When former President Donald Trump first announced the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence, many Republican lawmakers rhetorically rushed to his side.
“The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reeled off.
“DEFUND THE FBI!” cried Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
They called for “answers,” for documentation on the specifics of the raid from the DOJ.
And then…Attorney General Merrick Garland promised just that. On Thursday afternoon, Garland said that the department would seek a partial release of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
Record scratch. Would Trump change his position? It would be many uncomfortable hours for Republicans before Trump said he was “ENCOURAGING” the release of the warrant — something he could do himself at any time.
Meanwhile, Trump allies are reportedly telling Republican lawmakers to tamp down the firestorm of criticism they’re training on the DOJ and FBI due to the possibility that more damaging information related to the search will become public, per the New York Times.
While we wait for the warrant to be released, Republicans are shooting scattershot in their attempt to shift scrutiny from the venerated leader of the party.
Shifting the goalposts away from demanding the warrant
After Garland inconveniently acceded to Republican requests that the warrant be unsealed, some Republicans cast around for something else to demand. Many have landed on the information that prompted the search in the first place.
“What I am looking for is the predicate for the search,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted shortly after Garland’s speech. “Was the information provided to the judge sufficient and necessary to authorize a raid on the former president’s home within ninety days of the midterm election?”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, sang a similar tune at a Friday morning press conference, asking that the “imminent national security risk” that prompted the raid be disclosed to the committee.
“These questions will still remain unanswered” even after the warrant is unsealed, he predicted confidently.
Throwing it back to other perceived FBI failings
At that same morning press conference, many Intel committee Republicans spent their time at the lectern discussing not the raid or even the attack on the FBI’s Cincinnati field office Thursday, but the shooting at the congressional Republican baseball practice in 2017.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) — who represents a district including parts of Cincinnati and its suburbs — told the story of the shooting, pointing out that the gunman “hated Donald Trump” and intended to kill Republicans, before launching into a critique of the FBI’s handling of the investigation into the attack.
“You want to know why the American people don’t trust our institutions?” Wenstrup asked. “It’s things like this.”
Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS) followed with similar comments: “To this day, the FBI continues to use coverup and hiding and will not disclose the files,” he said of the baseball shooting.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) wound the clock back even further, providing the dependable “but her emails” interjection.
“We saw this media frenzy about supposedly classified information — where was this same media frenzy when there was 33,000 classified emails on a server in a bathroom with Hillary Clinton?” Mullin asked, indignantly. “Why didn’t they raid that bathroom?”
Ginning up the Secret Service informant to the FBI theory
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) retweeted a much scrutinized thread from a Fox News reporter theorizing that the probable cause for a search warrant came from a Secret Service member at Mar-a-Lago. The thread is attributed to one unnamed federal law enforcement source. Cruz added the sideways eyes emoji to the thread Thursday night.
Going after renegade AG Merrick Garland
Many Republicans have chosen to vent their spleen on Garland, painting the famously cautious official as a rogue and vindictive actor.
“AG Garland: The DOJ pursues equal justice under the law,*” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) tweeted Thursday night. “*Unless your name is Hillary Clinton or Hunter Biden.”
House Judiciary Republicans blamed Garland for leaking to the Washington Post that the FBI raid was at least partially provoked by the need to get documents related to nuclear weapons.
“So hours after Merrick Garland says that DOJ only speaks through its filings in court, they go out and leak this story to the Washington Post,” the committee tweeted.
Taking the fingers-in-ears approach
But for a whole lot of Republicans, the game plan has shifted to…talking about something else. For many of them, an IRS conspiracy theory has become the big talking point of the day.
Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) put out a statement debunking the claims Friday morning.
“High-ranking Republicans, including the former chair of the Finance Committee, are saying shockingly irresponsible things. Given the social media chatter we’re already seeing, it’s all too easy to imagine individuals using these conspiracy theories as justification for violence against public servants and their families,” he wrote. “It’s unbelievable that we even need to say this, but there are not going to be 87,000 armed IRS agents going door-to-door with assault weapons. This is funding for answering phone calls and upgrading computer systems.”