Donald Trump and his allies are reportedly talking about releasing Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage showing FBI agents searching the Florida resort. This will supposedly show jackbooted FBI thugs swarming over the former president’s home, graphically illustrating his long-running complaint of political persecution.
CNN reports that the debate over the footage is intensifying among Trump and assorted insiders. One former legal adviser tells CNN that Trump will likely release it if he is persuaded it’s “bad for his enemies.”
Trump himself appears to be on the verge of agreeing. His son Eric Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity this week that the footage will “absolutely” be released “at the right time.”
President Trump, please proceed.
Key to his mystique among his supporters has long been the idea that he always has another trump card up his sleeve. No matter how grim the outlook for Trump painted in the Fake News, he’s actually wielding absolute mastery over events. He has his enemies exactly where he wants ’em.
But this episode provides a glimpse into the absurdity and ultimate hollowness of this sort of politics-by-megalomaniacal-illusion. Trump and his allies appear so certain the public is being seduced by his tale of persecution — so certain that release of the footage can only help him — that only a few scattered allies are seriously entertaining how this stunt might backfire.
All this will escalate Thursday, when a court hears arguments over the Justice Department’s affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. The department opposes release of the affidavit — which details the rationale that persuaded a judge to allow the search — on grounds that it could jeopardize the investigation and the cooperation of witnesses.
But The Post and other news organizations are pursuing its release, given the search’s “historic importance.” And yes: Release of a redacted version could even shed a lot of light for the public on the reasons for the search.
Trump himself is also pushing for the affidavit’s release. Here again, he appears convinced that he can use this to attack the FBI and cast himself as a persecuted martyr.
What’s unclear is why Trump thinks this. The inventory for the search has already confirmed it turned up highly classified documents in the former president’s possession, bolstering the idea that it was well-grounded.
The affidavit might confirm that and more. Indeed, some Trump advisers worry about exactly this. Yet Trump apparently believes he can spin its release to his advantage no matter what’s in it, so formidable are his magical reality-bending powers.
This boundless confidence in the powers of Trumpian spin are also visible in deliberations over the Mar-a-Lago footage. One ally says it will “drive the base f---ing bananas” to see scenes of agents defiling Trump’s hallowed grounds. Former adviser Stephen K. Bannon claims the footage will “Red-Pill the nation,” jolting the whole country into a frenzy of outrage over Trump’s martyrdom.
Only a few lonely voices are urging caution. As CNN reports:
Others in Trump’s orbit have warned of the potential risks to the former President if he does release the tapes. A second person close to Trump cautioned that releasing the footage could backfire by providing people with a visual understanding of the sheer volume of materials that federal agents seized from his oceanfront residence, including classified materials.
Let’s ponder the absurdity of Trumpworld’s calculations: We should release this footage to spin Trump as a victim of persecution! But wait, won’t that footage show that he is hoarding lots of documents — including highly classified national security secrets — at his resort for suspiciously unknown reasons? Wouldn’t that show the search was reasonable, and that Trump just might have done something wrong, after all?
Why, yes, it just might. But what’s notable is the bottomless certainty that anything can be spun to Trump’s advantage, even if it obviously might further incriminate him.
There’s a deeper absurdity here, which is that Trump’s cries of persecution look even more buffoonish in light of FBI history.
There is a legacy of political witch hunts at the FBI, and for this reason, we should take seriously the need for congressional oversight of the Mar-a-Lago search. We should approach its rationale with a trust-but-verify skepticism until we know more.
But Trump and his allies aren’t arguing for reasoned good-faith skepticism. They insist it has already been established that the search is wholly corrupt and illegitimate to its core, that it’s one of the most flagrant abuses by law enforcement in all of U.S. history.
So I checked in with Tim Weiner, the author of a history of the FBI. Weiner points to the absurdity of comparing the Mar-a-Lago search with the bureau’s darkest moments.
“The FBI relentlessly wiretapped Martin Luther King,” Weiner told me. “It tried to destroy the antiwar and civil rights movements in the ’60s and early ’70s.”
“And from his first days as FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover sought to infiltrate and subvert the American Civil Liberties Union,” Weiner continued. “Those were witch hunts. This is an espionage investigation.”
Journalist Garrett Graff points to another historical irony: For all of Trumpworld’s efforts to cast the FBI as a bastion of deep-state operatives working for the Democratic Party, the agency has historically been “the most culturally conservative and traditionally White Christian institution in the entire U.S. government.”
But by all means, President Trump, release the footage. The more transparency the better. You always have a secret weapon at hand to catch your enemies totally unaware, right? Go ahead and Own the Libs! What are you waiting for?