Is the news really all bad for Donald Trump?
Well, mostly. But there are two key reasons why the Mar-a-Lago mess might wind up boosting him politically.
First the bad news. The former president has moved from saying he was cooperating with investigators to not disputing that he didn’t return all the subpoenaed documents; from calling the Washington Post story that nuclear secrets are involved a hoax to not denying it to saying Barack Obama did something similar (which the National Archives knocked down, since it controls all presidential records).
Throw in Trump’s claim that he declassified any documents he took to Florida (John Bolton and others say they never heard of such a process), and that the FBI “stole” his passports (which the government has denied), and there’s a lot of backtracking going on. It was a very quick trip from “never happened” to “so what.”
And his key ally, Rudy Giuliani, has just been notified he’s a target in the Georgia criminal probe that also is focusing on Trump. The former U.S. attorney, who testifies today, knows he’s in trouble.
I know that everyone doesn’t follow the confusing details, and that Trump’s antagonists in the media and politics have been down this road many times, rooting for this or that development or witness that send Trump off to prison. As just one example, Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of the Trump Organization, was going to turn on his ex-boss, except that he didn’t flip and media reports say he’ll plead guilty but not cooperate with the Trump investigation.
As for the potential benefits of the search, the first is that Merrick Garland’s four days of silence fueled the backlash that turned Trump into a martyr. With the Republican base angry about the tactic, the 45th president seems more of a shoo-in for the GOP nomination, as he continues to describe the “raid” and “break-in” which was actually legal under the court-approved warrant.
Garland, according to media reports, agonized for weeks over greenlighting the search. The attorney general should have known that he let his adversary control the narrative by staying mum, but unlike Trump, he’s not a street fighter.
The second reason is that it’s entirely possible that Garland doesn’t gather enough evidence to bring a criminal case. No way he brings an indictment just about record-keeping; it has to involve either Jan. 6 or compromised nuclear secrets. We have no way of knowing, but if no charges are filed, Trump will brand the whole thing just another hoax.
Now here’s a final twist. The former president told Fox News Digital the other day that America’s temperature “has to be brought down…
“The country is in a very dangerous position. There is tremendous anger, like I’ve never seen before… If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that.”
I see two possibilities here. One is that with a growing level of threats and violent incidents, such as the killing of an armed assailant at the FBI’s Cincinnati office and a man who killed himself after ramming into a barrier at the Capitol, Trump’s advisers convinced him that he’d better say something.
If that’s the case, Trump will likely do what he did after Charlottesville – after reading a toned-down statement at his team’s urging, the president quickly reverted to his “very fine people” stance the next time he saw the press.
It’s also possible that Trump is worried about being blamed if more violence breaks out–and wants to be able to point to this statement, even as he returns to his ramped-up rhetoric about being persecuted as if this were a Third World country.
One thing is clear: the media are loving this return to a Trump-dominated world.
When President Biden signed major legislation last week, the cable news networks went to such breaking news as “Donald Trump pleads the Fifth” almost as soon as Biden stopped speaking.
When the president yesterday signed the party-line climate/health care/corporate taxes bill, MSNBC and Fox actually did additional segments on the law, each with administration guests, but CNN quickly pivoted to the Trump melodrama. And while Fox stuck with the impact of the reconciliation law, MSNBC, within 20 minutes, went “back to our regularly scheduled programming”: Trump.