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By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

By making plain what he has vaguely hinted, Jeb Bush has instantly scrambled the still-early 2016 presidential race.

Practically speaking, Bush’s announcement Tuesday that he would form a political action committee to finance the exploration of a possible White House bid is just a move — and an incremental one — down a path the Florida governor already seemed to be following.

It was a tiny step but left a big footprint.

The overt action banishes any doubts about Bush’s interest in running — doubts he himself had fanned by publicly equivocating about the personal toll and the political difficulties of seeking an office once held by both his father and older brother.

“The PAC’s purposes will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans,” Bush wrote in posts on Twitter and his Facebook page. “In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”

The most immediate impact of Bush’s declaration falls on the many Republicans engaged at various stages of seeking the presidency. Some, like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, already formed such “leadership PACs,” which function as the equivalent of a campaign-organization-in-waiting.

Rubio, who was mentored by Bush as he rose through the ranks of Florida politics, seems unlikely to challenge his former patron in a bid for the GOP nomination, though a spokesman said Tuesday that his decision would not be determined by who else is running.

Considerable pressure will also be placed on those competing against Bush for the support of the Republican establishment. The boomlet behind a third Mitt Romney bid is likely to lose a great deal of whatever momentum it had. Others vying for establishment support, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a pair of Midwestern governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, will have to rethink their plans — or, at the least, the timing of their decisions — in light of Bush’s move.

One thing it is almost certain to do is freeze any serious commitments, financial or otherwise, from many of the party’s major donors, at least until Bush makes up his mind and the field of contestants is clarified.

That will free Paul and others, among them Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, to cultivate their distinctive constituencies among, respectively, the libertarian, Tea Party, and conservative Christian wings of the party.

Paradoxically, there is much that remains unknown about the prospects of a Bush candidacy, notwithstanding his household name and dynastic status.

The Republican Party is different than it was back in 2000, when it nominated Bush’s brother, George W., and vastly different than in 1988, when his father, George H.W. Bush, was the party’s choice for president. During much of that time, Jeb Bush, who left the governorship in 2007 after two terms, was out of elective office.

Many in the party have little use for the “compassionate conservatism” that George W. Bush promoted, or the pragmatism George H. W. Bush displayed once in office.

Jeb Bush’s moderate position on immigration and support for Common Core, a set of recommended national education standards, places him at odds with many conservative activists, a bloc that holds considerable sway in the GOP nominating process.

Bush has also pondered whether he can find joy in the ruthless and often mean-spirited business of running for president, a process that has grown even more relentless and caustic with the advent of the never-ending news cycle and hyper-partisan social media.

Presumably, his travels under the auspices of his new PAC will help answer some of those questions.

Meantime, on the Democratic side, the waiting for Hillary Clinton continues.

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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