WASHINGTON — As Republicans continued to defend former President Donald J. Trump on Sunday after an unprecedented FBI raid of his Florida residence, deep cracks were visible in the party’s support for law enforcement amid a federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of top-secret documents.
Immediately after the raid, Republicans in Congress, including members of the leadership, reacted with fury, attacking key law enforcement agencies nationwide. Some have called for “defunding” or “destroying” the FBI, and others have invoked the Nazi secret police, using words like “gestapo” and “tyrants”.
On Sunday, more moderate voices within the party chastised their colleagues for broadsides against law enforcement, arguing more restrainedly to defend Mr. Trump while exercising oversight over the Justice Department.
Many Republicans have called for the release of the affidavit in support of the search warrant executed last Monday, which would detail the evidence that persuaded a judge there was probable cause to believe a search would find evidence of crimes. These documents are generally not made public until the charges are laid.
“This was an unprecedented action that must be backed by an unprecedented rationale,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican and former FBI agent, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” But he added: ‘I have urged all of my colleagues to make sure they understand the weight of their words.
Calls for a more cautious tone came as threats emerged against law enforcement. A gunman attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati on Thursday, and on Friday the Department of Homeland Security distributed an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies nationwide that warned of “an increase in threats and acts of violence, including armed encounters, against the forces of order”. judicial and government personnel” after the search.
“The FBI and DHS have observed an increase in violent threats posted on social media against federal officials and facilities, including a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb outside FBI headquarters and issuing general calls for the “civil war” and “army”. rebellion,” said the bulletin, which was obtained by The New York Times.
Adding to the sense of alarm, another gunman rammed a car into a barricade outside the Capitol around 4 a.m. Sunday. After he got out of the car and it was engulfed in flames, he shot several times in the air before killing himself, Capitol police said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said he had started consulting with his former FBI colleagues “to make sure they were okay”.
“We are the oldest democracy in the world, and the only way to undo it is to disrespect the institutions that cause Americans to turn against Americans,” he said, adding, “It starts big. part by the words we’re using.”
Republicans have struggled to unite around a unified strategy to respond to the FBI’s search for Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, amid daily revelations and rapidly changing explanations, excuses, defenses and false accusations. President.
On Friday, a federal judge unsealed the warrant authorizing the search and an inventory of items removed from the property by federal agents. The list showed the FBI had recovered 11 sets of classified documents as part of an investigation into potential violations of the Espionage Act and two other laws.
More coverage of the FBI search of Trump’s home
Some of the documents were marked “classified/TS/SCI” – short for “compartmentalized top secret/sensitive information”. This information is intended to be viewed only at a secure government facility.
Mr. Trump and his allies have argued that former President Barack Obama also mishandled documents (an allegation quickly dismissed as false by the National Archives); that the judge who signed the warrant authorizing the search must have been biased; that the FBI could have planted evidence; that the documents were covered by solicitor-client or executive privilege; and that Mr. Trump had declassified the documents.
The former president worked to profit from research.
Mr Trump’s Political Action Committee has furiously raised funds for the FBI research, sending at least 17 text messages to donors since Tuesday. “The Dems broke into Pres’ house. Trump,” it read. “This is POLITICAL TARGETING! another alleged. “THEY’RE COMING TO YOU!” said a third.
Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, wrote another fundraising email on Sunday: “The witch hunt continues… The FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago was a SHAME. In fact, it’s UNBEATABLE.
On Saturday, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, also called for the repeal of the Espionage Actone of the laws behind the investigation.
But the shifting explanations have made it difficult for Republicans, many of whom are eager to please the former president, to come together with a unified defense. They are divided on whether to attack the nation’s top law enforcement agencies and how aggressively these attacks should be.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican whom the National Republican Congressional Committee features in fundraising appeals, has started selling merchandise that says ‘Fund the FBI’
It’s a very different approach than Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the intelligence committee, who defended Mr. Trump on Sunday.
Republicans on the committee said they continue to support law enforcement. Still, they said tough questions remained for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland about his decision to take the bold step of ordering a search of the former president’s home, and they promised to hold the Department of Responsible justice.
“Obviously no one is above the law,” Mr Turner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Donald Trump is not above the law. And Attorney General Garland is not above the law either. And Congress has oversight powers. It has to comply.
Mr Turner said he was unconvinced ‘whether or not this is actually classified material and whether or not it rises to the level of the highest classified material’, despite the documents being released by the court.
“I would be very surprised if he had actual documents that rise to the level of an immediate national security threat,” Mr Turner said.
Two of the laws mentioned in the search warrant, however, make it a crime to take or conceal government documents, whether or not they relate to national security. The third, which prohibits the unauthorized retention of material containing restricted national security information, applies whether the material is classified or unclassified.
Republican leaders in the Senate and House, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, also said Garland must provide answers.
Mr Garland, for his part, held a press conference Thursday to defend the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
“Defending the rule of law means applying the law equally, without fear or favour,” he said. “Under my direction, that is precisely what the Department of Justice is doing.”
The White House, trying to avoid the appearance of partisan interference, has been reluctant to comment on the investigation. “We don’t intervene. We are not informed,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding, “We’ll let Merrick Garland speak for himself and his department.” .
But other Democrats immediately seized on Republicans’ anti-law enforcement statements.
“I used to think the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I hope some of them do today because this kind of talk is very dangerous for our country.”
She stressed that when she examines classified documents, she must do so in a secure room. “I can’t even wear my Fitbit,” she said.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, called on the Director of National Intelligence to conduct an “immediate review and damage assessment” and provide a classified briefing to Congress on the harm potential caused to national security. by Mr. Trump’s handling of the documents.
“The fact that they were in an unsecured place that is only guarded with a padlock or whatever security they had in a hotel is deeply alarming,” he said on “Face the Nation. “.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, called on his panel to examine Mr. Garland’s actions.
“Never has a former president and potential political opponent of the incumbent president been the subject of such a search,” Portman said in a statement. “The Attorney General and the FBI should now demonstrate unprecedented transparency and explain to the American people why they authorized the raid.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, took a similar approach.
“I’m not one of the people who says, you know, ‘immediately attack the FBI or the Department of Justice,'” he said on “Meet the Press.”
“But,” he added, “I think it’s very important in the long run for the Department of Justice, now that they’ve done this, that they’re showing that it wasn’t just a fishing expedition.