The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Mar-a-Lago search, Fox News, Trump supporters decry ‘abuse’ of power

Supporters of former president Donald Trump rally near his home at Mar-a-Lago on Monday in Palm Beach, Fla. The FBI searched his residence in an effort to retrieve classified White House documents. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Not long after former president Donald Trump said that the FBI had searched his residence and safe at his Mar-a-Lago Club as part of an investigation, Fox News host Sean Hannity echoed the dozens of Trump supporters protesting outside the South Florida resort and claimed that what happened Monday amounted to “a dark day for our republic, the Department of Justice, the rule of law.”

“Make no mistake,” Hannity said, “if you are associated with Donald Trump in any way, you better cross all your i’s and dot all your t’s, because they’re coming for you with the full force of the federal government.”

Hannity was among the conservative and right-leaning media figures coming to the defense of Trump in the hours after his club was searched in a court-authorized proceeding that is part of a long-running investigation of whether documents were taken to the former president’s private golf club and residence instead of sent to the National Archives after he left office.

FBI searches Trump safe at Mar-a-Lago Club, former president says

Even though the investigation is looking into whether Trump violated the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties, Trump allies went on right-leaning cable news networks to denounce the search for hours on Monday night as “the worst attack on this republic in modern history.”

As images of Trump supporters waving flags and holding signs saying, “In Trump I Trust,” played on Fox News, host Laura Ingraham demanded that Republicans purge the federal government if they retake power in Congress.

“When we get power back, it’s time to hold everyone accountable — the military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who have abused their power,” she said. “All of them have to be held accountable.”

Former Trump adviser and right-wing podcaster Stephen K. Bannon said on Fox News that the FBI, an agency led by a director who was nominated by Trump, was “the Gestapo.”

“We’re at war,” said Bannon, who has been convicted of contempt of Congress for his refusal to provide documents or testimony to a House committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

The search is the latest historic development in Trump’s tenuous and tortured relationship with the Justice Department, both during and after his time in the White House. Although searching a former president’s property to look for possible evidence of a crime is highly unusual, such a search is possible as long as it receives approval at the top levels of the Justice Department.

The investigation apparently began months ago. The National Archives and Records Administration said in January that it had retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mar-a-Lago, and Archives officials noted at the time that the boxes should have been turned over when Trump left the White House.

Some documents taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly marked classified, top-secret

Trump, who compared the search to Watergate in a lengthy statement, accused the FBI of “even” breaking into his safe but did not give additional details about what federal agents were looking for on Monday. He also claimed, without evidence, that Democrats were weaponizing the “justice system” against him through a search he said was not “necessary or appropriate.”

The FBI searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club on Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into whether presidential documents were mishandled. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

GOP allies have echoed Trump’s claims that the search amounted to a political attack meant to hurt him if he runs for president again. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement that the Justice Department has “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) pushed on Twitter to “DEFUND THE FBI!”

Top Republicans echo Trump’s evidence-free claims to discredit FBI search

Some of the strongest reactions from conservative and right-leaning media started trickling in on Fox News on “Jesse Watters Primetime,” where the host called for FBI Director Christopher A. Wray’s firing, and guest Dan Bongino compared what happened to Trump to something that would unfold in a “third-world” country. On “Hannity,” Fox News host Mark Levin called in to the show and argued that the search of the former president’s estate was not only egregious but historic for all the wrong reasons.

“This is the worst attack on this republic in modern history. Period,” Levin said. “And it’s not just an attack on Donald Trump. It’s an attack on everybody who supports him.”

In the same hour of television, Eric Trump came to his father’s defense by claiming to Hannity that his father has long enjoyed keeping files and other items over the years.

“My father always kept press clippings, newspaper articles, pictures, notes from us,” he said. “He had boxes. He moved out of the White House. He’s very collaborative. If you want to search for anything, come right ahead. It was an open-door policy, and all of a sudden 30 agents descend upon Mar-a-Lago?”

A common theme throughout the night’s coverage among right-leaning news outlets was that the search was meant to impede Donald Trump’s potential run for the White House in 2024. On Newsmax, former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik even went so far as to suggest, without evidence, that he was worried about the “assassination” of Trump as a result of his potentially running for president again.

“This is the first time in my lifetime that I would say I am deathly afraid for Donald Trump,” Kerik told Newsmax host Eric Bolling.

Just days after a Texas jury decided that Alex Jones must pay more than $49 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim for his false claims about the mass killing, he welcomed Trump confidant Roger Stone on his Infowars show to lament what he called “a very sad day for America.”

Jones and Stone, who have been subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, agreed that what happened to Trump was “the kind of thing you expect to see in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany or communist Cuba.”

As pundits went on air to defend Trump, dozens of the former president’s supporters camped outside of Mar-a-Lago to show their love for Trump, even though he wasn’t at the Palm Beach residence. Videos and images posted to social media show cars and trucks waving American flags and Trump flags, including one vehicle that had a Trump-Pence banner with the former vice president’s name crossed out.

The sympathetic coverage of Trump following the search of Mar-a-Lago on conservative, right-leaning and far-right outlets was called out by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday morning.

“They’re saying ugly things on Fox News,” Scarborough said on “Morning Joe.” He added, “In America, even in the age of Trump, no man is above the law.”

While Fox News continued to cover the search of Trump’s residence, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy reminded contributor Joe Concha on Tuesday that Trump had appointed Wray, the FBI director against whom Concha railed as being “partisan.”

“I don’t know if Trump was such a big fan of [Wray] though when he was in office,” Concha said.

Doocy concluded, “Not today.”

Devlin Barrett, Mariana Alfaro, Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.