The Republicans Who Know This Indictment Is Devastating
Instead of covering for him, some notable Republicans are acknowledging Trump’s misdeeds.
What will Republican voters make of Trump’s federal indictment? There have already been polls and much speculation among pundits about whether, at this stage of the long-running Trump show, a portion of the GOP electorate will find the weight of his “baggage” (aka crimes) too much.
Voters’ reactions will be influenced by Republican leaders and media personalities. The pattern we’ve all witnessed over the past eight years is that those “influencers” have rallied around Trump, minimized and “whatabouted” every outrage, and offered no permission for the rank and file to consider that there might just be something more than politics in the accusations against Trump. The base has accordingly dismissed every allegation as politically motivated and the politicians, in turn, have pointed to the opinions of “the people” as justification for sticking with Trump themselves. Rinse and repeat. That minuet continued after the indictment was announced, but this time there were some interesting dissenters.
Yes, the usual lemmings, Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Elise Stefanik, and more, leapt from their chairs to offer bad-faith excuses for Trump. Most of the other presidential candidates (or perhaps, in some cases, actually vice-presidential candidates) attacked the justice system. Mark Levin assured viewers that the charges against Trump are ridiculous because “There’s not one syllable of evidence in here, that any information under the Espionage Act was passed to any spies, to any enemies, to any foreign countries—not one.” McCarthy found himself defending the placement of highly classified documents in a Mar-A-Lago bathroom because “bathroom doors have a lock.” Most of the talking heads on Fox and other right-wing outlets decried the “weaponization” of the justice system and many, including some members of Congress, went even further and urged violent resistance.
But there were some Republicans—even some stalwart Trump defenders—who swallowed hard this time and told the truth. Even on Fox News Sunday.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr, appearing on Fox, was unsparing.
I was shocked by the degree of sensitivity of these documents and how many there were, frankly. And so, the government’s agenda was to get those—protect those documents and get them out. And I think it was perfectly appropriate to do that. It was a right thing to do, and I think the counts under Espionage Act that he willfully retained those documents are solid counts.
“Solid counts,” not a “boxes hoax,” as Trump calls it. But Barr was just getting started. “I do think that . . . if even half of it is true, then he’s toast. I mean, it’s a pretty—it’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damming.”
What about the argument that Trump was unfairly targeted? Barr was dismissive.
And this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here—a victim of a witch hunt is ridiculous. Yes, he’s been a victim in the past. Yes, his adversaries have obsessively pursued him with phony claims. And I’ve—and I’ve been by his side defending against them when he is a victim. But this is much different. He’s not a victim here. He was totally wrong that he had the right to have those documents.
Here, I think the government acted responsibly. They gave him every opportunity to return those documents. They acted with restraint. They were very deferential to him and they were very patient. They talked to him for almost a year to try to get those documents and he jerked them around. They finally went to a subpoena, and what did he do? According to the government, he lied and obstructed that subpoena. And then they did a search and they found a lot more documents. . . . So, they acted in a very patient way. And what they were met [with] was, according to the government, and the indictment, very egregious obstruction.
“Very egregious obstruction.” That is not coming from a Never Trumper but from the man Trump appointed attorney general.
Law professor Jonathan Turley has been a reliable Trump shill for some time, and even as recently as the night the indictment was announced, he was predicting confidently that “Trump could run on pardoning himself. They may have given him a rather unique campaign slogan.” But on Friday, after reading the indictment, Turley was sounding chastened. Allowing that “we haven’t heard from the other side,” Turley acknowledged that “It is an extremely damning indictment . . . Some of the evidence is coming from his former counsel, and these are very damaging statements made against him. It may be hard to move those.” Referring to the photos of boxes stacked in various locations, he said, "It’s really breathtaking. Obviously, this is mishandling. Putting classified documents into ballrooms and bathrooms . . . borders on the bizarre.” And he cautioned the Trump attorneys (yet to be named), “The Trump team should not fool itself. These are hits below the water line. . . . It’s overwhelming in its details.”
Former Rep. Trey Gowdy wasn’t pulling any punches either. Asked by Fox’s Shannon Bream whether some of the evidence in the indictment might never be seen by a jury, Gowdy said, “Well, the most damning piece of evidence to me is the audiotape. I mean, you want to talk about consciousness of guilt? You want to talk about knowledge and intent? I mean, those are the darlings of a prosecutor’s nursery, and that came from President Trump’s own mouth.”
Alan Dershowitz has embarrassed himself by his past Trump advocacy, including during an impeachment trial, and yet he too was awed by the strength of the indictment, which he said was “stronger than many people anticipated.”
The “most important” and “most difficult for Trump” he argued, were the paragraphs describing the audiotapes.
Paragraph 34 is his own voice. ‘See as president I could have declassified it’ holding up a paper. ‘Now I can’t. You know this is still a secret.’ It may not be a smoking gun but it’s a gun and it’s a very important piece of evidence and it’s enough to convict . . . Trump of knowingly possessing unauthorized classified material. . . . Donald Trump has a lot to worry about.
National Review would not, it’s safe to say, be mistaken for an anti-Trump publication. They fall more into the anti-anti-Trump camp much of the time. But in the wake of this indictment, they’ve run a number of scorching essays. Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, had no patience for the Trump as victim narrative:
Now, since we’re hearing a lot, and we’re going to hear a lot more, about selective prosecution, about the sense that the ‘boxes hoax’ is the ‘biggest witch hunt of all time,’ understand this: The evidence of this soliloquy—wherein it was Trump-splained that a ‘great job’ by a lawyer entails making incriminating evidence disappear and taking the fall for it so the client escapes jeopardy—does not come from Donald Trump’s enemies.
These are not the people who want to take him out. This is not Joe Biden, Liz Cheney, congressional Democrats, or the ‘fake news’ media. It’s not even RINO Republicans or that (apparently) fiercest of political combatants, ‘Ada’ Hutchinson. No, the evidence comes from Trump’s lawyers. The people who were trying to minimize his criminal exposure and push back against his destructive tendencies. The people who were trying to help him. . . . If you tell me I need to look the other way on that because Hillary Clinton got a pass, I respectfully suggest that you’ve lost your way.
An article by National Review contributor Jeffrey Blehar was even less forgiving:
Trump is nailed dead to rights, and what matters most of all is that it’s not on some technical offense. What he was doing, before only a physical raid on Mar-a-Lago stopped this madness, turns out to have been less an act of mere carelessness than an active threat to United States national security, one fueled solely by Trump’s demented behavior and sense of self-entitlement.
Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center was not a Trump apologist, but he’s an influential conservative legal analyst and he was at pains, post-indictment, to debunk the argument some were floating that the Presidential Records Act somehow permitted Trump to do what he did. He tweeted, “I marvel at various leaps people (including, I'm sorry to see, people I like) are making in claiming this case means that [the] Presidential Records Act gives Trump protection against criminal prosecution for allegedly retaining (and lying about retaining) classified materials.” Subtweeting Jordan and others, he concluded: “There is nothing in text or history of [the] Presidential Records Act that supports [the] notion that it provides some sort of substitute regime for former presidents that displaces criminal laws on classified materials. Torturing a district-court ruling doesn't change that.”
Finally, three of Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination declined to bend the knee this time. Asa Hutchinson (whom Trump called “Ada”) called on Trump to withdraw from the race and had some words for Vivek Ramaswamy, who has made pardoning Trump a campaign promise:
It is simply wrong for a candidate to use the pardon power . . . of the president in order to curry votes and in order to get an applause line. That really undermines the rule of law in our country that I have served my lifetime supporting, and it is offensive to me that anyone would be holding out a pardon under these circumstances.
Would the country be in a far different and healthier state if more Republicans had responded the way these people did? Indubitably. Would it have been better for the entire GOP to have taken an off-ramp many years ago? Without doubt. But that cannot blind us to the fact that right now, some former Trump allies are telling the truth, and that may just influence a few Republicans who’ve rarely heard this kind of thing from their own side before.