The latest unprecedented Trump chapter brings mystery and political thorniness

·5 min read

With 86 days until the midterm elections, Republicans want to bemoan the pain of inflation that they blame on Democrats. Democrats are eager to brag about the big climate-change package they just pushed through Congress, no thanks to Republicans.

Instead, officials from both parties found themselves speculating Sunday about the FBI search of Donald Trump's Florida home to seize sensitive documents that the former president took when he moved out of the White House – a subject on which just about everyone has more questions than answers.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called the allegations against Trump "very serious," but demurred when asked whether he should be indicted.

"I don't have all the evidence," she said.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, also spoke carefully.

"No one is above the law,," he said. "Donald Trump is not above the law and Attorney General (Merrick) Garland is not above the law either.”

Trump's most loyal supporters are blasting the search as a blatant overreach by a Democratic administration, of course, and his severest critics are citing it as evidence that he may be guilty of the most consequential crimes a president could commit. But the cautious language by such senior figures as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflects this reality: Neither side is entirely sure what is ahead.

Because we have never been here before.

More: Trump calls DOJ probe a 'hoax'; experts, citing the Espionage Act, have a grimmer assessment

Former president Donald Trump as he departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022.
Former president Donald Trump as he departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022.

Whatever comes next, this remains unprecedented

The most momentous mysteries remain. What was the evidence in the Justice Department affidavit, still sealed, that convinced a judge to sign the search warrant? What did the FBI agents find in a search that is said to have perused everything from Donald Trump's safe to Melania Trump's closet? And why did the former president take the material with him in the first place?

Trump has been upending American politics since he opened his unlikely presidential campaign in 2015. Defying the pundit class, he managed to defeat two of the nation's leading political dynasties, first Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination and then Hillary Clinton for the White House. He survived two impeachments and more controversies than you can count.

"Unprecedented" is an adjective Trump now owns, the way the House Ways and Means Committee is described by Washington nerds as "powerful" and Bill Russell was called "immortal" by sports writers everywhere when he died two weeks ago.

Yet the latest conflagration surrounding the 45th president still has the capacity to shock.

First, the facts: One week ago, FBI agents served a search warrant on the home of the former president, citing potential violations of laws including the Espionage Act.  After hours of scrutiny, they left with 11 sets of classified documents, including some described as "SCI" documents, a category that includes some of the nation's most sensitive intelligence secrets.

More: Read the FBI's search warrant for Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property

In explosive disclosures attributed to unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported Thursday that some classified material seized related to nuclear weapons. The New York Times reported Saturday that a Trump lawyer had signed a statement in June that all the classified material at Mar-a-Lago had been returned to the National Archives – if so, an untruth that could help explain the Justice Department's decision to take aggressive action.

Reactions and repercussions

At her weekly news conference Thursday, Pelosi called the accusations "very serious, very serious," but said she wasn't ready to call for a congressional investigation. She knew only what was in the public domain, she said.

At a session with reporters Monday in Kentucky, McConnell dodged a question about the search.

"I'm here to talk about the flood and recovery from the flood" in his home state, he said. Asked again on Tuesday after he had returned to Washington, he called for a "thorough and immediate explanation" of the search.

That was far short of the outrage Trump and his allies have expressed. They have argued that the former president may have previously declassified the material involved, that the boxes seized might include documents that violate his attorney-client privilege, even that the FBI could have planted evidence against him during their search.

"These are dark times for our Nation," Trump said in a statement posted on his Truth Social platform, calling the search "prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for President in 2024."

Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on August 12, 2022.
Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on August 12, 2022.

It's hard to deny that the political tangle complicates the legal confrontation.

Joe Biden became president by defeating Trump's bid for a second term, and Trump is now the leading contender to win the Republican nomination again in 2024, when Biden says he plans to run for re-election. In a potential Biden-Trump rematch, the issue of the search by Biden's Justice Department of Trump's home would undoubtedly be a topic of discussion, presumably a heated one.

There will surely be other repercussions from the events of the past week, including legal precedents set over the investigation of former presidents. Short-term political reverberations, too, in the midterm elections Nov. 8, and long-term ones that could affect the nation's fierce partisan divisions for years and more.

No wonder many voices are being cautious – at least for now.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, the FBI search, its repercussions: All are unprecedented