As Search Shows Trump Had Secret Files, GOP Splits Over Attacking FBI

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather near his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 9, 2022. (Saul Martinez/The New York Times)

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather near his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 9, 2022. (Saul Martinez/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans scrambled to unite on how to respond to the FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago when it emerged Friday that federal law enforcement officers had recovered top-secret files from former President Donald Trump’s Florida home.

They were divided on whether to target the country’s top law enforcement agencies and how aggressive to be in those attacks.

Publicly, Trump allies continued to push aggressively to portray the former president as a political target while sending seemingly urgent fundraising appeals to his supporters. But privately, some Trump advisers, unsure what the FBI might have recovered, began quietly warning their Republican colleagues to tone down his remarks.

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On Capitol Hill, a group of conservative Republicans known as the House Freedom Caucus, many of whom dined with Trump at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club on Tuesday and denounced the FBI search as a sign that the Biden administration was turning the country into a “banana republic”, canceled a press conference scheduled for Friday morning. They had planned to further attack the Justice Department.

That decision, publicly attributed to a scheduling conflict, came after a gunman attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon and as more details about Trump’s possession of classified documents emerged.

Instead, the Republican lawmakers who addressed the media on Friday were members of the House Intelligence Committee, who delivered a more nuanced message, saying they continued to support law enforcement and underscoring their desire to keep the FBI.

Still, they said tough questions remain for Attorney General Merrick Garland about his decision to take the bold step of ordering a search of the former president’s home, vowing to hold the Justice Department accountable.

Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, denounced comments by other Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who called on Congress to “defund the FBI” before having a full understanding. what the officers were looking for. . (Greene has taken to wearing a “Defund the FBI” hat.)

Another House Republican, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, went so far immediately after the search that he tweeted, “We must destroy the FBI.” (Gosar avoided the FBI search on Friday and dedicated his Twitter account to other topics.)

To the contrary, Turner pointedly said Friday, “We support our men and women in uniform. And we request that anyone who has made outrageous statements like that question them and not us.”

After a federal judge revealed the warrant authorizing the Mar-a-Lago search and an inventory of items taken from the property by federal agents, Republicans followed different strategies to respond. The documents showed that the FBI had recovered 11 sets of classified documents, including four top-secret document sets, as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and two other laws.

While Republicans said they were all behind Trump, some adopted a moderate response.

“I’m not in favor of anything that’s critical of law enforcement,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma. “On the other hand, this is a very unusual situation, and the DOJ and the FBI should come here and answer questions. It just seems to me that this was excessive and exaggerated.”

Cole said he was “willing to listen” to what the Justice Department had to say.

Not so for Greene.

On the steps of the Capitol, Greene told a crowd of reporters that he planned to enter the building to file articles of impeachment against Garland, whom he accused of “political persecution” of Trump.

“The whole purpose of this is to prevent President Trump from being able to take office,” he said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a staunch Trump ally, similarly dismissed questions about Trump’s handling of top-secret documents, citing the former president’s claim that he had declassified documents recovered by the FBI.

“Come on, he’s the best finisher and decider,” Jordan said. “Everyone knows this is ridiculous. Everybody knows.”

Those comments were a far cry from Turner’s message hours earlier, when he told reporters: “The issue of handling classified information is an issue that, of course, our committee deals with and one that we are very concerned about.”

For their part, Democrats, whose intra-party tug-of-war over whether and how to reform police departments has been used against them by Republicans to portray the party at large as wanting to “defund the police,” seemed appreciative. the opportunity to turn the tables. .

“While the other side wants to defund the FBI, we want to fund our children’s futures,” Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, said on the House floor as a spending measure was debated Friday. .

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