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

Their quick defense of Trump and combative posture underlined the former president’s status as a standard-bearer in the party, even as he was tainted anew by another investigation

Responding to the news of an FBI search at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the Justice Department has “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” (Meg Kinnard/AP)

Top Republicans on Monday rallied quickly behind Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago Club, embracing his claims, presented without evidence, that it was a political attack intended to impede Trump’s chances if he runs for president again.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a top Trump ally, responded with a threat to the Justice Department, vowing to investigate the agency if the Republicans win back the House in the midterm elections. Claiming without evidence that the department has “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” McCarthy warned, “Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

The quick defense of Trump and combative posture by leading Republican officeholders and potential 2024 presidential aspirants underlined the former president’s status as a standard-bearer in the party, even as he was tainted anew by another investigation. With fewer than 100 days before the midterm elections, many Republicans continue to rally around Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, his baseless attacks on a slew of officeholders and his divisive rhetoric.

Democrats, meanwhile, weighed in more slowly, applauding the news of the search and urging the Justice Department to fully investigate the former president’s handling of classified information. “Good!” tweeted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in response to the news.

Many of the Republicans aghast at the FBI raid had supported FBI probes of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in 2016. When then-FBI Director James B. Comey found no reason to charge Clinton after an initial investigation, and after another probe of emails on a laptop belonging to a Clinton aide shortly before the election, they asked whether the Democrat had gotten off easy.

“Secretary Clinton’s fundamental lack of judgment and wanton disregard for protecting and keeping information confidential raises continued questions about the exposure of our nation’s diplomatic and national security secrets,” McCarthy said in 2016, after Comey initially announced the end of the investigation.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a onetime Trump critic turned Trump defender during the 45th president’s tenure, said Monday on Twitter: “We’re 100 days away from midterm elections. President Trump is likely going to run again in 2024.” He added, “Launching such an investigation of a former President this close to an election is beyond problematic.”

Six years earlier, however, Graham was critical of the FBI after it found no crime to charge in its probe of Clinton’s email server.

“We need a special prosecutor, someone outside the Justice Department, to look into this matter,” said Graham in an August 2016 interview on Fox News, 75 days before that year’s presidential election. “If you’re waiting on this Justice Department to hold anybody in the Obama-Clinton world accountable, you’ll die of old age. It’s sad but it’s true.”

A person familiar with the investigation related to the search of Trump’s safe at Mar-a-Lago, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its details, said agents were conducting a court-authorized search as they probe the potential mishandling of classified documents that were shipped to Mar-a-Lago. The FBI declined to comment.

Trump nominated the current head of the FBI, Christopher A. Wray, to the position in 2017, after firing Comey amid a probe of whether any Trump campaign advisers had conspired with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 election.

Trump likened the FBI search of his home to an assault that “could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries” and compared it to Watergate, when allies of President Richard Nixon illegally broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Republican lawmakers seized on the former president’s rhetoric, casting the search, without evidence, as federal government overreach against a political adversary.

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)

“This was a strange day,” Trump said during a telerally for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a congressional candidate, on Monday night, calling it “another day in paradise.”

Trump and the Republican National Committee quickly sought to capitalize on the search as a fundraising opportunity, sending out texts to supporters that referred to “Biden’s FBI” or “Biden’s Department of Justice.”

Trump was at Trump Tower in New York on Monday with limited staff, according to three advisers, and learned of the search only after the FBI was at the property, one adviser who spoke to him said. The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private interactions.

Democrats, who had twice impeached Trump but failed both times to convict him, welcomed the news of the raid. Some cheered that there was enough evidence against the former president for a court-approved search warrant of his private property.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents put “our security at risk” and that she is “committed to getting to the bottom of President Trump’s potentially serious misconduct and advancing critical reforms to prevent these abuses in the future and protect our national security.”

Some Democrats accused Trump and Republicans of hypocrisy after their years of attempting to prosecute their political enemies. Many Democrats tweeted that no one, not even a former president, is “above the law.”

“This man and his fellow bootlickers hid under a rock rather than respond every time Donald Trump called for persecution, investigation, imprisonment, or violence against his political opponents,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), referring to McCarthy’s statement. “These same people talk about Trump like he’s above the law. He’s not above the law.”

Other Democrats reveled in the news that the FBI was moving forward with its investigation and said it imperiled Trump’s political prospects.

“Might Trump be questioning his ever running for office. He is facing so many legal troubles and has engaged in a multitude of questionable(understatement) acts that make him vulnerable in so many different forums and jurisdictions. He has more avenues to prison than Al Capone did,” tweeted Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

The surprise raid, related to an investigation into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified information, adds another potential factor to the midterm elections. A string of political wins for Democrats in recent weeks had begun to temper GOP optimism about winning back control of Congress because of President Biden’s low approval ratings, rising prices and concerns about crime.

Some Republican strategists argued that the investigation gives Trump and his allies a new chance to play the victim, but it is also a reminder to voters of the baggage he carries. In recent months, the party’s operatives and donors have said that Republican voters are moving away from backing Trump in 2024 — even as he leads in the polls — not because they don’t like him but because they believe it is time for new blood.

“I just hope DOJ fully appreciates all that it’s biting off here. Whether they want it to be or not, it’s going to become extraordinarily political,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime adviser to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and a frequent Trump critic. “It would be in their interest to communicate very clearly what has happened and why. Regardless, the right is going to lose its mind, and Trump will again play the victim card to great effect.”

Republicans, even those with an eye on the White House in 2024, were swift in their condemnation of the raid and rallied behind Trump, firing off similar evidence-free statements.

“The FBI raid on President Trump’s home is an unprecedented political weaponization of the Justice Department,” tweeted South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem. “They’ve been after President Trump as a candidate, as President, and now as a former President. Using the criminal justice system in this manner is un-American.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also echoing Trump’s rhetoric, said the raid was akin to political persecution seen in “3rd world Marxist dictatorships.”

And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is considered one of Trump’s biggest potential rivals if both men run in 2024, synthesized the GOP’s main grievances.

“The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter.

Across social media and in statements, some Republicans’ characterizations of the raid attempted to paint a dystopian picture of America.

“If you’re a Republican with any kind of voice, and not speaking up for President Trump tonight don’t expect any of us to speak up for you when your time comes,” tweeted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a far-right member of Congress. “You may not realize it yet, but they’re coming for all of us.”

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