Aug 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Cracks emerge in GOP’s Mar-a-Lago response

Illustration of a red speech bubble with cracks in it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans are dividing over how or whether to defend former President Trump after the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago — and what to do about some members' heated rhetoric toward law enforcement.

Why it matters: Documents released Friday bolster reports that the search involved highly classified materials believed stored in violation of the law at the ex-president's private residence.

Driving the news: Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee held a press conference on Friday, before the release, in which they continued to cast the search as politically motivated.

  • But even some Intelligence Committee Republicans who participated struck a more measured tone in interviews afterward.
  • And according to the New York Times, Trump allies have told top Republicans to tone down their criticism of the Justice Department "because it is possible that more damaging information related to the search will become public."

What they're saying: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) called the search a "complete abuse," suggesting it was because Trump is "Joe Biden's most likeliest political opponent in 2024." Other members re-litigated past grievances against the FBI over Russiagate, the 2017 Congressional Baseball shooting and the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

  • “You can say nuclear weapons, but there are things that are highly, highly classified, there are things that are not extremely classified," ranking member Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said.
  • After the search, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) began calling to "defund the FBI," and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) tweeted: "I will support a complete dismantling and elimination of the democrat brown shirts known as the FBI."

The other side: "It's incumbent upon everybody to act in a way that's becoming of the office they hold," said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a former FBI agent, "And that's not casting judgment on anything until you know all the facts."

  • Fitzpatrick said his call for transparency about the search is grounded in a desire to restore the FBI's credibility: "There's nothing I want more than the American public to love the FBI."
  • Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) told Politico: “I mean, if he had actual Special Access Programs — do you know how extraordinarily sensitive that is? ... If that were actually at his residence, that would be a problem."

The big picture: The attacks right-wing members have lobbed against the FBI and DOJ have polarized some Republican colleagues amid rising threats to federal law enforcement and an attack on an FBI building in Ohio.

  • "I'm impressed Democrats finally got us to say, 'Defund the FBI,'" Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told Axios. "That makes you look unserious, when you start talking like that."
  • House Homeland Security Committee ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) said, "This is not something you rush to judgment on ... It's incumbent upon everybody to take a deep breath."

What's next: Many Republicans are calling for the Justice Department to also release of the affidavit in support of the warrant, which so far has not been made public.

  • "The warrant, you can't fit much on there," Fitzpatrick said. "Everything is going to be in that affidavit."
  • Katko said if the affadavit isn't made public "at least give it to us in a classified setting."
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