With less than a week remaining before Election Day 2016, many took note of the apparent antipathy the FBI had for Hillary Clinton and her candidacy. One of Donald Trump’s top spokespersons responded at the time with a memorable quip.
“When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote on Twitter.
Nearly six years later, it’s amazing how relevant that simple observation remains.
In the wake of the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Huckabee Sanders’ former boss decided the smart move would be to villainize federal law enforcement. Using his Twitter-like social media platform, Trump published a series of missives that accused the FBI of “abuses,” “breaking in“ to his home, being politically manipulated, possibly “planting“ incriminating evidence, and being “corrupt.”
As threats against law enforcement increased, the former president — who hasn’t made any on-air appearances since the FBI showed up at his Palm Beach property — briefly seemed to change direction, telling Fox News a week ago this morning that the national “temperature has to be brought down.” The Republican went on to say that the country “is in a very dangerous position,” adding, “If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that.”
Trump’s interest in trying to “help” lower the “temperature” didn’t last. Within hours of talking to Fox, the former president promoted an article that said Americans shouldn’t trust the FBI. Two days later, he promoted another piece that referred to the FBI as “the Fascist Bureau of Investigation.”
Late Friday, by way of several published missives, Trump went even further than he has before:
“When will people realize that the atrocities being perpetrated by the FBI and DOJ having to do with the Raid and Break In of my home, Mar-a-Lago, or after years of other atrocities and unthinkable violations of freedom and the law, this has been going on for years, from the moment I came down the golden escalators in Trump Tower, right up until the present…. The law enforcement of our Country has become that of a Third World Nation, and I do not believe the people will stand for it — between Fraudulent Elections, Open Borders, Inflation, giving our Military to the Enemy, and so much more — how much are we all expected to take?”
This was soon followed by another item in which Trump condemned law enforcement of being “viciously and violently involved” in our political lives, adding, “They have no shame. They are destroying our Country!”
For good measure, the former president went on to promote an article that accused the FBI of “irredeemable corruption.”
“When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.”
The FBI has certainly had its share of critics, but at no point in recent memory has a national figure on par with a former American president accused federal law enforcement of committing “atrocities,” being “viciously and violently involved” in our political lives, and “destroying” the United States.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s difficult not to wonder how some of Trump’s most provocative phrases — “I do not believe the people will stand for it” and “How much are we all expected to take?” — will be perceived by his most radical followers.
The former president reportedly complained last week that the Justice Department didn’t respond to his offer to “help.” It’s likely that officials didn’t respond because there wasn’t much to say: Either Trump will stop pushing inflammatory rhetoric or he won’t. That doesn’t require a meeting; that requires restraint and a mature sense of responsibility.
The Republican’s latest rhetorical attack on federal law enforcement suggests he’s less interested in lowering the “temperature” and more interested in starting political fires.