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Federal law enforcement leaders warn about danger as GOP assails FBI

Republican lawmakers and candidates have accused the agency, without evidence, of carrying out political retribution against a former president

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Aug. 11 about the FBI's search warrant served at former president Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Law enforcement leaders are raising alarms about threats to federal agents as prominent Republicans attack the FBI for its search of Donald Trump’s residence and as authorities investigate an attempted breach at an FBI field office in Ohio.

In interviews Thursday, Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, expressed alarm at GOP warnings to Americans that federal agents are “coming for you.” Politicians’ rhetoric could lead to more violence, regardless of what fueled the Ohio attack, he said, noting that online messages have advocated killing FBI agents.

“The rank-and-file officers on the street and agents, they are career employees that … cherish the Constitution like the average American,” he said. “So for them to be attacked by these individuals that believe something else — or they’re believing, you know, someone’s rhetoric that’s uncalled for — to me, it’s shameful and disgusting.”

On Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office, according to authorities. It was not clear whether the incident was connected to the backlash over the court-authorized search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property. The man was fatally shot after a standoff with officers, authorities said.

The authorities identified him as Ricky Shiffer. According to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation, agents are investigating Shiffer’s possible ties to extremist groups, including the Proud Boys — whose leaders are accused of helping launch the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Shiffer’s name is used on several social media platforms by an individual who spoke about being at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Authorities declined to comment on whether Shiffer is connected to those accounts.

Earlier in the week, the individual using Shiffer’s name on Truth Social posted that he was issuing “a call to arms” hours after the search of Mar-a-Lago became public information.

Even before details of that incident emerged, Cosme and others had warned about rising threats. Cosme said Wednesday that “the politically motivated threats of violence against the FBI this week are unprecedented in recent history and absolutely unacceptable.” He warned on Thursday, “Politicians need to be cautious when they’re critical of law enforcement … because, you know, they could potentially ignite something.”

Brian O’Hare, president of the FBI Agents Association, said in a statement Thursday that “threats made recently contribute to an atmosphere where some have, or will, accept violence against law enforcement as appropriate.”

Republican lawmakers and candidates have accused the agency, without evidence, of carrying out political retribution against a former president, tapping into long-running GOP hostility toward arms of the federal government that Trump and legions of his followers deride as part of a “Deep State.” Many Republican officials likened the search of Mar-a-Lago on Monday to the act of a “dictatorship” or even a Nazi regime, while some far-right lawmakers are calling on Congress to “defund the FBI.”

Leaders throughout the GOP have been telling the public that the FBI is out to get them. An op-ed by Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, is titled, “Trump targeted by Biden administration, and they can do it to you, too.”

The FBI is not the only target of such rhetoric: Republicans this week have also been warning Americans that an army of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents is “coming” for them, as Democrats seek to boost the tax agency’s funding and ability to pursue tax dodgers. Many in the GOP have zeroed in on the fact that certain special agents carry guns, casting them as a threat or falsely suggesting the IRS is arming tens of thousands of new employees. Treasury Department officials have said the proposed funding is meant to target high-income tax evasion.

Gunman killed after trying to breach FBI office in Ohio, authorities say

Rep. Michael R. Turner (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that “all of our members of this committee are in full support of the men and women who every day work to keep our nation safe at the FBI and the Department of Justice. And we condemn any actions of violence against any law enforcement personnel.”

He added: “Having said that, we have serious questions concerning the actions taken by [FBI] Director [Christopher A.] Wray and ordered by … Attorney General [Merrick] Garland to raid Mar-a-Lago.” Turner said both are subject to congressional overnight, “and it is our job to ensure that they are not abusing their discretion or politicizing the powers that we have given them.”

Appearing at the same news conference, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, said Trump is Biden’s likeliest opponent in the 2024 presidential election and noted that the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago came fewer than 100 days before the midterms. “The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority,” Stefanik said.

Some Republicans critical of the FBI denounced suggestions they bear responsibility for any threats. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — who called for the agency’s defunding and accused it of political persecution — said in a statement, “Politically-motivated violence and politically-motivated abuse of our legal system have no place in America.”

She said she supports “law, order, and the brave men and women who protect our communities” and asked whether The Washington Post is responsible for attacks on officers, referring to published opinion pieces defending the “defund the police” movement.

Emma Vaughn, a spokeswoman for the RNC, said that “violence has no place in our politics.” She argued that language on the political left has fueled violence, pointing to examples including a 2017 congressional baseball practice shooting by a man vehemently opposed to Trump and an alleged assassination attempt on Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. The FBI said the assailant opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.

In her op-ed, McDaniel said there is a “pattern of bureaucratic abuse against Trump” — pointing to his impeachment and an investigation by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which found that the Russian government sought to help elect Trump but did not find that his campaign coordinated with Russia.

Cosme condemned past attacks on police from the far left, saying members were seriously injured during violence he attributed to far-left critics of police. People of all political bents “need to be cautious and careful [with] the rhetoric that they’re espousing,” he said.

Garland — the focus of Republicans’ ire — defended the Justice Department at a news conference Thursday and said it is applying the law “evenly without fear or favor.”

“The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants,” the attorney general said.

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of Trump’s Florida residence, people familiar with the investigation told The Washington Post. Experts told The Post that distribution of the type of top-secret information described by the people familiar with the probe could cause grave harm to U.S. security, and the possibility would probably prompt authorities to try to move as quickly as possible to recover sensitive material.

Logically, a tech company that normally monitors online threats related to elections, saw a surge of threats to FBI employees after the Mar-a-Lago search, said Kyle Walter, the firm’s head of open-source intelligence for the United States. He said he has not seen anything like it since the months after the 2020 election, when Trump sought to overturn his loss and spread the false claims that animated the mob at the U.S. Capitol last year.

“There’s things that are explicit threats, saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to go kill X person at X date,’ ” Walter said. “And then there’s people saying that generally we should engage in violence against this group of people. I would say the second class, we’ve seen hundreds of those types of threats.”

Republican leaders have largely coalesced behind Trump’s claims of political persecution — and continue to assail the Justice Department in social media posts and fundraising pitches. Greene, one of the farthest-right lawmakers in Congress, is selling “Enemy of the State” and “Defund the FBI” merchandise online.

That language has raised eyebrows even on Fox News Channel, a network favored by many conservatives, where host Steve Doocy on Thursday asked Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), a top House Republican, “Whatever happened to the Republican Party backing the blue?” GOP candidates have criticized Democrats as soft on crime and overly critical of law enforcement, taking particular aim at far-left calls to “defund the police.”

“Frankly, we’re very strong supporters of law enforcement,” Scalise said on Fox. “And it concerns everybody if you see some agents go rogue, and if you see an agency that doesn’t have the right checks and balances at the top. This is coming from the top.”

“Steve, who went rogue?” Doocy said. “Who went rogue? They were following a search warrant.” Later in the day, Garland said he personally approved the request for the warrant and is seeking to unseal it.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Thursday that she was “ashamed” at party members’ attacks on those involved with the Mar-a-Lago search.

“These are sickening comments that put the lives of patriotic public servants at risk,” said Cheney, a former member of House leadership, whose relentless criticism of Trump has made her a pariah in the GOP.

And Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a moderate and former FBI agent, has cautioned against jumping to conclusions and eroding trust in federal law enforcement, even as he agreed that the unusual action at Mar-a-Lago deserves scrutiny. FBI employees need the public’s support as they knock on doors and build sources, he said during a recent live discussion hosted by The Post.

“When you lose that aspect of the job, it makes our country less safe,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I think it’s incumbent upon all of us, number one, obviously reserve judgment until we know all the facts.”

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who was on the field during the 2017 baseball practice shooting, said that individuals who commit violent acts “are the ones that need to be held accountable.” He added, "But yet, every Republican every Democrat, as I said in 2017, bears a responsibility to tone down the rhetoric. Every one that serves in this institution bears that responsibility to do so.”

While the FBI has been in the spotlight, Republicans have also focused on the IRS this week, after Democrats in the Senate narrowly passed a sweeping bill to address climate change, lower health-care costs and raise some taxes. The bill also included about $80 billion for the IRS.

“It is a shame that this much-needed new investment in the IRS is being misrepresented,” said Tony Reardon, the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in a statement to The Post. He said an “increase in anti-government rhetoric has understandably raised concerns for the safety of all federal employees, including those at the IRS.”

Marianna Sotomayor, Meryl Kornfield, Spencer S. Hsu, James Bikales, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Perry Stein and Shane Harris contributed to this report.

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