Donald Trump spent the weekend raging at the FBI for searching his Mar-a-Lago resort, which he depicted as a “break in” and an “ABUSE,” while charging that the documents recovered there might have been a “plant.” He was joined by many Republicans, who widely denounced the search as a “witch hunt” or political “persecution.”
The apparent position of Republicans loyal to Trump is that any law enforcement activity targeting him is by definition illegitimate, no matter how grave the suspected activity. So a GOP-controlled House next year would likely undermine investigations into Trump any way it can, regardless of what is learned about Trump in the interim.
But the precise nature of this threat is poorly understood. While many have noted that a GOP House could stage phony Benghazi-like hearings, there’s another possibility: using specific parliamentary tools to, in essence, defund the investigators.
Such a tactic could badly complicate efforts to hold Trump accountable and could lead to government shutdowns and other chaos. The prospect is even more dire when you consider that a GOP House would contain a large faction of feral Trumpists who see making Trump untouchable by the law as their highest calling.
Democrats tell me they’ve begun to examine a range of tools Republicans could employ in such a situation, in part to prepare for a worst-case scenario. The specifics of this show that the GOP rallying around Trump right now could have appalling real-world consequences later.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), for example, has been looking at ways Republicans might attack the salaries of law enforcement officials deemed enemies of Trump.
“They want to ensure that Trump is above the law,” Beyer told me in a statement, noting that he expects a GOP House to coalesce around the position that anyone in law enforcement “who poses a threat to Trump must be deterred, blocked, punished, or fired.”
Note that some House Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.) have already called for defunding the FBI. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has telegraphed never-ending investigations into Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department, in retaliation for any activity that involves Trump.
Even an extreme GOP House would be very unlikely to totally disband the FBI, and an endless Benghazi-like circus would be harassing but not debilitating. But another threat takes the form of a parliamentary maneuver.
Beyer points out that a GOP House majority could reinstate the so-called Holman Rule. This obscure rule — which Republicans revived last time they held the majority, until the Democratic majority ended it — would allow Republicans to use spending bills to try to slash the salary of specific federal officials or eliminate blocks of federal employees, and thus specific programs.
In a little-noticed aside, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) recently floated this idea, without detail. So it’s easy to see this rule being used as a mechanism to try to eliminate Garland’s salary, or the salaries of FBI officials overseeing an investigation involving Trump (or, if this happens, Justice Department officials prosecuting him).
Republicans could also attempt to defund any investigations into Trump, or even defund probes and prosecutions relating to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. They could do this without the more improbable act of defunding the whole FBI.
Such an effort, of course, would not pass the Senate (if Democrats hold it) and would never get signed by President Biden. But it’s obvious Trump loyalists in the House will force showdowns over this, and if the GOP majority is narrow, those loyalists might be more empowered to succeed.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that they would use the threat of government shutdowns and debt ceiling breaches,” said Beyer, who predicted “some of the worst attacks on the rule of law this country has ever seen.”
Other Democrats also fear this. Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) suggested in a statement that Republicans who are “all too willing to do Trump’s bidding” will weaponize the Holman Rule. And Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) said they will “use the levers of government to target, harass, and defund.”
In his weekend eruption, Trump raged every which way that the FBI’s search warrant amounted to jackbooted tyranny. Tellingly, he’s kept this up even after the warrant’s release revealed that officials feared violations of three federal statutes — and after we’ve learned the warrant was pursued partly based on information from Trump’s own aides.
And Trump has kept it up after we learned that numerous highly classified documents probably containing sensitive national security secrets actually were recovered at Mar-a-Lago.
We don’t know whether Trump will be accused of crimes or face prosecution for anything involving Jan. 6. But for now, with many Republicans (though not all) keeping up that Trumpian drumbeat even after the Mar-a-Lago search did retrieve ultra-sensitive documents, here’s the reality: For MAGA loyalists, Trump is above the law.
Given that this crew might soon wield more control over the House, do you doubt that maintaining absolute impunity for Trump will be among their highest missions, no matter how much chaos it unleashes?