Executing a valid search warrant, FBI agents arrived in the morning to search the office. The word “unprecedented” was on everyone’s lips. They seized business records, computers and other documents related to possible crimes. An enraged Donald Trump denounced the FBI and the Justice Department, saying not that they had abided by the warrant issued by a federal judge, but rather that agents had “broken into” the office.
The year was 2018, and Trump was livid about the FBI’s investigation into his longtime attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.
At the time, many observers, including me, assumed that the investigation would yield bushels of incriminating documents about Trump. Cohen was his personal lawyer, after all, the guy who wrote the hush-money checks to porn stars and presumably had access to many of Trump’s dodgy or downright illegal acts. It didn’t turn out that way.
But what is not open to doubt is that the Republican Party, which seemed to be flirting with post-Trumpism just a few weeks ago, has now come roaring back as an authoritarian cult. Trump has not changed. But he has changed Republicans.
Consider 2018 again. When the FBI searched Cohen’s office, Trump was Trump. He raged like a banshee. He declared that it was “an attack on our country” and a “disgraceful situation.”
Some Fox News bobbleheads treated the story as more evidence of a conspiracy to hurt the Dear Leader, but most Republicans were subdued. The prevailing tone in Republican ranks was that the investigations, including Robert Mueller’s, must be permitted to proceed according to the rules. Sens. Thom Tillis and Lindsey Graham, for example, teamed up with their Democratic colleagues, Sens. Chris Coons and Cory Booker, to propose the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.
Four years later, the FBI has executed another warrant, this time to Trump’s office, and the Trump forces have gone berserk. Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted, “I will support a complete dismantling and elimination of the democrat brown shirts known as the FBI. This is too much for our republic to withstand ... "
Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state representative and candidate for Congress, was prepared to dismantle the whole federalist structure: “It’s time for us in the Florida Legislature to ... sever all ties with DOJ immediately. Any FBI agent conducting law enforcement functions outside the purview of our State should be arrested upon sight.” That would go well.
Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted that “At a minimum, Garland must resign or be impeached. The search warrant must be published. (FBI Director) Christoper Wray must be removed. And the FBI reformed top to bottom.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene chants, “Defund the FBI.”
Newt Gingrich suggests that the feds might have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago.
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The party that backed the blue and disdained the defund-the-police crowd now flips. Gingrich is channeling Johnnie Cochran. Trump may be an ignoramus and a clod, but he has the capacity to turn people inside out.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the likely next speaker of the House, tweeted a threat to the attorney general, telling Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” because when/if Republicans take the majority, they’re coming for him.
Now, as a substantive matter, McCarthy’s tweet is meaningless. The House of Representatives, along with the Senate, already exercises oversight authority over the Justice Department. But the importance of the tweet is not its substance but its tone — the call for vengeance. McCarthy displays zero interest in whether Trump actually committed a crime. The clear message is, “You’ve gone after our leader, so we’re coming for you.” The merits of Garland’s actions are irrelevant. The facts are irrelevant. It’s war.
For some in the wooly precincts of the MAGA right, the call to arms was literal. As Vice reported, some Trumpists were explicit: “‘Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,’ one user wrote on Twitter, with another adding, ‘One step closer to a kinetic civil war.’ Others said they were ready to take part: ‘I already bought my ammo.’” Steve Bannon, who was pardoned for bilking Trump supporters who thought they were building a wall, declared that “we’re at war” and called the FBI the “Gestapo.”
Trump is a sick soul who cannot imagine a world in which people act on principle or think about the welfare of others. While in power, Trump wanted to use the FBI to punish his political opponents (“Lock her up”) and reward his friends (“Go easy on Michael Flynn”). He projects his own corrupt motives onto others and assumes that the FBI investigation is nothing but a Democratic power grab. It would be pathetic if he had not dragged an entire political party into the fever swamps with him.
This experiment in self-government requires a minimum amount of social trust to succeed. With every tweet that spreads cynicism and lies; with every call to arms that welcomes civil conflict; Trumpist Republicans are poisoning the nation they claim so ostentatiously to love.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”
© 2022 Creators Syndicate