There is a demonstrated risk in elevating the idea that Trump is the target of nefarious plotting by his adversaries, politically useful as that narrative may be. We saw it on January 6, 2021, certainly, when months of dishonest statements by Trump about an effort to block his re-election culminated in a furious mob storming the US Capitol.
And, in the days following the announcement of the FBI raid, there were similar rumors. Increase in threats against Attorney General Merrick Garland. Against the FBI. Target the judge who signed the search warrant. More broadly, a wave of violent discussions between pro-Trump groups online. January 6 happened because that anger was given a time and place to crystallize, but that doesn’t mean isolated incidents of violence aren’t possible.
Yet when asked about the toxic climate the FBI faces during a Fox News interview Thursday morning, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) chose not to condemn it but to rationalize it.
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Scalise was being interviewed by the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” a show not known for its interest in keeping Republicans’ feet on fire. But on this occasion, host Steve Doocy did.
“The FBI, with 35,000 members, is now apparently receiving – many specific field agents are receiving specific death threats because there are a number of people online and elsewhere who are demonizing the FBI,” Doocy said. said. He pointed to anti-FBI rhetoric from Scalise caucus members, such as Reps. Paul A. Gosar (R-Arizona) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“I’m just curious,” Doocy continued, “What happened to the Republican Party that supports blue, and in particular the 35,000 law enforcement personnel, federal FBI law enforcement? “
The question is clear: given the rhetoric and threats, how does the GOP demonstrate its support for these law enforcement officers? Scalise’s response was probably unsatisfactory to any officers who might have watched.
“Frankly, we’re very strong supporters of law enforcement,” he said, “and it concerns everyone if you see officers going rogue and if you see an agency that has no not the right checks and balances at the top. It comes from the top.”
Doocy couldn’t stand that answer.
“Steve, who went rogue?” he pressed. “They were following a search warrant!”
“We want to know,” Scalise replied. “We want to find out.” He then pivoted to criticism of Garland.
Outside of the threat context, this is a remarkable response. Scalise claims FBI agents go rogue and, when asked who did it, says Republicans aim to find out. This is called “asking the question”.
But this must be seen in the context of these threats. Typically, an established Republican politician would offer his sympathies to law enforcement officials who were being targeted even if he then moved on to his political point. Scalise did not, saying simply that the GOP are “strong supporters of law enforcement.” This divide between “law enforcement” and “the FBI” has been particularly prominent this week, with the former often excluding the latter.
When members of the Supreme Court were threatened after the decision to overturn Roe vs. WadeScalise was among the Republicans who criticized that response. In fact, he did on “Fox & Friends,” calling on House Democrats to put legislation protecting judges to a vote. (They did; it became a law.)
“No type of federal judge is, by law, allowed to be threatened in this way,” Scalise said then, “and yet the Justice Department won’t act. They need it. It’s a real concern.”
The difference is obvious: who is making the threats. Threats against Supreme Court justices and protests in their homes (violating a legal statute and inciting the excoriation of Scalise from the Justice Department) came from abortion access advocates, largely from left. Threats against the FBI and those involved in the search for Mar-a-Lago come from the right. From the base of Scalise. And just as Republicans have spent weeks playing with Trump’s false claims about the post-November 2020 election, Republicans are now playing with his insistence that the research is necessarily partisan and illegitimate.
A gunman attempted to break into an FBI field office in Cincinnati on Thursday before engaging in a confrontation with agents. It remains to be seen if this is related to the idea that the FBI acted inappropriately at Mar-a-Lago.