GOP 'Whataboutism' Won't Save Trump If He Faces Federal Indictment

GOP 'Whataboutism' Won't Save Trump If He Faces Federal Indictment

Temporarily anyway, Donald J. Trump resembles the Br’er Rabbit of the Joel Chandler Harris tales, flung into the briar patch by the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago country club. Not only has the former president gotten to star in his favorite role as heroic martyr by loudly denouncing the Justice Department’s seizure of stolen documents, but he's reduced his Republican rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination to bit players.

Meanwhile, the grift goes on. Yesterday, I received two solicitations, one for “Official Donald J. Trump Fine Point Markers” just like those the great man used in the White House. Only $18. The second offered an “Official 2022 ULTRA MAGA MEMBER” decal for $45. I haven’t been so excited since receiving my very own glow-in-the-dark Flash Gordon magic decoder ring when I was eight.

MAGA cultists, of course, will buy anything. Trump’s reported to be pulling in a cool million bucks a day on this junk, not to mention the cash pouring into his legal defense fund. That’s the main reason he keeps hinting at declaring his candidacy but never crossing the line. Because the minute he does, campaign finance laws prevent him putting the cash in his pocket.

The estimable blogger Digby Parton thinks this is good news for the Biden administration. “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving—for Democrats” she writes. “[T}he drumbeat of Trump, Trump, Trump, has turned the midterm election from a standard referendum on the president to a choice between the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and the leader of the Democratic Party. And while it’s true that Biden’s popularity numbers are low, Trump’s are even worse.”

Exactly what the former president had in mind hoarding Top Secret documents is impossible to say. According to the New York Times, boxes seized during the Mar-a-Lago search “related to some of the most highly classified programs run by the United States.” The Washington Post describes papers “relating to nuclear weapons,” while the Wall Street Journal reported that “information about the ‘President of France” was listed on the FBI’s three-page receipt of items confiscated at Trump’s country club hide-away.

“Sacre bleu!”

But unless you believe Trump’s mutually contradictory alibis—the FBI planted the evidence, the president declassified it with his own magic decoder ring, Hillary Clinton got away with much worse, etc.—the Big Man would appear to have some explaining to do.

For Trump’s sake, it had better not take place in a federal courtroom, given the poor quality of lawyers he’s hired. (That’s what happens when you get a reputation as a deadbeat client.) Anyway, the time to petition for a Special Master to monitor the DOJ’s examination of the evidence was two weeks ago. It's just a stalling tactic now.

As for Trump’s magnanimous offer to help Attorney General Merrick Garland calm public anger after two weeks of yelling about the government’s “Gestapo” tactics, that’s particularly rich.

You do know, don’t you, that Kenneth Starr had the White House living quarters searched for Rose Law Firm billing records? Including Hillary and Chelsea’s underwear drawers. Also, when the records eventually turned up where an aide had misplaced them, they showed exactly what Hillary said they would.

As for the 30,000 “missing” emails Trump urged the Russians to find (knowing perfectly well, thanks to Wikileaks, that the Kremlin had already stolen them), they turned out to contain, according to FBI director James Comey, exactly eight containing “Top Secret” information.

Seven talked about CIA drone strikes that had already been in the newspapers. The eighth was about the secretary of state’s conversation with the president of Malawi.

And that’s why even the grandstanding Comey couldn’t find anything to charge her with.

Under what I used to call the “Clinton Rules,” however, reporters would skip over Hillary’s exoneration, scold her for acting suspicious, and move on to the next accusation.

Meanwhile, even ostensibly respectable Republicans are employing classic “whataboutism” to rewrite history in Trump’s favor. Writing in the New York Times,National Review editor Rich Lowry asks what if George W. Bush’s Justice Department had ordered Al Gore’s office searched? Would Democrats have said “Let’s wait, and see?”

Who knows? It never happened.

More tellingly, Lowry parrots Trump’s characterization of the “Russia investigation” as a “national fiasco that brought discredit on the F.B.I. and everyone who participated in it. The probe prominently featured a transparently ridiculous dossier generated by the Clinton campaign.”

This is simply false. Robert Mueller’s probe documented more than 70 meetings between Trump staffers and Kremlin operatives, including, let us recall, a sit down in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

It had almost nothing to do with the infamous “dodgy dossier.”

Trump hasn’t been charged with any crimes. But if that happens, it will be in a real courtroom, with real evidence.

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