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Donald Trump has expressed many emotions about his actions inciting an insurrection on the Capitol on January 6, but as witnesses, both public and private, can attest, not a single one of them was remorse. Mostly, he appears to feel pride in the power he has over his followers. His former press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, described Trump on the day of the riot as "gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, 'look at all of the people fighting for me,' hitting rewind, watching it again." During her public testimony about January 6, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said Trump was so amped up that he demanded the Secret Service take him to the Capitol to lead the mob. A now-retired police officer who was part of Trump's motorcade that day confirmed the report. Even video footage from the day after the riot shows Trump reluctantly suppressing his pride, no doubt at the advice of legal counsel.
Since then, Trump has toggled between feigned disapproval and open gloating about January 6, even though it did not accomplish his goal of blocking Joe Biden from the White House. He's flirted with pardoning the rioters if he ever regains the White House. He's tried to make a martyr of Ashli Babbitt, the Trump supporter who was shot during the riot when she tried to lead a mob toward fleeing members of Congress. When asked about the "hang Mike Pence" chants at the riot, which were a direct reaction to his provocations, Trump defended the rioters as "very angry."
Because of this, no one should be surprised that Trump is now reacting to a man attacking the FBI offices in Cincinnati by doubling down on his inciting rhetoric. After FBI agents searched Trump's Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, for classified documents, Trump has been using every avenue possible to send a message to the Department of Justice: Stop the investigation or my supporters could become even more dangerous.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Trump "reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message" to Attorney General Merrick Garland. "The message Mr. Trump wanted conveyed, according to a person familiar with the exchange, was: 'The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?'"
The message is disguised as helpful, but it's obviously meant to be threatening. It's a variation on the cliched mobster threat: "Nice place you've got there. Shame if something happened to it." Both Trump and the intended target understand that Trump is the one who lit the fire with his repeated claims of being "persecuted" and the flat-out lies he uses to bolster those claims. So his "question" is really more a form of blackmail. He's not actually offering assistance, so much as trying to remind Garland of his continued power over his followers.
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The threatening nature of this rhetoric was underscored by Trump's game-playing with the warrant release. First, he pretended not to have the warrant and demanded that it be released, even though he did have a copy and could release it whenever he wished. Then his team released the warrant to Breitbart before the DOJ had a chance to release it. By doing so, Trump made sure the version of the warrant that spread most rapidly was one featuring the unredacted names of the individual FBI agents involved in the search, putting them and their families in danger.
In case there was any doubt that this was intentional, Trump is playing the same game with the affidavit that led to the warrant.
Trump has been using every avenue possible to send a message to the Department of Justice: Stop the investigation or my supporters could become even more dangerous.
The DOJ is resisting the public release of the affidavit underlying the search warrant, which has much more detailed information about what crimes Trump is suspected of and the evidence the FBI has to support their suspicions. Its release would not only be highly unusual, but it would also "likely chill future cooperation by witnesses," authorities argued. Trump responded with a rant on Truth Social, his far-right alternative to Twitter, in which he demanded "the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit." As with the warrant release, the only purpose of releasing an unredacted affidavit would be to expose the identities of people who have provided evidence against Trump.
Monday morning, Trump made his veiled threats to Garland public, going to Fox News to engage in faux-handwringing over how the "country is in a very dangerous position," as if he weren't the person who made it that way.
"There is tremendous anger, like I've never seen before, over all of the scams, and this new one—years of scams and witch hunts, and now this," he said. "If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that."
Trump, of course, is actually the one turning up the heat. By making false accusations of "scams," Trump reframes his threatening behavior as reluctant self-defense. In reality, however, he is not the victim here, there is no scam, and he is under no obligation to rile up his most violent supporters with conspiracy theories and lies. In other words, his comment was another spin on the same insinuations: Nice country you've got there. Shame if something would happen to it.
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As Eric Kleefeld of Media Matters reported Monday, Fox News has been heavily hyping "Trump's veiled threats that his supporters will carry out more political violence against federal law enforcement." As Kleefeld notes, Trump is using the passive language of faux "predictions" to package his threat, by saying things like, "the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn't, terrible things are going to happen." But, of course, he and his targets both know things aren't just "happening." They are being provoked by Trump's hyperbolic language and hint-dropping to his followers.
January 6 committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called Trump out Monday on CNN, calling Trump's messaging to supporters "creepy."
Trump has not abandoned his violence-centric approach to getting what he wants, regardless of what it costs the country or his followers.
"It does strike me as something like, you know, what you hear from the mafia. 'If you want your store to be secure, give us money,'" he added.
Everyone saw on January 6 how Trump's rhetoric works. He doesn't need to explicitly call for violence. He insinuates. He winks. He nudges. His audience understands exactly what he's getting at, and, all too often they act. On January 6, when Trump said to "march" on the Capitol, the crowd knew exactly what he was insinuating. What he's hinting at now, with his "predictions" of "terrible things," is even less subtle. Coupled with his insistence on making public the names of any FBI agents who are investigating him or people who have testified against him, his implications of violence are undeniable.
While the veiled threats are certainly affecting some pundits, who are publicly entertaining the idea that the FBI should give in to intimidation, it's unlikely that it's going to work. It didn't on January 6, even though Trump was quite effective that day at unleashing a mob on the Capitol to stop the election certification. As media researchers Jared Holt and Emmi Conley explained on Holt's podcast this week, it's even more unlikely to work now. There's a lack of a concrete target for Trump's minions to focus their rage on, they point out, plus some of the most effective far-right ringleaders are too busy being prosecuted to organize another attack.
The pathos of the attack from Ricky Shiffer — who shot at a Cincinnati FBI office with a nail gun, before dying in a cornfield after a lengthy standoff with police — illustrates the current logistical problems with Trump's threatening approach. Still, that Trump continues to work this strategy is alarming evidence that January 6 is not firmly ensconced in the past. Trump has not abandoned his violence-centric approach to getting what he wants, regardless of what it costs the country or his followers.
A 'mistake': GOP strategists warn party’s latest battle cry sends conflicting message as midterms approach
Republican leaders and lawmakers wasted no time voicing their concerns and disapproval of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) search at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. In fact, some have even gone so far as to call for the FBI to be defunded.
Now, there are concerns about how their rhetoric could be sending a conflicting message to Republican voters. Speaking to Axios, multiple Republican strategists have weighed in with their take on the situation.
Alex Conant, a founding partner and Republican strategist at Firehouse Strategies, warned that lawmakers and candidates need to be careful about alienating pro-law enforcement voters.
"Crime has been a winning issue for Republicans, and they need to be careful not to jeopardize that," Conant told Axios.
Ken Spain, a founding partner for Narrative Strategies and former Republican campaign official, also warned the anti-FBI rhetoric "might score political points in the handful of remaining GOP primaries, but it will serve as a textbook case study in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the general election.”
Republicans' latest attack on the FBI follows their criticism of progressive calls to "defund the police," a slogan they previously used to their advantage to "attack Democrats."Democratic operatives have warned lawmakers to steer clear of anti-law enforcement rhetoric ahead of the midterm elections," Axios notes.
As longstanding critics of the "defund the police" movement, there are concerns about how the hypocrisy could backfire on Republicans in the long run. National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesperson Michael McAdams told Axios, "Every voter knows Democrats are the party of defund the police. Americans are experiencing record violent crime as a direct of Democrats’ efforts to vilify law enforcement and push pro-criminal policies like cashless bail," said McAdams.
Some Republican lawmakers have even expressed concern about calls to defund the FBI. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Axios: "The Republican message should not be 'defund the FBI,' I think [it's a] mistake."
Axios also notes that some Trump-aligned Republicans in key battleground states have expressed apprehension about the political shift against law enforcement.
The New York Times is reporting that two former White House lawyers to President Donald Trump spoke with the FBI about the classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago post-presidency.
Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin both spoke to investigators about their experiences trying to get the government documents back to the National Archives, according to the new report.
A report on Monday night revealed Philbin, in particular, worked to get the documents. However, they quoted Trump ranting: "It's not theirs, it's mine," advisers told the Times.
Ultimately, Trump did allow 15 boxes to be turned over to the National Archives, with staff taking a truck to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the documents.
"At that point, at least one Trump lawyer signed a statement saying material with the classified markings had been returned, according to four people familiar with the document," the report continued. "But officials then used a subpoena to obtain surveillance footage of the hallway outside a storage room at Mar-a-Lago and saw something that alarmed them. They also received information from at least one witness who indicated that more material might remain at the residence, people familiar with the investigation said."
Speaking to MSNBC on Tuesday, Andrew Weissmann, former Justice Department prosecutor on special counsel Robert Mueller's team explained the significance of the new report.
"I think it is important for people to know that both those gentlemen were two of seven people who President Trump designated on Jan. 19, 2021, two days before his presidency was over, as his representatives in terms of dealing with presidential records," said Weissmann.
"I think this is part of the reason that you saw in the search warrant the reference to section 1519 of the criminal statute," he continued. "That is an obstruction statute. And that is the kind of thing that the department could have been very focused on false statements and false representations being made to them that everything had been returned. Only to find, in the search, that that was not true. And that kind of crime, I can tell you when I was in the department, that is the kind of crime that really gets people in the department up in arms. It goes to undermining the integrity of the criminal investigation. And that's the kind of thing that has to be deterred if you're in this case, in any case, if you're going to actually have a rule of law."