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On the Trump Front, This Week Has Been a Year. What Will Come of It?

Merrick Garland has called Donald Trump’s bluff in a staredown for the ages.

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement at the U.S. Department of Justice on August 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen,” reads a quotation often attributed to Vladimir Lenin (although he may never have said it). Whoever came up with that sentence, it captures the past week perfectly — from the eruption of new legislation to the FBI visit of a former president’s home. Amid the blizzard of news and stunning revelation, one image will stay with me forever: Donald Trump, at his Bedminster club in New Jersey, watching the surveillance camera feed coming from inside his Florida home as federal agents searched Mar-a-Lago.

In the days since the federal search, Trump has been at great pains to whip his supporters and sycophants into a towering frenzy, and as “frenzy” is the default position for too many of them — especially in the media — it was not too much of a reach. All of a sudden there were Republican officeholders calling for the defunding, if not outright destruction, of the FBI. Cries of “totalitarian state” were raised, as Trump’s allies accused the FBI of being an arm of the president’s wrath. This is ironic, as that is what Trump tried to do with the FBI while he was in office.

More than anything, the call from all Trumpian points was, “Where’s the warrant?”

As the invective reached a furious peak, some were listening. Ricky Shiffer, a member of Trump’s Truth Social message board who attended the January 6 Capitol raid, attacked the FBI office in Cincinnati with a nail gun. “We must not tolerate this one,” he posted before his attack, which he did not survive. The overheated rhetoric in combination with Shiffer’s act of violence motivated the FBI to release a sternly worded denunciation. “Calls for violence against law enforcement are unacceptable,” reads the statement, “and should be condemned by all leaders. This is not a partisan or political issue. It is a matter of public safety and basic decency.”

We must pause at this juncture to note that although Donald Trump has clearly lost a step since leaving office, his grip on his base remains formidable. His King-Midas-in-reverse powers remain an astonishment: Only Trump could turn the Federal Bureau of Investigation into a building full of victims in need of rescue and succor from Big Daddy Garland. That’s some freaky magic, y’all.

Attorney General Garland, who I had recently taken to calling a perfectly named inert decorative object, took my snark this week and yeeted it up my left nostril. The Garland-approved, thoroughly unprecedented FBI visit to Mar-a-Lago at the beginning of all this was followed up last night by a press conference that belonged at the center table of the World Series of Poker.

Not only did Garland stand in front of his people, but he announced the Department of Justice was seeking the release of both the warrant and a basic list of what was found in the search, along with what crimes were potentially committed. If Trump wanted to fight this release, that was his right. In poker terms, Garland pushed his whole pile of chips into the center of the table, looked at Trump over the top of his reflector sunglasses, and waited.

Minutes later, The Washington Post reported that the feds at Mar-a-Lago were searching for highly classified documents pertaining to nuclear weapons. The New York Times rapidly followed up with additional reporting that the feds were concerned with the existence at Mar-a-Lago of “material from what the government calls ‘special access programs,’ a designation that is typically reserved for extremely sensitive operations carried out by the United States abroad or for closely held technologies and capabilities.”

Trump may think he can declassify anything he wants with a wave of his tiny hand, but this is simply not the case, especially with extremely classified material like nuclear data and the disposition of forces. There is a process to be followed to achieve such declassification, and Trump did not follow it before haring off with boxes potentially full of white-hot secrets.

The silence on the right that followed Garland and the Times and Post reports had its own mass and gravity. Republican heads clunked together from Bedminster to Orange County, California, all asking the same questions: Would releasing the warrant actually be harmful? Was he really sitting on a cache of nuke docs?

“Republicans around Trump initially thought the raid could help him politically,” reports the Post, “but they are now bracing for revelations that could be damaging.”

After a brief interlude spent cloistered with his lawyers, Trump heaved up and pushed his own chips to the center of the table. OF COURSE the warrant should be released. (He has a copy and could release it right now if he so chose.) The morning brought a tacky yet not-unexpected new line of defense: Trump called the whole thing a “hoax” while strongly suggesting the FBI had planted damning material during the search. The people who searched his home were “sleazy,” he said. The planted evidence accusation made the rounds on Fox News, though notably without the gusto it brought to the allegations launched before the Garland presser. Ever hear a forest filled with peeper frogs go silent when a predator comes by? Like that.

The warrant could be made public as early as 3 pm Eastern time today. “It’s unclear at this point how much information would be included in the documents, if made public, or if they would encompass an FBI affidavit that would presumably lay out a detailed factual basis for the search,” reports the Associated Press. “The department specifically requested the unsealing of the warrant as well as a property receipt listing the items that were seized, along with two unspecified attachments.”

Events on Friday afternoon may render that release moot; a great big leak may have done the job. The Wall Street Journal reports:

FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home Monday removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked as top secret and meant to be only available in special government facilities. The FBI agents took around 20 boxes of items, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Mr. Trump’s ally Roger Stone, a list of items removed from the property shows. Also included in the list was information about the ‘President of France.’

The list includes references to one set of documents marked as ‘Various classified/TS/SCI documents,’ an abbreviation that refers to top-secret/sensitive compartmented information. It also says agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents, and three sets of confidential documents.

In 2016, Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was thwarted by Mitch McConnell. In 2021, he was named Attorney General by President Biden. In 2022, he is engaged in a bluff with a former president that could change the course of history. There are weeks when decades happen.

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