Trump’s growing tyranny against FBI and Justice Department puts officials’ lives at risk

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Donald Trump’s continued effort to paint the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid to retrieve classified documents as a political witch hunt is drawing rebukes from former Justice Department and FBI officials who warn such raids can incite violence and pose a real threat to the physical safety of law enforcement.

But the concerns haven’t deterred House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Trump allies from making incendiary comments echoing the former US president.

Related: Mar-a-Lago a magnet for spies, officials warn after nuclear file discovery

Relentless attacks by Trump and loyalists such as McCarthy, Senator Lindsey Graham, Steve Bannon and false conspiracy theorist Alex Jones against law enforcement continued despite strong evidence that Trump was illegally retaining hundreds of classified documents.

Before the Aug. 8 raid, Trump and his lawyers rejected requests from the FBI and the U.S. National Archives to return all classified documents and did not fully comply with a grand jury subpoena in a criminal investigation into the hoarding of government documents from Trump.

The FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and club turned up 33 boxes of more than 100 classified documents, adding to the 200 classified files Trump had earlier returned in response to multiple federal requests.

Trump’s high-decibel attacks on law enforcement officials for trying to retrieve large amounts of classified documents, including some allegedly containing foreign nuclear secrets, were on display in Pennsylvania recently, when Trump at a rally called the FBI and Justice Department “political monsters” and called President Joe. Biden “enemy of the state”.

The day before in Pennsylvania, to coincide with a big speech by Biden about threats to democracy from Trump and some of his allies, McCarthy mimicked Trump’s high-decibel attacks on the court-authorized FBI raid, calling it an “attack on democracy”.

Former law enforcement officials and scholars warn that the use of such conspiracy rhetoric that questions the motives and actions of the Justice Department and the FBI runs the risk of inciting threats of violence and actual attacks, fears that have already proven justified.

Consider Trump supporter Ricky Schieffer, who posted angry messages about the Mar-a-Lago raid on Trump Social and then on August 12 armed himself with a gun and attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati. After fleeing the scene, he was chased and killed by the police.

In another sign of potential violence, federal judge Bruce Rinehart in Florida, who had approved the FBI’s warrant to investigate Mar-a-Lago, reportedly received death threats after his name was mentioned in press accounts.

It is very typical of authoritarians to claim that they are the victims and that there are witch hunts against them

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

“I have been involved in law enforcement and the criminal justice system for nearly 40 years. I have never seen the type or severity of attacks being made every day against the FBI, DOJ lawyers and judges,” former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich told the Guardian. “It’s a chorus led by Trump, but it includes elected officials at every level. It is dangerous and unacceptable.”

Bromwich added: “It’s one thing for professional rabble-rousers, liars and nihilists – like Bannon and Jones – to attack law enforcement and the Department of Justice in the way they did after the investigation. It is quite another for so-called respectable political figures like McCarthy and Graham to do so. Their recent actions and words reflect that theirs is a policy divorced from facts and principles.”

Similarly, Chuck Rosenberg, former US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and former chief of staff to ex-FBI director James Comey, told the Guardian: “The attacks on federal law enforcement are chilling and reckless.”

The FBI is investigating former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Photo: Jim Rassol/EPA

For historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who has studied authoritarian leaders and authored the book Strongmen, Trump’s attacks on the FBI and Justice Department and withholding classified documents are consistent with his “authoritarian” leadership style

“It is very typical for authoritarians to claim that they are the victims and that there is a witch hunt against them,” Ben-Ghiat told the Guardian.

Trump’s furious attacks on law enforcement have also targeted the National Archives, prompting a marked uptick in threats against the agency, according to sources cited by the Washington Post.

“No NARA official involved in negotiating the return of the presidential records from Mar-a-Lago would have acted with any other motive than to ensure the safe return of all presidential records back to the government’s custody,” said Jason R Baron. , the former director of litigation at the US National Archives. “It is unfortunate that some question the motives of NARA staff simply doing their job.”

Frantic attacks on law enforcement began almost immediately after the raid and included some particularly rabid Trump supporters.

The entrance to the FBI headquarters in Cincinnati, attacked by Ricky Shiffer

The entrance to the FBI headquarters in Cincinnati, attacked by Ricky Shiffer Photo: Liz Dufour/AP

Former White House adviser Bannon, who has been convicted of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from a House committee on Jan. 6, made unsubstantiated claims to Infowars conspirator Jones that the FBI planted evidence against Trump during of Mar-a. -Lago raid and that the “deep state” is plotting to kill Trump.

“I don’t think it’s beyond this administrative state and its deep state apparatus to actually try to work to assassinate President Trump,” said Bannon, who on September 8 was indicted by New York prosecutors on fraud charges. , money laundering and conspiracy. role in a private fundraising program to finance the construction of the US-Mexico border wall.

Just before leaving office, Trump pardoned Bannon who had been indicted on similar federal charges related to fraud and the border wall.

Graham drew criticism for suggesting in an interview with Fox News that the FBI raid and investigation would lead to “riots in the street” if Trump were to be indicted.

After critics noted that Graham’s comments could fuel violence, Graham doubled down a week later saying he was just trying to “state the obvious.”

In a twist, some veteran Justice Department prosecutors point out that predictions of violence could potentially be criminal.

For those of us who have spent time with federal law enforcement personnel, the idea that they are members of the deep state or doing the bidding of the radical left is ludicrous.

Michael Bromwich

“The danger is that predictions of violence can easily turn into threats of violence that border on blackmail,” former Justice Department prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig told the Guardian. “The explicit call for violence against the government can, in context, become criminal. When Trump loyalists like Bannon and Graham appear to cross that line, they risk criminal prosecution.”

On another front, even some of Trump’s former close allies say his shifting and heavy-handed attacks on law enforcement seem desperate and don’t pass the smell test.

William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general and formerly a close ally, told Fox News on Sept. 2 that he saw no reason why classified documents were at Mar-a-Lago when Trump left office.

“People are saying this was unprecedented,” Barr told Fox News “But it’s also unprecedented for a President to take all this classified information and put it in a country club, OK?”

Donald Trump supporters walk down Southern Blvd to protest FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago.

Donald Trump supporters walk down Southern Blvd to protest FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago. Photo: Joe Cavaretta/AP

For historian Ben-Ghiat, the fact that “Trump had these classified documents and mixed them in with golf balls and family photos is very typical of authoritarian leaders who do not recognize divisions between public and private. Everything is theirs to trade, sell and use as leverage.”

For Bromwich, the attacks on law enforcement by Trump and his staunch allies are unprecedented and very dangerous.

“For those of us who have spent time with federal law enforcement personnel, the idea that they are members of the deep state or doing the bidding of the radical left is ludicrous. In my experience, the majority are conservative and Republican. Whatever their politics, they don’t let their political views influence their work.”

“The Mar-a-Lago investigation was truly unprecedented. It was preceded by an unprecedented and colossal theft of state property by the former president.”

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