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As Searches Show Trump Had Secret Files, GOP Splits on Attacking the FBI

WASHINGTON — Republicans struggled to come together over how to respond to the FBI’s search for Mar-a-Lago when it was revealed Friday that federal law enforcement officials had recovered top secret files in the home of former President Donald J. Trump.

They were divided on whether to attack the country’s top law enforcement agencies and how aggressive they should be in those attacks.

In public, Mr Trump’s allies continued to aggressively push to portray the former president as a political target, while making urgent-sounding fundraising appeals to supporters. But privately, some advisers around Mr. Trump, unsure of what the FBI might have found, began quietly warning fellow Republicans to key in their statements.

On Capitol Hill, a group of conservative Republicans known as the House Freedom Caucus — many of whom dined with Mr. Trump on Tuesday at his club in Bedminster, NJ, denouncing the FBI’s search as a sign that the administration’s Biden was turning the country into a “banana republic” – canceled a press conference scheduled for Friday morning. They planned to attack the Justice Department further.

That decision, which was publicly attributed to a scheduling conflict, came after a gunman’s attack on an FBI office in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon and as more details emerged about Mr. Trump’s possession of classified documents.

Instead, Republican lawmakers addressing the media on Friday were members of the House Intelligence Committee, who delivered a more nuanced message, saying they continued to support law enforcement, underscoring their desire to keep the FBI.

Still, they said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland had tough questions about his decision to take the bold step to search the former president’s home, and promised to hold the Justice Department accountable.

Ohio Representative Mike Turner, the most senior Republican on the committee, denounced comments from fellow Republicans, including Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called on Congress to “downgrade the FBI” before fully understanding what officers were looking for. (Mrs. Greene has started wearing a “Defund the FBI” hat.)

Another House Republican, Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, in the immediate aftermath of the search, went so far as to write on Twitter, “We must destroy the FBI” (Mr. Gosar avoided the FBI search on Friday and devoted his Twitter account to other topics.)

In contrast, said Mr. Turner sharply on Friday: “We support our men and women in uniform. And we ask anyone who has made such outrageous statements to question them and not us.”

After a federal judge unsealed the injunction authorizing the search of Mar-a-Lago and an inventory of items removed from the property by federal agents, Republicans followed several strategies to respond. The documents revealed that the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified documents, including four sets of top-secret documents, as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and two other laws.

While Republicans said they all supported Trump, some embraced a watered-down response.

“I’m not for anything that criticizes law enforcement,” said Oklahoma Republican Representative Tom Cole. “On the other hand, this is a very unusual situation, and the DOJ and FBI should come here to answer questions. It just seems excessive and exaggerated to me.”

Cole said he was “willing to listen” to what the Justice Department had to say.

Not so for Mrs Greene.

On the steps of the Capitol, Ms. Greene told a swarm of reporters that she planned to march into the building to file articles of impeachment against Mr. Garland, whom she accused of “political persecution” of Mr. Trump.

“The whole purpose of this is to prevent President Trump from ever holding office,” she said.

Representative Jim Jordan, the Republican from Ohio and a staunch ally of Mr. Trump, similarly brushed off questions about Mr. Trump’s handling of top-secret documents, citing the former president’s claim that he had the documents. released that were picked up by the FBI

“Come on, he’s the ultimate classifier and decision maker,” Mr. Jordan said. “Everyone knows this is ridiculous. Everyone knows it.”

Those comments were a far cry from Mr Turner’s report hours earlier, when he told reporters: “The issue of the handling of classified information is one that our committee is naturally concerned with and one that we are very concerned about.”

For their part, the Democrats — whose tug-of-war within the party over whether and how to reform the police forces should be used against them by Republicans to portray the party as one that “would like to pay for the police” — seemed to welcome the opportunity. to turn the tables.

“While the other side wants the FBI to cut spending, we want to fund our children’s future,” Representative Tim Ryan, the Ohio Senate Democratic nominee, told the House as he debated a spending measure on Friday.

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