The Hill’s Morning Report — August bombshell: FBI searches Trump’s home
The FBI on Monday executed an unprecedented court-authorized search of former President Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago resort, sparking an escalation of tensions between the ex-president and those investigating him for alleged wrongdoing.
According to The New York Times, the search Monday morning was part of a probe into classified government records Trump took with him from the White House when he resumed life as a private citizen in Palm Beach, Fla. The former president, who was in New York City and not in Florida on Monday, was among the first to reveal the government search, noting with language freighted in anger that agents searched his safe (Axios).
“These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said as part of a 341-word statement, labeling it “prosecutorial misconduct.” “After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate.”
Christina Bobb, Trump’s attorney, told CNN that the FBI seized documents. Bobb was present for the search, according to CNN. “President Trump and his legal team have been cooperative with FBI and DOJ officials every step of the way,” the former One America News host said.
CNN sources said the FBI communicated with the Secret Service at Mar-a-Lago before it executed the search warrant, allowing FBI personnel to access the estate without complications.
As The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch and Harper Neidig note, the National Archives and Records Administration last year asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate after authorities recovered 15 boxes of materials from the Florida locale, which under the Presidential Records Act were required to remain with government records-keepers. It took months and the threat of action to retrieve the records.
Former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence Frank Figliguzzi told MSNBC that to obtain the warrant to search, the Justice Department at the highest level had to decide to seek affirmation from a magistrate or a federal judge of probable cause that a crime had been committed and that evidence of a crime could be found in the former president’s home. The search does not suggest that federal prosecutors have determined that Trump committed a crime.
The DOJ declined to comment to The Hill. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices in Washington and for the Southern District of Florida also reportedly declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment (Politico).
The White House on Monday said staff there were not given a heads-up about the FBI’s move and reportedly found out about the search on social media.
The FBI involvement comes at a perilous time for Trump as the DOJ ramps up its own probe into his attempt to remain in power via a false elector scheme ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Investigators have reportedly convened a federal grand jury to examine it and have interviewed key figures with knowledge of it, including Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin, his deputy in the counsel’s office.
The department has also executed search warrants for documents and information from two lawyers who worked in concert with the former president, including John Eastman, whose phone was seized by investigators.
The Mar-a-Lago search, however, is separate from the Jan. 6-related investigation, according to The Wall Street Journal.
▪ Reuters’: Explainer: Trump says FBI “raided” his Florida estate. What legal woes does he face?
▪ Fox News: Trump posts campaign ad-style video to Truth Social following FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago.
Republicans were quick to pounce on the development. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a statement called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” for oversight hearings if the GOP retakes the lower chamber (The Hill). Trump’s political team began sending political fundraising solicitations to supporters about the DOJ search on Monday evening.
Democrats declined to weigh in publicly about the Trump news. During an appearance on MSNBC, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to comment twice when asked about the search.
▪ The Hill: Republicans erupt over FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search.
▪ The Washington Post: Top Republicans echo Trump’s evidence-free claims to discredit FBI search.
▪ The New York Times: If Trump broke a law on the removal of official records, would he be barred from future office?
▪ Politico: DOJ pushes back against Eastman effort to reclaim his cellphone.
LEADING THE DAY
➤ ADMINISTRATION & CONGRESS
President Biden this week is exulting in a string of better headlines and passage of major legislation he’ll sign this week, knowing from experience that a divided country will view his scorecard without instant consensus.
Some of Biden’s predecessors discovered the hard way that aiming at legacy burnishing while in office proved a fool’s errand. What presidents envision and what history decides are rarely in sync in real time.
Former President George W. Bush — whose tenure in the Oval Office was indelibly shaped by the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and years later by the public’s loss of confidence in his leadership — said he knew he could not control what historians would write and what the U.S. public would ultimately decide about his time in office.
“I think a president must not try to write the legacy of every moment,” Bush told an interviewer in 2003 when his job approval numbers hovered at 50 percent. “The president just does what he thinks is right and try to explain as clearly as I can … like I’m doing right now, to people about why I made the decisions I made.”
Peter Baker of The New York Times reported that “whether the victories of recent weeks will prove to be a decisive turning point for Mr. Biden’s presidency or merely a transitory moment in an otherwise bleak administration, of course, remains to be seen. Mr. Biden is still one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history at this point in his term, according to polls.”
Less than 40 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Biden is doing, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Democratic candidates have the jitters about the midterms, and some in the president’s party are increasingly vocal that the oldest president in U.S. history should not seek a second term in 2024.
Newsweek: Biden boosts legacy with energy, health care bill. Will voters reward him?
© Associated Press / Evan Vucci | President Biden listens to participants in a roundtable in Lost Creek, Ky., on devastating floods that have affected the area on Monday.
The spate of recent successes includes passage of bills that invest in the domestic semiconductor industry (Biden will sign that bipartisan measure today) and expand benefits for military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits (to be signed into law on Wednesday). By Friday, the president expects the House to follow the Senate’s 51-50 vote on Sunday to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a breakthrough for the legislative branch in tackling climate change and proposes lower prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, among other provisions.
Inflation remains high, but gasoline prices are dropping, a government jobs report was surprisingly upbeat last week, and Biden gave the order this month to use Hellfire missiles in Kabul to kill former al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
▪ The Hill: Here’s what’s in the Senate’s Inflation Reduction Act, expected to be taken up by the House by Friday.
▪ The Hill: How the White House worked behind the scenes to nudge Senate Democrats toward a breakthrough win.
Coming up on Wednesday will be a government report for July describing consumer prices, which could pour cold water on a White House narrative that inflation is easing. Republican candidates are quick to argue to the party’s base that Democrats’ spending, tax hikes, immigration and energy policies and approach to violent crime in the U.S. are taking the country in the wrong direction. Their message: A Republican-controlled House next year would be a check on Biden and liberals in Congress.
▪ The Washington Post: Biden’s policies have not revived Scranton, Pa. But few there blame him.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: An antitrust bill targeting Big Tech is in limbo, headed for possible Senate attention in the fall. The measure would block the largest tech companies from favoring their own products and services.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Voters will head to the polls in four states tonight, including in Wisconsin where the GOP gubernatorial contest is a toss-up between one candidate backed by Trump and another who is being fueled by top Republicans in the state and nationally.
Tonight’s elections are highlighted by the battle between former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and Tim Michels, the Trump-supported candidate. For months, Kleefisch, the two-term second in command behind former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), held the advantage, but a Michels surge in recent months has brought the race nearly even.
According to Emerson College’s poll released on Saturday, the former L.G. leads Michels by only 2 percentage points, 36 percent to 34 percent, with three other candidates raking in 15 percent combined. Fourteen percent are undecided.
Both candidates have their pluses and minuses. While Kleefisch’s experience has made her the front-runner at times in the race, it also means her ceiling is not sky high. As for Michels, the momentum his campaign had in mid-July has stalled out after multiple stumbles on the trail, including when he declined to back a potential Trump White House bid in 2024 before having to play cleanup shortly after.
“Gun to my head, I’d probably put my bet on Kleefisch,” one Wisconsin GOP operative told the Morning Report when asked for a prediction. “But I won’t feel comfortable until the gun clicked and I’m still alive.”
▪ The Associated Press: Kleefisch downplays Trump endorsement on final swing.
▪ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: GOP governor candidates lack specifics in how they would overhaul elections.
▪ The New York Times: In Wisconsin, GOP voters demand the impossible: decertifying 2020.
© Associated Press / Morry Gash | Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R), Aug. 2.
The race also represents another contested battle between Trump and Pence, who is backing Kleefisch. The winner will face off with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) in the fall.
The gubernatorial brouhaha is the preeminent contest on the board for tonight after much of the Senate Democratic field in the state cleared out and backed Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) to take on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in November.
In addition, primaries will take place in Vermont, Connecticut and Minnesota tonight.
▪ The New York Times: Barnes is already looking past Wisconsin’s Democratic primary.
▪ Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Johnson steps on political land mine with Social Security, Medicare comments.
▪ The Associated Press: What to watch in Wisconsin, three other states in tonight’s primaries.
▪ The Hill: Key races to watch in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Vermont primaries.
▪ Politico: Welcome to the strangest Senate race in America: Utah.
On the national scene, Republicans are downplaying their chances of retaking the Senate majority in November and winning back the Senate majority in November as Democrats rack up key legislative wins and some GOP candidates fall flat.
As The Hill’s Julia Manchester notes, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, addressed those concerns on Sunday, acknowledging that it’s “going to be a tough year” and noting the Democratic financial advantage with three months to go.
The remarks come as Democrats are buoyed by the Senate’s passage of the reconciliation bill and the rejection of a ballot measure in Kansas to strip abortion rights.
▪ CNN: Lobbyist Susie Wiles helped Trump win Florida twice. Now she could lead his expected 2024 campaign.
▪ The New York Times: Maps in four states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio — were ruled by judges to be illegal gerrymanders. They’re being used anyway in a midterm year because of the Supreme Court. House Republicans gained the advantage.
▪ The Hill: Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, plans to run for whip if Republicans take the House.
▪ CNN: Alex Jones’s texts have been turned over to the Jan. 6 committee.
■ The Mar-a-Lago search proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic, by David A. Graham, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3d5gO7V
■ We will all end up paying for someone else’s beach house, by Francis Wilkinson, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3C6FMyv
■ The not-ready-for-prime-time Republicans, by Gerard Baker, editor at large, The Wall Street. https://on.wsj.com/3dkkm6E
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session while in recess. Members are expected to reconvene on Friday to vote on the Senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act.
The Senate convenes at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session during its summer recess, which ends Sept. 6.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Briefing at 9 a.m. Biden at 10 a.m. on the South Lawn will deliver remarks while signing into law the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, intended to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and national security, especially for critical semiconductors, which are primarily made outside the United States. The president at 2 p.m. in the East Room will sign an accession protocol for Finland and Sweden’s inclusion as NATO members.
The vice president will join Biden for the morning and afternoon signing events at the White House.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Pretoria, South Africa, where he met in the morning with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. The secretary at 9:30 a.m. local time participated in an event to promote women in science. Blinken in the afternoon in Kinshasa, the Congo, meets with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, joining the foreign minister for an evening joint press conference. Blinken plans to attend a dinner hosted by Tshisekedi and a jazz cultural event and discussion in Kinshasa.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:40 p.m.
Ukraine will be the recipient of an additional $1 billion in U.S. ammunition for advanced rocket systems, vehicles and explosives, the Pentagon announced on Monday. It’s the largest military assistance package to the war-torn nation since Russia’s invasion (The Hill) and brings the total security assistance from the U.S. to more than $9 billion since February (The Associated Press).
▪ The Hill: U.S. to provide additional $4.5 billion to keep the Ukrainian government operating.
▪ Reuters: As Russian missiles struck Ukraine, Western tech still flowed.
Reuters: Today, Russia has stepped up its assault in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kyiv with an overnight video, continued to assail Russia as a “terrorist” state as Moscow takes aim at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
China on Monday continued to ignore calls to calm tensions with Taiwan as its threatening military drills continue this week. There was no immediate indication of when Beijing would end what amounts to a blockade in part of the Taiwan Strait (The Associated Press). Biden said he is “not worried” when asked Monday about China’s actions.
“I’m concerned they’re moving as much as they are. But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more than they are,” he told reporters.
➤ PANDEMIC & POX
BioNTech on Monday indicated that it expects to begin shipments of two omicron-targeted vaccines by October. Pfizer and BioNTech have already submitted one of the updated vaccines, aimed at the BA.1 subvariant, to the European Union’s drug regulator in July and is starting clinical trials in the U.S. on a separate jab that looks to combat the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants (Reuters).
Politico: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has long COVID-19. That’s not moving Congress to act.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,034,020. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 392, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ COURTS & LAWSUITS
In Georgia, Travis McMichael, 36, and Greg McMichael, 66, were sentenced by a U.S. district judge Monday to life in prison (plus 10 years) on federal hate crime charges for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging through a residential neighborhood during a 2020 murder recorded on cellphone video. The father and son were previously sentenced to life without parole in a state court for the murder. Monday’s ruling means they will serve out their sentences in state prison (The Associated Press).
Jury selection begins today in a retrial involving an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in 2020. Federal prosecutors face an uphill challenge trying to convict two men accused of conspiring to kidnap the governor because they allegedly objected to her restrictive COVID-19 policies and plotted an overthrow of state government, according to the FBI’s arresting documents, which described attempted “domestic terrorism” (Detroit Free Press). A jury in April failed to reach a unanimous verdict for the men still charged and resulted in the acquittal of two other defendants (The Wall Street Journal).
In Utah on Monday, the family of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, who disappeared in 2021 and, according to investigators, was murdered last year by her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department related to the handling of an encounter between Petito and Laundrie. The family is seeking $50 million in damages, with their attorneys alleging that Petito would still be alive if officers had been properly trained to handle domestic violence situations (NewsNation). Petito’s body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19, 2021. It was determined she had been dead for at least three weeks, and her death was ruled a homicide by “manual strangulation.” She and Laundrie had embarked on a cross-country trip living out of a van when she disappeared. Laundrie, suspected in the strangling, later vanished. His remains were found in wetland areas in Florida’s Carlton Reserve on Oct. 20, 2021 (NBC News).
After a rough weekend for air travelers, 649 additional flights were canceled in the U.S. on Monday, creating more chaos following the more than 1,500 flights that were nixed over the previous two days combined. According to tracking website FlightAware, about 6,745 flights were delayed at some point on Monday into or out of the U.S. Snarls that delayed travelers were especially prevalent in Chicago as thunderstorms and heavy rain were predicted (The Hill).
© Associated Press | Michael Probst / Passengers on July 27 waited for flights in Frankfurt’s international airport in Germany.
© Associated Press / Matt Rourke | Elton John performs in Philadelphia, July 15.
And finally … A duo for the ages?
Elton John confirmed on Monday that he and Britney Spears are collaborating on a remake of the classic song “Tiny Dancer.” The new version, titled “Hold Me Closer,” was teased on the legendary pianist’s Instagram feed and showed temporary art for the single that included emojis that represent the two stars: a rose for Spears and a rocket for John. The tune is expected to be released this month (Daily Mail).
John, 75, who is on his “Yellow Brick Road” farewell tour, has been talking for months in interviews about retiring from the road while continuing to release new music. Younger artists started reaching out to work with him during the pandemic’s isolation period, and he collaborated with Charlie Puth on “After All.” Texas duo Surfaces asked him to work with them on “Learn to Fly.” He also collaborated with Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X and Dua Lipa on what became “The Lockdown Sessions” (CBS News).