Aug 10, 2022

The Mar-a-Lago search.

The Mar-a-Lago search.

The FBI searched Trump's Florida residence.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

We go long on the Mar-a-Lago search. Plus, a question about Republicans sticking with Trump.

Image: Please attribute to Gage Skidmore/The Star News Network
Image: Please attribute to Gage Skidmore/The Star News Network 

Quick hits.

  1. Inflation eased slightly in July, with the Consumer Price Index rising 8.5% from a year earlier, below expectations of 8.7% and down from 9.1% in June, but still near a four-decade high. (The numbers)
  2. President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law yesterday, a $280 billion bill which supports chip manufacturing in the U.S. and competition with China. (The bill)
  3. In primaries across Wisconsin, Vermont, Connecticut and Minnesota, Trump-endorsed candidates overwhelmingly prevailed. (The takeaways)
  4. A federal appeals court upheld the House committee’s request for former President Trump's tax returns. (The ruling)
  5. Police detained a primary suspect in the killing of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 51-year-old Afghan man was charged in two of the killings and is suspected in the others. (The suspect)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago. On Monday, news broke that federal agents had executed a search warrant at former President Trump's Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago. Trump was in New York at the time of the search. The story was first reported by Peter Schorsch, a reporter for, who posted on Twitter that the FBI had executed the warrant but was unsure what it was related to. Not long after, several major news outlets confirmed the report, and then President Trump confirmed the search had happened in a statement on his social media platform Truth Social, saying agents even broke into his safe.

Because the former president is tangled up in multiple investigations, there is widespread speculation about what the raid was related to.

Currently, Trump is being investigated by federal prosecutors over the January 6 riots; by the D.C. attorney general over financial fraud on the Presidential Inaugural Committee; by the Manhattan District Attorney over financial fraud at the Trump Organization; by the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney over criminal election interference in Georgia; by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over rules violations in plans to take his social-media company public through a SPAC; and the Congressional House Select Committee is investigating him over January 6.

Finally, Trump was questioned under oath on Wednesday by the New York state attorney general Letitia James, who is also investigating him for financial fraud at the Trump Organization. He said in a statement that he pleaded the Fifth, and refused to answer questions.

But news reports so far indicate the search warrant executed by the FBI is unrelated to any of these cases, and is instead tied to a federal investigation into the mishandling of government documents. Nearly every news outlet covering the search has cited sources saying it was related to boxes Trump had brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago that contained pages of classified documents. Trump had delayed returning 15 boxes of material requested by the National Archives, which preserves such documents for the historical record. The National Archives then retrieved the boxes in January. The case was referred to the Justice Department earlier this year, and there were reports that more classified information was still being sought. The investigation is ongoing.

Since his first time running for office, Trump has portrayed the FBI and federal law enforcement as working at the whim of Democrats and establishment Republicans to undermine his presidency, often invoking "the deep state." The warrant immediately drew criticism from the former president and his allies, who called it proof that such a cohort of enemies existed within the federal government. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House, suggested he planned to investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland if Republicans win control of Congress in November.

Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State under Trump, criticized the search on Twitter.

"Executing a warrant against ex-POTUS is dangerous," Pompeo said. "The apparent political weaponization of DOJ/FBI is shameful. AG [attorney general] must explain why 250 yrs of practice was upended w/ this raid. I served on Benghazi Com where we proved Hillary possessed classified info. We didn’t raid her home."

FBI representatives, led by Trump-appointed FBI director Christopher Wray, have so far declined to comment on the purpose or details of the search. However, the FBI would have had to convince a federal judge it had probable cause of a crime to obtain the warrant, and that the search had a high likelihood of obtaining evidence of that crime. Given the unprecedented nature of the warrant, it's also likely such a search received approval from top officials at the Justice Department.

None of this means prosecutors have determined that Trump has committed a crime.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said, insisting it's part of a ploy to keep him from running in 2024. “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to the news from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right has criticized the search, claiming Biden is weaponizing the FBI.
  • Many call out the hypocrisy of how other people who mishandled classified documents, like Hillary Clinton, were treated.
  • Some say the FBI has made a mistake, and the prosecution of Trump will help him politically.

In The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson said "the rule of law has become a farce" under Biden.

“The criminal indictment and imprisonment of former heads of state by ruling regimes in other countries is more common than most Americans probably realize. Today, former presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, and Costa Rica are all imprisoned — and that’s just in Central and South America. The world is replete with corrupt leaders who criminalize the opposition and politicize domestic law enforcement. Soon, the United States might join their ranks," he wrote. "On Monday evening, dozens of FBI agents raided the Florida home of former President Donald Trump. The absurd pretext for the raid was a dispute over documents with the National Archives — a circumstance by no means unique to the Trump administration and one that no serious person believes could ever justify such a raid.

“Everyone in America knows the real reason for the FBI raid: to tarnish Trump as unfit for office and to intimidate and dissuade him from running again in 2024. Nothing like this has ever happened in American history," he said. "In addition to corrupt Democrat lawyers like Marc Elias admitting on Twitter that the real purpose of the raid is to rig the 2024 election by disqualifying Trump from running, you have Never Trumpers like David French peddling the laughably naive line that ‘no president is above the law’ and that no one should assume the FBI is abusing its power. Even South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said Americans should not jump to conclusions but let the DOJ investigation ‘play out.’ But of course the FBI is abusing its power, as is Attorney General Merrick Garland. The idea that the FBI and Garland’s DOJ deserve the presumption of integrity and impartiality is only possible if you have been blissfully unaware of the events of the past six years in American politics.”

In The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen called it a "huge blunder" for an agency whose reputation is already in tatters.

“The decision to search Trump’s residence comes at a time when the FBI’s credibility lies in tatters,” Thiessen wrote. “Americans know that Comey misled them when he said that the Democrat-funded Steele dossier was merely ‘part of a broader mosaic’ of information presented in the FBI’s applications to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — because the Justice Department’s inspector general found that it was in fact ‘central and essential’ to the applications. We then learned that FBI officials had falsified or withheld evidence presented to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in four surveillance applications, which led to a stinging rebuke from the court’s presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, who said the bureau’s misconduct called into question ‘whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.’

“Then, after spending two years and tens of millions of dollars investigating Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III cleared Trump of engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Russia,” Thiessen wrote. “The whole Trump-Russia collusion narrative was nothing more than a conspiracy theory — and it decimated public trust in the FBI. A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll following the 2019 release of the Mueller report found that 53 percent of Americans said that “bias against President Trump in the FBI played a role in launching investigations against him,” and 62 percent supported appointing a special counsel to investigate possible abuses by the FBI. That’s not all. Last month, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) reported that multiple FBI whistleblowers had come to him with allegations that senior FBI officials had engaged in a scheme to falsely portray credible evidence related to Hunter Biden’s financial and foreign business activities as foreign disinformation to stop further investigation from going forward."

In Fox News, Jonathan Turley said if the hope is to keep Trump off the ballot in 2024, it may not work.

“Criminal charges are possible, including under Section 2071 which states that anyone who ‘willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates or destroys … any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited … in any public office.’ That crime, however, requires a showing of not just negligence but ‘an act is ...  done voluntarily and intentionally and with the specific intent to do something the law forbids.’ Notably, even the most serious cases of mishandling classified records have not resulted in major charges,” Turley wrote. “One example is that of former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger who was found to have secretly stuffed classified material into his pants and socks to remove them from a secure facility... Yet, Berger was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and did not have to serve any jail time. Indeed, his security clearance was suspended for only three years.

“However, critics were not particularly interested in whether Trump might have some suspended misdemeanor sentence,” he added. “Rather, even before learning if any evidence of criminal conduct was found, critics turned to the ability to use the charge to disqualify Trump from future office. Section 2071 has excited the imagination of such critics because of a line that states that a convicted party can ‘be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.’... There is also a significant constitutional hurdle facing this latest means of barring Trump from office. This is not the first time that this disqualification argument has been made and scholars have previously raised constitutional objections to it.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is hopeful that the search will bring forward incriminating evidence against Trump, and that justice is finally being sought for his crimes.
  • Many say they hope the raids are just the beginning of Trump finally facing consequences for his actions as president.
  • Others criticize Republicans for celebrating lawlessness.

In Bloomberg, Timothy O'Brien said the raid should just be the "opening act."

“It’s not entirely clear why the FBI targeted Mar-a-Lago,” O’Brien said. “Trump, who was not there, predictably characterized the search as a Democratic hit job. But the feds were apparently searching for classified records Trump stashed in Palm Beach after leaving the White House. He has already returned some files that the National Archives said belonged to the government, but Bloomberg News and the New York Times reported that the search was focused on records he might have kept. Theft of government records is the least of Trump’s legal worries, however. Attorney General Merrick Garland appears to be finally bringing the full weight of federal law enforcement to bear on the former president.

“Depending on how aggressively Garland pursues Trump for the attempted coup that he and his co-conspirators tried to engineer after he lost the 2020 presidential election, the list of criminal charges could include seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the US and obstruction of official proceedings,” he wrote. “Garland’s choices in the months ahead will have momentous consequences. His correct course of action would be to demonstrate that no president is above the law and indict Trump. As the Jan. 6 committee hearings have already demonstrated, Trump and his team were awash in crimes — including creating slates of false electors to be used in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential vote and pressuring former Vice President Mike Pence to withhold certification of the 2020 election.”

In The New York Times, Caroline Fredrickson said being investigated is now a "badge of honor" in the Republican party.

“There is little doubt that the most senior Justice Department officials, in addition to the federal judge who granted the search warrant, sanctioned the search, weighing the obvious sensitivity of raiding a former president’s property — and the inevitable political blowback they would face — against the possibility that whatever they ended up seizing would contain evidence of a crime. One can only imagine that failure to enforce an egregious violation of the Presidential Records Act would mean that the law is no longer enforceable," she wrote. "Rather than express concern about a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act or even simply withhold judgment until more information becomes available, Mr. Trump’s defenders instead attacked law enforcement officials. None of these investigations seem to give pause to the Republican leadership or its committed base.

“To the contrary, brazen lawbreaking is now a political asset for G.O.P. candidates and operatives. Several people involved in Jan. 6 are running for office and winning G.O.P. primaries — with Mr. Trump’s blessing — flaunting their participation in the violent putsch,” she said. “Mr. Trump may well be indicted on charges relating to purloined documents, financial fraud or election obstruction. And the prosecutors must follow the evidence where it leads. But as much as we who value rule of law might find such a development comforting in such unsettled times, we need to prepare for what is to come: Mr. Trump will embrace the charges, run for president on them and for that reason gain votes in the Republican primary. This is the inevitable result of the Republican Party being under the control of a man who prides himself on his impunity. ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue,’ boasted the then-candidate Trump in 2016, well before he won the Republican nomination for president, ‘and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.’ Unfortunately, that may now be the truth.”

In Slate, Jim Newell threw cold water on the idea that this was good for Trump.

“After news broke Monday evening that the FBI had executed a search warrant of Mar-a-Lago, it did not take long for pundits to arrive at a savvy consensus: Federal authorities raiding Donald Trump’s house was excellent news for Donald Trump," Newell said. "When news of the search broke, every Republican—especially those considering challenging Trump in 2024—was politically obligated to be outraged... Trump, too, thought this was good politics for Trump. His potential 2024 rivals were rushing to renew their vows of obedience. The fundraising emails have been coming out hot and heavy. And though Trump wasn’t at Mar-a-Lago, it surely heartened him to be able to watch footage of supporters flocking to his gilded manse in solidarity.

“But if Trump runs in 2024, he will probably be unable to fully clear the field of opponents,” Newell wrote. “Then, it will be the first time in eight years that other Republicans will have tried to defeat him. And one of the most interesting questions, as that primary develops, will be whether Republicans, at long last, choose to pick up any of those weapons against Trump they’ve so far been forbidden from using. We’ll see soon enough what polling data shows about public perceptions of the raid on Mar-a-Lago. But there’s a strong chance the American public is going to have a more nuanced opinion of its appropriateness than that of the MAGA base. Rather than seeing it as a crooked persecution, the public at-large might not be so shocked that federal authorities would find reasons to investigate Trump for crimes. They might even be interested in learning whether he did commit crimes.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

Everybody breathe.


Watching the last 24 hours has nearly driven me over a cliff. I hate to say it in such a high-minded and self-righteous way, but the dynamics of the punditry (and the news cycle) we're seeing since news of the search broke is precisely why I started Tangle. I thought Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, put it best: "Sort of deliciously absurd to have a full 24 hour news cycle in which nobody has a frigging clue what the underlying substantive 'news' is, but discourse gamers feel obligated to not only have an opinion on it but to have The Strongest Opinion on it," he wrote.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Any writer or pundit you have seen definitively state whether this raid is good or bad, just or unjust, a political witch hunt or the long arc of justice finally bending in the right direction, should be immediately thrown into the "read with skepticism" bucket of your news intake. We literally don't even know what the raid is related to yet.

Now, we can certainly infer some things, which I'm happy to do. For starters, it seems incredibly unlikely that the FBI, Department of Justice, and a federal judge would all have approved such an unprecedented escalation without being very confident they were going to find something. If they don't obtain "the goods," meaning actual incriminating evidence related to whatever investigation this is tied to (because, despite the reports, we still don't know for certain), this does have the potential to cause a political blowback even worse than what followed the Trump-Russia investigation. Certainly, all those top officials know that, and wouldn't have gone forward without a high degree of confidence that what they were doing would survive close scrutiny.

I don’t think President Biden would want or order this, as folks like Eric Trump have accused him of. If it's really the president using the FBI as a political cudgel, it'd be odd timing — the midterms are around the corner and the presidential election is still over two years away. And, again, Biden would know such an order would almost certainly come out (eventually). More to the point, though, Biden is just coming off the most successful and active six weeks of his presidency, and I very much doubt that he wants the news to be dominated by Trump for the next week — which it now will be.

Second, I'm skeptical of this being "Third World bullshit," as one Trump sycophant put it. For starters, if the implication is that it's "Third World" for federal law enforcement to be used inappropriately as a political weapon, I'd ask where the heck you've been for the last 100 years of American history. At this point, every American of every political stripe has good reason not to trust the FBI, and if you are ever viewing their actions as pure and noble and non-political, consider this me wresting you from your slumber.

But it's also not "Third World bullshit" because, we can safely assume, it went through all the normal processes. Again: FBI agents aren't going to bust into a former president's home unless they have several levels of approval, which implies at least several sets of important eyes viewing convincing evidence that such a search would be justified. That doesn't mean you have to trust the outcome, and it doesn't mean Trump is guilty of anything, but I feel confident that the agencies involved dotted their i's and crossed their t's here. They know, with certainty, that whatever led to the search is going to come under incredible levels of scrutiny.

Some other rapid-fire thoughts: Yes, if this is solely about a few classified documents, it'd be an incredible level of hypocrisy given what Hillary Clinton got away with. Which, in my opinion, is good reason to believe it is probably something on a much greater scale. As one of the Justice Department officials who oversaw the Clinton case told Politico:

“For the department to pursue a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago tells me that the quantum and quality of the evidence they were reciting — in a search warrant and affidavit that an FBI agent swore to — was likely so pulverizing in its force as to eviscerate any notion that the search warrant and this investigation is politically motivated,” he said.

Yes, Hillary Clinton had to sit through years of farcical Benghazi investigations that were solely about damaging her politically (which Republicans admitted). Yes, mishandling classified documents is probably the least of Trump's legal worries right now. Yes, I think it is bizarre there seems to be so little curiosity on the right about whether Trump may have actually committed a crime serious enough to prompt this search.

And no, I don't think this helps Trump politically — even if it martyrs him in the short term. No, none of this means Trump is guilty. No, I still don't expect the liberal fantasy of Trump in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs to come to fruition. No, I don't think the first version of this story is going to end up being the "true" one. And finally, however many crimes Trump allegedly committed, it will always make me uneasy to see a political opponent of a sitting president under investigation by the current DOJ.

To put a bow on all that: We know practically nothing, but we can assume whatever the FBI is after is a big deal. If it's as benign as mishandling classified documents, and those documents don't point to some much larger crime, this is going to blow up in the FBI and DOJ's faces. Don't trust the FBI. Don't trust Trump. Don't call something unjust or a witch hunt without even knowing who or what is being hunted.

My advice is of the "wait and see" variety. But the FBI — and Attorney General Merrick Garland — certainly have gotten my attention.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why is the Republican party sticking with Trump through thick and thin, especially after this new FBI raid on Mar-A-Lago? It seems it could be a chance for the GOP to distance themselves from him, but it looks like they're not taking it and are instead buckling in more for the long-haul of defending him. Trump is more unpopular than the also unpopular Biden, his endorsements don't always produce winners, he is scandal prone to the point of nausea, he unrepentantly flirts with breaking the law, he has diminished the US on the global stage, and that's even before the 2020 election denial and subsequent Jan 6 spectacle.

I believe that the US is worse off after his presidency, why would we want 4 more years? I grew up in a Republican household and was ready to vote Republican in 2016 but from the first primary debate developed an intense dislike for him and just couldn't do it. I'm not claiming to be unbiased here, but I just don't get it and am ready for a change.

— Megan, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tangle: Well, I think you did a good job highlighting some good reasons Republicans could or should abandon him. I’m not necessarily sure Republicans are buckling to Trump or that he is less popular than Biden. I think many Republicans smartly use Trump to their advantage, while others are devoted to him in irrational ways. But I do think you summed up the anti-Trump case neatly. So I'll just reply directly to your question of why they would stick by him at least through the midterms.

First, among Republicans, he's still the most popular Republican there is. And it's not close. So that's one big reason. Second, and if you're cynical, perhaps most importantly, is that he is an incredible fundraiser. Trump drives donations to Republicans unlike any other candidate they have ever seen, which makes him critical to the party. Third, while he has missed on some endorsements, his record is actually pretty good (it is not perfect, as Trump hilariously claims). And even if the Trump endorsement isn't bulletproof, what does appear to be bulletproof is a Republican candidate having to support Trump.

In other words: Getting Trump's support doesn't guarantee your success with Republicans, but not supporting Trump almost certainly guarantees your failure.

Finally —  harder to quantify but also worth noting — is the general dynamics of "owning the libs." I think, despite everything that has happened, Trump is still one of the few politicians in Washington D.C. who really speaks to the sense of grievance, anger, angst and frustration so many voters have about D.C., the "elites," and progressives in general. He did a lot of what he promised when he was president, and he is still an unfiltered voice of that frustration, willing to say things and cross lines others won't, and that will always remain very appealing to a huge swathe of the electorate that feels left behind and forgotten.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

The reconciliation bill passed by Democrats was controversial across party lines, but it is probably going to have the biggest impact on seniors. Nearly 49 million people, mostly older Americans, get their prescription drugs through Medicare. The bill will cap out-of-pocket costs of those drugs at $2,000 per year starting in 2025, and allow Medicare to negotiate those prices, which could amount to massive savings for middle class seniors who don't qualify for other government subsidies. It also targets specific drugs, like insulin, for price caps of $35 per month. Opponents of the bill argue price controls may drive up the costs for people outside the Medicare system, but for those on Medicare it's a major change. The New York Times has a story about what it means.


  • 49%. The percentage of Republican primary voters who said they would support Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, according to a January Siena College poll.
  • 25%. The percentage who said they would support Ron DeSantis, the second most of any candidate polled.
  • 57%. The percentage of Americans who say Trump should receive a great deal or a good amount of blame for the Capitol riot, according to a PBS/NPR poll in July.
  • 18%. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump should receive a great deal or a good amount of blame for the Capitol riot, according to a PBS/NPR poll in July.
  • 38-57. President Trump's approval-disapproval rating when he left office in January.

Have a nice day.

A Lyme disease vaccine is entering its final clinical trial. For the last few years, ticks that carry Lyme disease have been spreading across the U.S. and Europe. But regulators are closing in on final approval of a vaccine to prevent people as young as five from the debilitating disease. Such approval would make it the only Lyme disease vaccine available for humans in the U.S., and companies developing the vaccine are hoping for official authorization by 2025. A previous vaccine, LYMERix, was effective against the disease but withdrawn from the market 20 years ago when users blamed it for adverse reactions like arthritis (analysis by the FDA and others did not support that conclusion). Either way, this would be a big breakthrough. NPR has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.