Donald Trump and his allies in the GOP jumped on the news about the FBI executing a search warrant at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last week to leverage outrage on the right, fueling fundraising. Now, sources close to Trump tell CNN that the former president has received a “fresh wave of encouragement” following the search, where federal agents seized boxes of documents as part of an investigation into whether Trump improperly removed them from the White House — a possible violation of federal law. Anonymous sources in Trump’s orbit told Fox News on Monday the announcement is coming “soon.”
For months before the seizure of government files marked “classified” and “top secret” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump was under pressure to wait until after the midterm elections to formally announce another campaign in order protect GOP candidates from a mobilization of anti-Trump voters. However, the GOP’s outraged response to the FBI search appears to have prompted a shift.
It was Trump himself who initially publicized the search from his golf club in New Jersey. Trump responded with rhetorical attacks against the FBI and Justice Department that inspired a wave of violent threats against federal law enforcement online, including on Trump’s own Truth Social platform, according to reports and a recent inter-agency memo. In Ohio, a Trump supporter who apparently posted about killing federal agents on Truth Social and other forums attacked an FBI office near Cincinnati last week and was killed in an armed standoff with police.
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Right-wingers have been proposing “defunding the FBI” (a proposal they would have previously abhorred) after agents came after Trump for allegedly taking sensitive documents that did not belong to him. There are good reasons to defund the FBI, as many on the left have pointed out for years. But none of these reasons have anything to do with Trump or white-collar crime. The FBI has a long history of suppressing social movements, as critics on the left explain. The “raid” on Trump’s house did not involve the kind of dangerous violence that police regularly bring to households while executing search warrants for drugs and other comparably minimal offenses. But, of course, Trump supporters have no criticism for the FBI’s attacks on Black and other marginalized communities; their outrage is reserved for the targeting of Trump.
Facing criticism for once again inspiring his supporters to violence, Trump turned to his trusty stenographers at Fox News for an interview on Monday that is riddled with inaccuracies but makes Trump’s current strategy fairly clear: deny any wrongdoing, blame political opponents for his legal woes, and use the media controversy to rake in donations and inflame the MAGA base ahead of a campaign announcement. Republican candidates backed by Trump are playing along to raise money and boost their profiles ahead of the midterms.
In the interview, Trump admitted that the “temperature has to be brought down in the country” or “terrible things” will happen, but then doubled down on his violent messages as talk of “civil war” swirls on Truth Social and other pro-Trump platforms. Currently, Trump faces investigations into his business practices, his attempts at overthrowing the 2020 presidential election and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and now the sensitive government files brought to his personal residence, potentially in violation of three federal laws.
“The people of this country are not going to stand for another scam,” Trump said, adding that he would do “whatever I can to help the country.”
While Trump’s explanations have shifted, he claims to have declassified secret documents before leaving office, while others are protected by attorney-client privilege. John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor-turned critic, said on Monday that the “declassification” claim “shows a real level of desperation.” It remains unclear what information the boxes removed from Trump’s property contain, but unnamed sources have said agents were looking records related to nuclear weapons and national security.
Trump voters appear to remember his long list of grievances with the FBI going back to the 2016 election, which Trump is rehashing while casting the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago — which was approved by a federal judge due to evidence that laws may have been broken — as an attack on the country itself. In getting out in front of the news about the classified files stashed at his resort and mansion, Trump is gathering donations and momentum for a presidential run while painting the investigations against him as political and illegitimate. If Trump’s legal troubles continue to grow or he faces indictment, he will almost certainly blame Democrats while throwing more red meat to his base in the months to come.