By Susan Milligan
The legal walls are starting to close in on team Trump, after federal agents searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida home Monday and investigations advance in New York and Georgia.
But it’s the embattled former president and his loyalists who are the only ones doing the talking, giving Trump a platform to express his grievances and raise money from rank-and-file Republicans who claim their favored political leader is being wrongly targeted.
It was Trump himself who disclosed that FBI agents conducted a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate Monday while the former president was in New York. While the Justice Department is investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, the search was reportedly connected to allegations Trump kept or mishandled classified information in violation of the Presidential Records Act.
Tuesday, Rep. Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Republican and strong Trump ally, revealed that the FBI had seized his cellphone, a startling move against a sitting member of Congress. Perry, according to Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican and vice chairwoman of the House Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, had asked Trump for a pardon.
Wednesday, Trump himself will be deposed by lawyers conducting a New York state attorney general investigation into the Trump Organization’s finances. That move was also announced by Trump himself on his social media site, where the former president called New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is Black, a “racist.”
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” said Trump, who in March lost a lawsuit seeking to throw out James’ investigation as unconstitutional.
And in Georgia, prosecutors investigating whether Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election there won a spat with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a central figure in the inquiry who said he was too ill to fly to Georgia to appear before the special grand jury.
Judge Robert C.I. McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court dismissed that claim Tuesday.
“Mr. Giuliani is not cleared for air travel, A-I-R,” McBurney said. “John Madden drove all over the country in his big bus, from stadium to stadium,” McBurney said, referring to the late NFL coach and sports commentator. “So one thing we need to explore is whether Mr. Giuliani could get here without jeopardizing his recovery and his health. On a train, on a bus or Uber, or whatever it would be. New York is not close to Atlanta, but it’s not traveling from Fairbanks.”
On paper, it all paints a grim picture for Trump, who is mulling a 2024 run for the Oval Office. But it has been the former president and his supporters who have been using the developments to their political advantage.
Lawmakers aligned with Trump have cast the FBI as a Gestapo-like force, accusing the law enforcement agency of improperly “raiding” the former president’s Florida estate. In fact, agents did not break into the resort but arrived with a warrant signed by a judge. Such warrants are issued only if the prosecutors can show evidence a crime was committed and that the entity being searched has evidence related to that crime.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland with an investigation into his activities, should Republicans – as widely expected – take back control of the House next year.
A Florida state legislator who is running for Congress called on his home state to “sever all ties” with the Department of Justice “immediately” because of the legal search.
“Any FBI agent conducting law enforcement functions outside the purview of our State should be arrested upon sight,” tweeted GOP state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is running in the Aug. 23 Republican primary for the 7th District seat.
Meanwhile, the White House, Democratic leaders and the Department of Justice have been mum on the search, frustrating some Democrats who see the former president controlling the narrative of the legal drama.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked repeatedly Tuesday to comment on the search. She declined, saying repeatedly that President Joe Biden promised an independent Department of Justice and it would be inappropriate for her to remark on the inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, have also been quiet. While both have underscored the importance of holding Trump accountable, both also said this week that it would be improper to discuss the search when they did not know any more about it than the general public reading the news.
The Justice Department, too, has refused to comment. That’s typical behavior in a typical inquiry. The protocol is to not remark on an ongoing investigation. But Trump is not a typical figure of a federal case, and Republicans, along with some baffled Democrats and media figures, have been clamoring for an explanation.
“Here’s what needs to happen today. Garland, Christopher Wray … Biden need to do a press conference, take all questions, explain why they’re doing what they’re doing, what each of them knew when,” Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said. “Until we get answers, you should have unbelievable concern.”
Should Garland – who has been very discreet about investigations related to Jan. 6 and Trump – indeed hold a press conference, it puts the agency in an awkward position. While a press conference to explain the search warrant might satisfy some Americans stunned by the unprecedented move, it would also buttress GOP claims that this is not a law enforcement issue but a political war between two 2020 presidential candidates who might face off again in 2024.
Trump is talking, and raising money off the FBI search. Democrats are waiting and watching. And the Department of Justice is sticking to the same message: No comment.