a spike in threats to federal law enforcement officials since the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, two senior law enforcement officials told NBC News.

The bulletin, dated Friday, read in part, “The FBI and DHS have observed an increase in threats to federal law enforcement and to a lesser extent other law enforcement and government officials following the FBI’s recent execution of a search warrant in Palm Beach, Florida.”

It was against this backdrop that the former president used his Twitter-like social media platform to rail against federal law enforcement over the weekend, publishing a series of missives that accused the FBI of "abuses," "breaking in" to his home, being politically manipulated, possibly "planting" incriminating evidence, and being "corrupt."

In other words, Trump believes the United States “is on fire,” and the responsible way to deal with the conflagration he helped start is to repeatedly condemn his own country’s federal law enforcement.